PARIS to DIEPPE via ROUEN
THURSDAY 9TH JULY 2015
As soon as we entered the street from our hotel this morning Heloise, a young French girl, approached us and asked about our bikes and where we were going. Since buying our bikes in Switzerland in May 2014 (search Swiss Bike Mission for full story) not a day goes past when we are not quizzed by strangers in the street. The reasons vary, they are either dreaming of a trip themselves and are considering buying a foldup bike to assist them on their way or they admire us for travelling as we are and want to know more about us. However not all who approach us are dreamers or curious. Many are, believe it or not, attracted to the unique chain guard on the bikes.
In the case of our early morning acquaintance, Heloise was not a dreamer as within the month she was heading for Scotland to wwoof, which means working on an organic farm, not communicating with the canine species. Wwoofers are not usually paid but are true volunteers working for keep only.
Wwoofing originally stood for ‘Working Weekends On Organic Farms’ (WWOOF) and began in England in the 1970s. Its evolution came about because the founder wanted to provide urban dwellers with access to the countryside while supporting the organic movement. The movement went through several name changes but in 2000, for technical reasons, mainly to do with agricultural unions, the name was changed to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The movement in Australia is called Willing Workers on Organic Farms.
Over the years we have unofficially been involved with the volunteer movement as wwoofers from all over the world have stayed with us during their travels. We like to consider our place a holiday stay for the travellers heading from one farm to another. The latest traveller to stay was Gokul from India and during the time he was with us he took over the kitchen and produced some wonderful Indian dishes. Gokul is an IT expert but found the computer industry stressful so he ‘upped traps’ and went wwoofing. I get the feeling that in the future he is going to be an organic farmer and not a computer engineer.
The origin of ‘up traps’ (to pick up one’s belongings) relates to the days in Australia when rabbits were in plague proportions and because there was no social security many men, often referred to as rabbitohs, trapped rabbits to make a living and they were constantly picking up their rabbit traps and moving on. Some made a profession of it and became very wealthy and were known as Furry Kings.
When I was a child living in Sydney the rabbitoh with his horse and cart would pass by the back of our house on a weekly basis calliing ‘rabbits, clothes props’. The rabbits were alive and in a hessian sack and when a customer indicated their desire to buy one the rabbitoh killed and skinned it on the spot. He kept the skins and sold them to tanneries. The tanned skin and fur of rabbits was and is still to this day used to produce Australia’s famous Akubra hat.
Today, few Australians eat rabbit, which is surprising as rabbit meat is the best meat one can eat as it is lean, a good source of easily digestible protein and contains high levels of phosphorus. The French are the biggest consumers of rabbit meat.
A clothes prop was a forked eucalyptus sapling about two metres long with a vee fork and it was used to prop up the clothes line when laden with wet heavy washing.
Meeting with the pending wwoofer this morning was a good start to the day and we have invited her to stay with us if ever she visits Australia, and we hope she does. After two cheek kisses we farewelled our newfound friend. I have been informed the French in the south cheek kiss three times and in the north twice.
Fortunately for us we had time to enjoy the back streets of Paris en-route to the train station. Paris back streets are not laid out in an orderly fashion, they go every which way so it was not a simple matter of following one boulevard to the station. After asking directions on a number of occasions we wound up at the metro station of St Lazaire, a block or two from the main station of St Lazaire, from where we were scheduled to depart. A local offered to guide us to the main station, and as we rode he talked of his beloved Paris.
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica is a Roman Catholic Church located in the bohemian district of Montmartre and is on the highest point in the city. Sacre-Coeur is built of travertine, a form of white limestone (mostly deposited by hot mineral springs), which even after reshaping constantly exudes calcite, meaning the building remains white even with weathering and pollution.
Previously I mentioned that the streets of Paris go every which way and as a result there are many triangular corner (battle-axe) blocks. Buildings built on these blocks often have unusual features like narrow corridors and doors.
Even though some of the corridors were narrow the interior of the hotel was tastefully renovated and decorated in a very modern manner.
At the station Bev studied the tickets closely and realised she read the arrival time in Rouen as the departure time in Paris (an easy mistake when the tickets were in French) and our train had already left. Realising the mistake Bev was soon into the ticket office where she changed the ticket. Rather than wait four hours for the direct train to Dieppe we took an earlier one which meant a couple of hours wait in Rouen. The ticket seller said the earlier train ‘may or may not take bikes, all you can do is ask the train (sic) ‘collector’. Fortunately the earlier train had an area for bikes. This area was full of passenger luggage and after a pleading look suggesting ‘move your cases, people’ they moved their luggage making space for our bikes.
The above photograph is included, not to show you butterfly Bev, but to give you an idea as to how we were travelling and how much space we required. I do believe that European train companies go out of their way when it comes to the taking of oversize luggage on trains. Full size bikes take up far more space than our fold up models, however there is probably one item that requires more space and that’s the double bass (bull fiddle). The following photograph shows what I mean.
The last time I photographed a double bass was in Mexico in 1973.
The train change at Rouen was a fortuitous one as we had a couple of hours at our disposal so we went for a ride and unexpectedly found the tower in which Joan of Arc was incarcerated prior to being burned at the stake. The tower is presently a museum devoted to the said lady. Prior to entering the tower the gardener approached us and wanted to know where we were from, where we were going and how our bikes were performing. His curiosity related to the fact that he too was a keen cyclist.
There are a number of points of interest in the above photograph: the spiral boardwalk from ground level to the top of the tower, imagine carrying stone up the incline; the tapered buttress at the bottom of the tower not only gave the tower strength but rocks dropped from on high down onto invaders ricocheted off the slope and pummelled them.
Joan of Arc was born around 1412 and was the illiterate daughter of a tenant farmer and a pious Catholic mother who instilled in her a devotion to the Catholic Church and its teachings. At the age of thirteen Joan heard the voice of God directing her to go on a mission of importance, namely to save France from the English. At the time, fierce battles between the French and English wreaked havoc in France and lost battles had demoralized the French, but Joan of Arc came along and revived the French spirit. The battles were part of the Hundred Years War. The Hundred Years war waged from 1337 to 1453 by the English House of Plantagenet against the House of Valois, the rulers of France.
Joan of Arc asserted that the voice of God was often accompanied with a bright light and that voices were clearer when bells sounded. Modern day experts seeking neurological explanations for Joan’s condition suggest numerous disorders might have been at play causing hallucinations, delusions, migraines, bipolar behaviour and brain lesions. Yet there is another theory that her apparent seizures and dementia (a term used in the past for a wide range of neurological disorders) were a result of her contracting bovine tuberculosis from drinking unpasteurized milk as a young girl.
God’s favour lasted around five years as in 1431 at the age of nineteen she was tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake by Anglo-Burgundian forces. In 1920 she was officially canonized and has long been declared one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring icon of French unity and nationalism.
Following are a few photographs taken in the tower museum showing the efforts of various painters and sculptors to depict Joan of Arc.
After examining the paintings, sculptures and woodcuts of Joan of Arc in the tower museum I feel I now have a connection with her. Maybe when confronted by St Peter at the Pearly Gates, assuming I am holy enough to be admitted into heaven, I hope he asks who I would like to meet other than family while you are here. I would say American broadcaster Alistair Cook, American artist Norman Rockwell, French sculptor Augustine Rodin, the great Italian artist/sculptor/inventor Leonardo Da Vinci and, of course, Joan of Arc. I recently asked a young relative of mine the question of who he would like to meet and his reply was Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Lord Rama. He would like to know if they were mystic beings or just ordinary blokes. Good one. I too will add them to my list.
Joan was given a suit of ‘white armour’ by Charles Vll. White armour was highly polished steel, polished to the point it looked almost white. It was believed her white armour gave her an ethereal glow, further strengthening her reputation as a saint sent by God.
Records indicate that Joan of Arc was never involved in combat. She was more an inspirational mascot brandishing a banner rather than a weapon. However, despite her distance from the battlefront, she was wounded at least twice, an arrow to the shoulder during the Orleans campaign and a crossbow bolt to the thigh during a failed attempt to liberate Paris.
At the age of nineteen Joan fell into enemy hands and was soon after tried by an ecclesiastical court in the Rouen Castle for heresy. After a year in captivity and under the threat of death she signed a confession denying that she had received a message from God and agreed not to wear men’s clothing, something she had been doing since taking up the cause. The wearing of men’s clothes was to the prosecutors a visible manifestation of her heresy but according to her testimony it was not an act of heresy but to prevent her from being assaulted. When threatened with execution at the stake she changed her clothes but later, unable to live with what she had done, she signalled her renewed defiance by dressing once again in men’s clothes. This act of defiance led to the sentence of death being issued. According to the bible, a woman in men’s clothes is an abomination ‘unto the Lord’.
On May 31st 1431 at the age of nineteen Joan was burned at the stake in the old Rouen market place. It is believed her ashes were cast into the River Seine.
Being burned at the stake would have been a ghastly death, not quick at all. From my reading it seems that more women than men were burned at the stake rather than executed because it was believed that non-physical contact with the executioner protected the accused’s modesty. In some cases the family of the accused bribed officials to make the fire with green wood in the hope the convicted would suffocate from smoke inhalation before the flames reached them.
Twenty years after her conviction a new trial was conducted and King Charles VII cleared her name.
It is believed that prior to her execution she gave her ring, given to her by her parents, to an English cardinal and now six hundred years later it has turned up at auction. It was bought for $425 000 by the Puy du Fou Foundation which runs a historical theme park in France.
Requiescat In Pace Joan of Arc and farewell Rouen but before we go I have to show you the Rouen railway station, a classis example of art nouveau architecture.
The Rouen station received its first trains in 1874 when the Rouen-Le Havre section of the Paris-Le Havre railway opened for service.
There were a number of reasons why we decided to use the port of Dieppe as our departure point for England. It was from Dieppe that my travelling companion Ian and I departed in 1970 following our overland drive; I wanted to understand why so many artists are drawn to the region; I wanted to experience first hand its WW2 history; but more importantly it was to avoid possible long delays at ports to the north.
Ports to the north, especially Calais, were experiencing considerable chaos due to attempts by refugees to get across the channel into the UK. Between 2000 and 5000 were at Calais attempting to stow away on trucks heading for England or to jump or cut security fences in an attempt to gain access to the Eurotunnel. Some desperate souls at great personal risk actually attempted to walk through the tunnel.
That’s the end of this post the next post will concentrate on our experiences in Dieppe past and present, WW2 history, our ferry crossing and meeting with Frenchman Laurent who befriended us and took us for a ride through peak hour London traffic. Other posts to come include our experiences touring England and Wales in a small commercial van and revisiting Berkshire where we lived in 1973 and 1980s. I hope you stay with us and enjoy the journey.
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