France – La Rochelle, DeGaulle, Frogs and Driving

La Rochelle France

“You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said ‘Parking Fine’.”
Tommy Cooper

Another thing about the French is that air of haughty superiority that they do nothing to try and disguise and which practically borders on contempt.

I don’t mind them being proud of their country and their heritage but when patriotism tips over into rampant nationalism that can be unpleasant.  There is the language thing of course which I don’t really have a complaint about because why should I expect them to speak to me in English if I haven’t had the good manners to learn a few simple words of French to return but beyond that there is always the suspicion that for them we are unwelcome in their country and only just tolerated through gritted teeth.

To illustrate my point just remember how long President Charles de Gaulle denied the United Kingdom access to the Common Market.  Membership applications by the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community were refused in 1963 and 1967 because de Gaulle said that he doubted the UK’s political will:

“Britain is insular, bound up by its trade, its markets….with the most varied and often the most distant countries. Her activity is essentially industrial, commercial, not agricultural.  In short, the nature, structure, circumstances, peculiar to Britain are different from those of the other continentals… How can Britain, being what she is, come into our system?”

It is generally agreed however that his real fear was that English would become the common language of the community.  Britain was not admitted to the EEC until 1973, three years after the pompous stubborn old farts death.  It makes you want to stand up straight and shout out loud:


Winston Churchill once said: “The French cannot forgive us because they owe us so much”

Out of the town we sat in a green park and ate strawberries that we had purchased in the market and then we walked some more through the narrow streets and back to the harbour.  There were lots of fish in the water and some quite large and we were intrigued to see that some of these had another fish like creature attached firmly to their flanks.  We learned later that this was the burden of the unwanted attention of a lamprey, which is a jawless fish with a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth that bores into the flesh of other fish to suck their blood and cells and apparently they stay there for about eighteen months, how horrible is that?

French Frog

We walked back through the pleasant green park and were startled by the most amazingly loud croaking noise, so loud we took it to be a man with one of those duck decoy whistles but when we investigated further we located the noise from the river and were surprised to find some frogs swimming about and making a really astonishing amount of noise for such small creatures.  Obviously not very bright either because given the Gallic  habit of eating practically anything and being especially fond of these little amphibian’s succulent legs you’d have thought that they might have learned over the years not to draw so much attention to themselves.

Obviously, I’m not attacking French gastronomy.  I’m simply suggesting that the French have much wider boundaries of what constitutes food than we do. They might contemplate something squidgy and white, and salivate – while we’re heads down in a bucket. It’s our loss, I think, because we’re out of touch with the origins of food. The British food chain begins, vacuum-packed, in the supermarket. The French one starts in the field or sea, with the animals in all their gory sloppiness.

We returned to the Corniche for another salad and a drink or two in the sun and sat again and enjoyed the views out to sea where the tide was coming in quickly and the sea birds were quickly harvesting the rock pools before they were completely engulfed and they would have to wait for it to go back out again.

As we relaxed I was amused by a motorist who was looking for a parking place and identified a vacant spot opposite the brasserie.  Actually it was quite obvious that there was insufficient space to squeeze his vehicle into but he was determined to get in there one way or another.  One way was to reverse into the vehicle behind and shunt it a few inches backwards and the other was to drive into the vehicle in front and shunt that one a few inches forward.  He repeated this a few times until he was satisfied with his unorthodox parking arrangements and then he unashamedly got out of his car and sat down at a table for lunch.

This reminded me of an old friend, Charles who lived in Evreux in Normandy and prided himself on being able to slip into the most improbable parking spaces always claiming that that is exactly what bumpers on cars are designed for.  He also had a curiously impatient habit of when waiting at traffic lights and being first in the queue of driving beyond them a distance of about two metres or so.  I asked him why he did this and he explained that it was so he could make a quick getaway.  What was illogical about this however was that he couldn’t actually see the lights change colour and invariably had to wait to be prompted to move off by the driver in the vehicle behind.  Curious people the French!

After a very pleasant lunch we walked back to the hotel to collect our bags and took what I thought was an expensive €17 taxi journey back to the airport.  My plan was to check in and have a quiet last drink in France but this plan was destroyed when we walked into the terminal building to find that our timing was truly appalling and we were competing for check-in with a party of Rah teenage school children all chattering like gibbons and in such a state of excitement that the teachers in charge had practically no control over the check in process that required them all to be together to get through.

This could have taken an awfully long time but thankfully just when things seemed hopeless a second desk was opened and together with the rest of the passengers we were able to bypass the confusing crowd and get our boarding passes and find a seat in the sun with that last glass of beer that we had promised ourselves.

I have always liked La Rochelle ever since my first visit in 1996, I like the sea food restaurants, the patiseries, the busy harbour and the leisurely pace of life.  This time we especially liked the bicycle ride on the Ile-de-Ré, the mad motorcyclist and the evening meals in the charming harbour side restaurants.

French Parking 1


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