Thursday, January 10, 2008

Neighboring department and village

As soon as I leave Choranche and drive to the south, I move from the Isère department into the Drôme. The first village, just over the border, is Sainte-Eulalie, whose simple church looks down on nearby Pont-en-Royans, on the opposite side of the River Vernaison.

At first sight, it looks like an old construction of Romanesque style. In fact, it's a relatively modern church, completed in 1859. Opposite the church, there's a municipal laundry trough, whose non-stop gushing fountain receives water from a vigorous mountain spring.

With its elegant roof of flat scallop-shaped tiles, the wash house looks as if it's straight out of the Middle Ages. The fountain, trough and cylindrical columns may well date from the early 20th century, when local folk really washed their clothes in public. As for the timber-framed tiled roof, it took about a week to construct, and it's exactly a fortnight old. I was able to follow the work with interest whenever I drove past on my way to the small supermarket at Saint-Jean-en-Royans.

Village records are much more ancient than the church and the public wash house, since Sainte-Eulalie was first mentioned in 1086.

Ever since Napoléon, France has been divided into about a hundred geographical and administrative areas known as départements. When you drive over the border between one department and the next, it's a little like changing states. For example, although Sainte-Eulalie is no more than a couple of kilometers below Gamone, I have the impression that I've left the Alps and moved into southern France. Today, if I'm somewhat nostalgic about this notion of departments, it's because a brilliant intellectual named Jacques Attali has just published a white paper, for Sarkozy, suggesting that this old-fashioned breakdown should be abolished.


  1. According to l'Express, this project seems to be death-born.

    But the departments are supposed to disappear on the number plates. Some French are happy with this idea: is seems that there are big arguments on the roads between people from different departments.

    I still have a German number plate. Considering the time I have been living in Paris, I have adopted Parisian customs, which basically means: "don't respect the rules, just try to get out of this mess". Once a bloke shouted out of the window: "sale Boche"!

    This reminds me of a song of Jefferson Airplaine: Never argue with a German when you are tired. It goes: "mine auto fairt ser schnell aber ess rast gegen mawen". This is not German, but as far as I understand it says: "my car is very fast but it drives into walls". Which is not true. There are no speed limits in Germany on the motorways, and there are fewer accidents than in France.

    The title of the song is more or less true: Never argue with a Romanian German when she is in her car...

    Usually I'm a very calm person, but I get quite aggressive when I'm in my car (in Paris)!

  2. Every day, in countless domains, females are dethroning the archaic male champion. And so much the better. We might soon see a female president of the proverbial "most powerful nation in the world". And maybe, after that, Sarkozy will be replaced by a woman. Who knows? But there's still an enormous challenge for women : a female driver in an F1 team. A Prudence Prost, a Shirley Schumacher, an Alice Alonzo...

    I've often been amazed by the way in which a delicate ribbons-and-bows creature of the female sex can become a ruthless (but regular) road tyrant once you give her the wheel of an automobile. Mad Maxine! In French, there's a lovely word to designate an unexpected impetuous passion of this kind: fougue. In English, I'm afraid we might have to fall back upon a less-distinguished but perfectly understandable term: balls.