Discover more from Polis State
(aka Emily in Polis)
I have been on the Continent! If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, first of all, sorry. Secondly, you may have seen a thousand photos of my trip already and never want to hear of it again. Dommage.
Back in March, I told myself that if I received Arts Council funding to develop the show I wanted to write, I would celebrate by spending some of my pathetic savings on a long weekend away. Having caught an episode of A Place in the Sun where a couple seemed hell-bent on making a “cheeky offer” regardless of what adorable and jaw-droppingly cheap cottage they were shown around Limousin, aka France’s Lake District, I decided I would one day visit the region. And so you see, that’s what happened. Funding = Ryanair flight from East Midlands to Limoges. Such was my Faustian pact.
The plan was to stay in a charming gîte (holiday-rental annexe in someone’s land) somewhere rural and totally unlike Paris, drive around the gorgeous countryside, see some chateaux, eat my weight in baked goods and do some writing. I did everything except the writing.
The first time I went to Paris, I found that locals assumed I was French on sight. But every time I’ve been since, with the man who’s now my husband, people have only spoken to us in English. I can get by in French, and don’t like to be Those Tourists, so I was intrigued to see what would happen this time, as I travelled solo. Suffice it to say, I got to use my French. In fact, there were moments where I couldn’t fall back on English at all and had to think extra hard, “WWMMD?” (“What would Madame Mimi1 do?”).
I was glad to be immersed in French, to feel even un peu chic as I sights-and-café-hopped around the mediaeval centre of Limoges, the stunning capital of the region, and gawked at villages so quaint I struggled to believe they weren’t hallucinations.
Whenever I visit another country, I like to imagine what it’s like to live there. I see myself, Parallel Polis, conducting his day-to-day Other Life. Here, this brought a pleasant ache — I’ve often thought about living in France, even for just a few months. Parallel Polis was in the driving seat as I went around Limousin, on the “other side” of the road, not-quite-lip-syncing to the Francophone tunes on the radio (I came away with a petit Louane obsession) and mocking the Google Maps voice as she insisted on mispronouncing French names like some petulant English schoolkid. There was even a French version of the “Autoglass repair, Autoglass replace” ad on the radio, which only added to my Parallel Polis Syndrome.
Limousin is one of the least populated areas in France, so I drove for long stretches without even seeing another car. At so many points, I involuntarily gasped at the scenery around me – the cornfields and sunflowers, the gentle hills and lakes, the fairytale woods… not to mention the sharpest turns I have ever executed in my life. I smiled at the thoughtful touches for drivers, such as the signs naming the river running beneath whatever bridge you’re crossing. And the second set of traffic lights at eye-level for the car at the front! “A civilised country,” I must’ve said about sixteen times a day.
In total, I drove around 500km over my three full days in France. From my accommodation in Noyeras, a hamlet 20 mins outside of Limoges, I drove to the impossibly beautiful village of Uzerche. From there, I went to the storybook Chateau de Val, which sits on the edge of an artificial lake. Then it was on to Vassivière, an island in another artificial lake, for a pit stop on my way to the gorgeous village of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, before driving back to Limoges for dinner.
Due to my lack of annual leave, I had to work from home for a day but, being a city boy since birth, I’d forgotten to source lunch in advance (breakfast was covered every day by gluttonous extra purchases from every bakery I visited, which was all of them). So, woe is me, I had to spend my lunch break driving to another gorgeous mediaeval village (Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche) to feed myself.
Before heading back to Limoges on my final day, I stopped at the martyred village of Oradour-sur-Glane, left untouched since being destroyed by the Nazis in WWII. A truly moving experience, which I heartily recommend if you feel up to it. I still have a lump in my throat even just thinking of it.
On returning my hire car, I was served in English by a friendly, chatty Brit. Though my Airbnb host was fluent in English, this moment threw me back into my real life in a way that saddened me. I was cleaved from Parallel Polis before I’d even gone through the tiny airport. But I like to think he’s still out there, indulging in a crêpe by a cathedral or exploring the ruins of a centuries-old chateau, using his school-taught French at bakeries, waiting for me to be back soon. In the meantime, I’ll be singing along to Louane from across the Channel.
radical French teacher of small stature, fiery red hair and hilarious shaming tactics