Across Continents

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A slightly British air

Fabrice explained that the campsite’s name – ’Sans Souci’ – meant ’Without worry’. I hoped so. He presented me with a few pamphlets, amongst which was a guide to the Sarthe region in English. The marketing types had dug deep to find connections with l’Grande Britaine, suggesting the area had a ’slightly British air through its link with the Plantagenets, its taste for vintage and sports cars, gardens and golf.’ I dreaded to think what they’d done with the German version.

Fresnay-sur-Sarthe

The site lay the outskirts of the small town of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe at the southern end of ’Parc naturel regional Normandie-Maine’. I’d visited Fresnay the previous night in the company of fellow Englishman Charles, and had explored a little more the following morning. It looked much like any other French town I’d passed through, and yet you felt it was a little different, perhaps a bit more conservative. I would return after breakfast for a further foray.

The guidebook advised that shops in France are normally closed on Sundays and Mondays. For the most part this seemed to have been ignored, but not in Frenay-sur-Sarthe. Just a few shops open. The boulangerie of course. There was a time in England when visiting the newsagents, emerging with a paper rolled under one’s arm, was all part of the daily ritual. In France they still do it, but it’s ’la boulangerie’ (’the bakers’), and it’s freshly baked baguettes. You can buy bread in supermarkets, but they look upon you with distain.

As for the other shops, you could buy flowers, a headstone or bottled gas. But no groceries. Still, you could at least commiserate with an early morning beer in the village square. I chose not to, but returned in the early evening for a final drink. A few elderly gentlemen sat inside. Some seemed familiar from earlier in the day. Photographs of famous French actresses – Catherine Deneuve, Rorry Schneider and Brigitte Bardot – hung on the walls, by now a little yellowed. A steady stream of younger customers came only to buy cigarettes. I finished my drink and left.

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