Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ordinary excursion

To complete the future rose garden that I've been creating, which will comprise two dozen different bushes, I needed to obtain the final four bare-root plants. The French-language website of the Laperrière horticultural firm informed me that they would be able to supply me with exactly the varieties I was seeking.

So I decided to visit them, in the village of Saint Quentin Fallavier, up in the north of the Isère département, not far from Lyon. From Choranche, the itinerary crosses a broad band of rolling wooded hills above Saint-Marcellin, the Chambaran, which means "barren fields".

On the northern edge of these hills, you drive through the narrow main street of the village of Saint-Etienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, birthplace of the celebrated bandit Louis Mandrin [1725-1755]. You cross the plain of the Bièvre, the site of Grenoble's airport, then you reach the town of Bourgoin-Jallieu, famous for its rugby exploits and its native son Frédéric Dard [1921-2000], author of the crime novels signed by the legendary police commissioner San-Antonio. From that point on, the driver senses that he's moving into the outskirts of the international airport of Lyon, named Saint-Exupéry, hub of a vast European road/rail transport network.

I had no trouble finding the Laperrière rose gardens: a horticultural oasis of greenhouses tucked between huge warehouses on the side of a busy road with a constant stream of lorries. It's an unexpected location for the enterprise, founded in 1864, of a dynasty of distinguished rose-growers.

The ancestral know-how of the Laperrière family could no doubt flourish on any decent-sized patch of flat land in a mild climate. When I parked my car in front of a big greenhouse serving as a boutique for the few customers like me who drop in at the enterprise (instead of purchasing rose bushes at a retail outlet or through the Internet), an elegantly-attired grey-haired lady with a pearl necklace emerged from the nondescript old house that serves as the firm's offices and came jogging towards me. "No need to run; I'm in no hurry," I called out. Still jogging in her high-heeled shoes, she replied: "No worry; it's my daily exercise to keep me in form." I was soon to learn that my jogging shop assistant was in fact Monique Laperrière, a friendly and knowledgeable dame de la rose.

I often imagine activities that would surely infatuate me if only I were to be offered a second life on the planet Earth. Rose creation is certainly one of them. Specialists in this domain are alchemists, on a par with the genetic engineers who manipulate DNA. But they are closer to the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel [1822-1884] who created the foundations of modern genetics. They use an artist's paintbrush to practice artificial pollination, then they patiently harvest and sow the seeds of the resulting plants. Much later, they select the finest specimens of their new roses and graft them onto sturdy wild eglantine plants. So, when we choose a rose bush for our gardens, we're looking at the tip of an iceberg that has been forming for some six or seven years.

Leaving Saint Quentin Fallavier, I decided to visit, for the first time, the nearby village of Crémieu.

From a touristic viewpoint, it's a rare pleasure to be able to saunter through a quiet medieval village on a sunny afternoon.

The title of this article evokes a banal outing. After all, I merely drove to a neighboring village to do some shopping. But I would prefer to speak of a luxurious excursion. In Latin, the concept of luxury indicates "excess". It's a fact that, during my outing, I happened to be excessively happy. It was the excess of being able to drive through ancient places, in magnificent landscapes, in the company of a curious mixture of spirits: the ghost of a romantic bandit, then that of a fabulous author, the presence of contemporary industry, including a dynasty of creators of roses, and finally a lordly Dauphiné domain. Yes, at rare moments, an ordinary excursion can be purely luxurious.

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