Places, The French

47 – Beaujolis

Driving through Beaujolais to my class today was a dream. This wine-producing region covers an area of about 280 square miles to the north of Lyon. Or 50, 000 acres. Or the size of Madrid.

The wine is light-bodied and generally low in alcohol compared to the full-bodied Cotes du Rhone. It’s not favoured by everyone: sometimes described as the only red that thinks it’s a white. But in this instance, I’m not interested in the wine, just the scenery. My drive to the Techne factory in Morance (they make rubber sealants) is one of the highlights of my week.

After getting off the motorway at Dardilly, I join the old Route National 7 and negotiate the tight turns of this potholed pre-war road to Lisseau, a pretty village 20 km north of Lyon. It’s classic France. Or at least it used to be. Now it’s a commuter village and deserted by the time I pass through it.

Exiting Lisseau, I drive fast on the single-laned highway through undulating fields of deep green rye and exotic yellow rape. It’s so bright in the newborn sun (it’s been raining here for two weeks) that I nearly lose my line and end up in the side of a farm-house. Concentrating, I eventually pull into Les Cheres and take a left onto the D100. The start of the Beaujolais region.

It’s roads like these that take me back to Provence. Nightmarishly bendy tracks with vineyard after vineyard stacked on top of one another. The road threading its way recklessly through the fertile land like a viper looking for somewhere lush to hunt and sleep until September.

When I used to drive here in winter, it was a desolate ice-blown landscape; the leafless vines barely hanging on. But now in summer, it’s magical: small villages and charming farms line the road; cafés full of people enjoying early morning coffees and cigarettes. Later when I drive back, the same folk enjoying slap up lunches with glasses of Beaujolais all round.

As I near Morance for my four hours of teaching at the O-ring factory, I think it must be great to have been brought up here. Yes, it’s a predictable, almost idiotic comment to make. Especially when you dwell in the city for months on end. But I can’t believe it isn’t true. Maybe the winters are bleak and they crave the city like I do. But the summers must be joyous away from the choking pollution of a million choking cars.

I could live out here. It only takes me an hour from where I work, but then I would be faced with the commute everyday and the objective defeated. The weekends would be OK, I suppose. But I might get bored. I wouldn’t of course if I had a family, but I haven’t. Instead I have visions of me walking back from the Smoking Dog tramping through the Beaujolais vineyards in the dead of winter thinking of the days when I used to live ten minutes away. ‘I’ve been walking for three days,’ I would curse. ‘And I’m still not home!’

I park my car in the visitor’s car park of Techne. I kill the engine and sit there for a few minutes to gather my thoughts. I have to teach now. Not fantasise. At the moment this is all you have. You’re not a farmer. Once perhaps, but not now. One step at a time. You have four hours to do, then you can go home. Go home and prepare for the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year. Then one day you may end up in Beaujolais.

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