They still use firewood a lot in this country. Where in England the woods (the few we have left; something about building a bitchin’ fleet a few hundred years ago?) are mostly tangled, unkempt wilderness, set aside from proper human cultivation and only in certain places grown for furniture or carbon credits, here they actually use their wood, and so use their land to grow it. Fields of evenly spaced poplars just blend in with the other crops; every part of the land is put to right and proper use, which I find wonderful.
There’s… I’m trying to avoid saying there’s a better relationship with nature, because that’s missing the point and is stupid hippie shit, but… there’s no wilderness there, everything is cultivated, flourishing and under control. The woods are beautiful but they’re going to be cut down for furniture and winters, and replanted; there will always be woods here, because that’s the way they do things here and they’ve been doing it for centuries. There’s no wilderness here, no sense of nature gone wild or conflicting with humanity; but humanity isn’t conflicting with nature, the farmhouses are unobtrusive and widely scattered, and don’t seem to be eating up the countryside with ugly motorways and urban sprawl. Every part of the land has its own clearly delineated purpose, the roads and fields are well maintained, and they burn locally grown trees for warmth. Which is probably going to see them in good stead in the future.
So a Frenchman in a truck unloaded a huge pile of logs in the garden and we spent a while passing them in a bucket chain to the firewood store and stacking them up neatly; and we got on our bikes and rode down lanes bounded by glittering streams through carefully planned woodland. The weather couldn’t have been better for cycling, sun high but not too bright, air cool and breezy but no headwind, and the land had enough ups and downs to keep from being monotonous but not enough to make it hard work. It felt like spring.
We went to a restaurant recommended by Jez & Sue about a dozen miles away, and had a ten-euro “workman’s lunch”. Apparently it is law in this country to give working men an hour lunch break and ten euros to spend on a Proper Restaurant Lunch, which struck me as deliciously French. Speaking of which, three courses centred around steak frites had us all happily stuffed. (Despite constant retarded gibing from Dad, my opposition has never been to French food, it’s to shitty English approximations of a picnic using cheap crusty bread and goat’s cheese, or super-cheap creperies making wobbly egg things that hadn’t been cooked so much as walked through a warm room. Also horrible weather and being constantly browbeaten by parents. I love French food. I hated certain French holidays in the past.) Tried the wine that came parcelled with the lunch, just to see if I like the taste, but no.
Getting back was considerably less fun due to poor navigation across millions of identical Maine-et-Loire country roads, the yowling, snapping-at-your-ankles farm dogs everyone seems to keep here, a puncture and a few sterilisingly painful unsurfaced roads. Also the navigator taking off backwards to look at a farm without telling anyone and making us go back and look for her. But still, it was a grand day out.