Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Come stroll with me...

... through Argentat today...

Bridge across the Dordogne, Argentat
Situated on the river Dordogne in the département of Corrèze (19), there has been a settlement at Argentat since Gallic times, which is roughly from the 5th century BC.  I’m camped right beside the river in the shade of some well-established trees and it’s a comfortable kilometre and a half bike ride into town along the virtually single track rue St Etienne d’Obazine.  The road takes you past low farm houses with their distinctive roof tiles and along the river to bring you out on the D2120 and across the Dordogne and into town on Avenue Henry IV.  Follow the road through to avenue Pasteur and the heart of the town.
I lead my bike through the streets of half-timbered houses with their red and grey hued stone walls, traditional stone rooves and jutting balconies until I reach the main shopping area and bump into a wedding party.  The Hotel de Ville, dating from the 19th century, is resplendent as the back drop for the photos.  The bride and groom and guests then make their way along the avenue and down rue Château Nouvelle to the church of St-Pierre for the blessing.  A little further on and I pass a restaurant with tables all set waiting, trays full with empty champagne glasses anticipating being filled and a bevy of waiters, all smart, in matching shirts and trousers and all very neatly pressed!  I can‘t help but smile and I wish the happy couple well.
The Tourist office is my next stop for a 15-minute fix of free wifi.  As I sit in the shade and download my emails, I notice a gendarme standing on the corner of avenue du Jardin Public and talking into his phone.  I also see that a number of other locals are hanging around and looking down the street.  In the distance, I can hear the unmistakable sound of an unmuffled
piston engine, followed by an unbaffled exhaust discharge and then that weird smell of oil hits my nose.  The gendarme stretches out his arm and waves on the vehicle and around the corner comes a silver coloured, Bugatti Brescia wearing a red and white rally plate.  The
Bugatti Brescia
car rolls down the street to quai Lestrougie.
  Then another, a red one this time, then a third and I’m hooked.  Stuffing my phone in my pocket I get back on the bike and follow the cars.  I talk to an American lady driver.  It’s a club rally and all the vehicles are making their way to Angoulême for the Circuit des Remparts.  Another half an hour the quay is full of magnificent shining machines all lined up so that their owners can take lunch.  It’s amazing little discoveries like this that make this country so fascinating.
Car envy done with, I take some time to investigate the courpet that sits a little further down the quay.  Flat-bottomed boats (courpets), have been used on this river for centuries.  At first, just to carry livestock, goods and passengers across the river and to nearby towns and hamlets, but later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, these boats were used to transport wood for use in the vineyards of Bordeaux.  Then, this area was heavily forested and the wood was cut and fashioned into staves for barrels and stakes (carassones) to support the vines. 
The boats were built, as and when required, of 15-metre long planks set side by side and connected together.  Using heat from burning coals, and steam to make the wood pliable, the stern would be fashioned and the sides raised.  With one very long stern oar (aviron en
A Courpet
and a couple of pairs of sculls (rames), the boat would be managed, full of wood for sale, down the river.  In Bordeaux, the cargo sold, the boat would be split up and also sold and the men, pockets full of cash and bags full of provisions required at home, would take the long walk back to their families.  The arrival of the railways eventually killed this source of revenue and work.
Curiosity satisfied I make my way through the remainder of the narrow streets and go into the church.  Its small and mostly 18th century with some interesting carvings.  There is a 13th century processional cross of note, some plate and a painting of Calvary but little else.  It’s time to head back and, as I cross the bridge, I cannot stop myself from taking one last look at the cars on the quay below.

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