Thursday, November 27, 2014

Le Mont Dore

Here I am again, hopping a train to Somewhere Else. Only it's a bus. Why isn't it a train? There is a train that goes there. I prefer trains - they're easier to write on (no, not write on the train; I'm not a vandal - writing in a book while sitting in a train). On the bus you have to wait for it to stop, and what can you say in just a minute, or the few seconds of a red light?
The bus is filling fast. Who knew Ussel was such a popular destination? Though perhaps everyone is getting off at Laqueuille, like me, to head to more mountainous places, like Mont Dore.
Why not Mont Dore, for a bit of late-season hiking? The weather appears cooperative, at least for the day, at least down here on the plain. Up there I could be up to my ankles in mud, the wind howling past my ears, the countryside grey and sodden and not uplifting at all. I'll take the chance. I could use a bit of uplifting, but if I end up wallowing in sorrow and regret, well, whatever. You roll the dice, you get what you get.

The sky starts out brilliantly blue, and the all leaves shine golden in the low sun. Perfect. But as we climb out of the plain de Limagne, the clouds accumulate on the heights, the temperature drops and the wind comes up like a whip.
Changing 'trains' in Laqueuille I'm glad to just get onto the new, empty, bus instead of poking around the deserted station. Such courage. Bodes well for the next couple days. The windows on one side of the bus are dotted with raindrops.
Happily, the gloom appears to be a Laqueuille thing, as I've seen before passing through here. A microclimate that keeps the grass green to keep the cows fed to keep the blue ribbons on the excellent blue cheese. Once in Mont Dore the clouds aggregate into groups and blue spaces. If I'm patient, the pictures will be nice. Blue all day would have been too easy.
Le Mont Dore: spa town and ski station in the minor mountains. Half closed today. Too late for summer hiking, too early for the skiers. Once the Toussaint school holidays are past, people shut up shop for the rest of November and head to Morocco or Tunisia for a bit of relaxation before the winter sports season.
A bar-café is open and nearly empty when I set my bag down at a corner table by the door at 12:15. Before my ham & cheese crepe is delivered, the place has filled up and they're turning people away. Come back in an hour. This must be the only lunch place open in the whole town.
What I really want is a great bowl of spaghetti bolognaise. Maybe tonight - there is an italian place up the street open only for dinner. If they're open at all.
Yes, again. Table for one.
Ca était, madame?
Oui, très bien.
Dessert? crèpe...?
Au sucre? confiture? ... myrtille...?
Ah, myrtille!
Blueberry. Possibly, it won't be from a gallon jar, but home-made, local berry blueberry jam. One can dream. Seriously, they could really serve homemade. Everybody makes jam around here.
Indeed it is. More sugar than I would use, but lots of real blueberry flavor.
Eventually I liberate my table to the benefit of further hungry visitors. Mont Dore is not so deserted as that, but in the paradox of the off-season it can be harder to get a table when there's little competition than when there's lots.
Drop my stuff off at the hotel, and I'm out for a walk. Tomorow I'll take the 16km circuit around the three waterfalls and the top of the wind-blasted plateau. Today I want just a warm-up. How about a wander around the proliferation of mountain bike trails from here to La Bourboule. Sounds good. Doesn't matter if I get anywhere, just that I don't get so lost I'm not back to town by dark. Wouldn't want to break an ankle or anything.
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It's wet here in the underbrush. Seriously, long-term wet. Maybe there was a dry day back in July. The moss on the trees goes all the way around. It hasn't rained since at least this morning, perhaps yesterday, and yet the foliage overhanging the trail is still dripping.
Walk and walk and walk, just me and my thoughts. I told my friend M, when she asked if I would like to play the tournament in Thiers tomorrow, that I was coming up here for some hiking with a friend whose cousins live nearby. They do, and another time this might be true, but J is at work today. I really wanted an ordinary prior committment. No way am I playing cards in Thiers tomorrow. But no way do I want to explain that 2 days wandering the heights alone is a proper thing to do.
Sometimes you just have to get away from the well-wishers and the real friends yes but for whom human company is always better than none.
No, it isn't.

Some days you just have to go out on your own; give the planet a chance to have a private word.

This is some species of morel mushroom you see a lot of in the markets these days. Would take it with me if I had a fridge handy....
And yet, this travelling solo isn't what it used to be.
Used to be, I'd head off looking forward, noticing the clouds and a flock of birds and the fallen leaves on the trail. I'd just go, and I didn't mind dining alone.
But now, I keep thinking how lonely being alone can be. How nice it would be to have a special companion to recount the day's adventures to on arriving back at base camp, or better, to share them in the first place. Look at those birds!
A perspective irrevocably changed.
He, of course, is not alone, and will surely be playing bridge in Thiers tomorrow. For a pleasantly shared experience.
I should lay in some kind of snackage for my hike tomorrow. The guide book says it's a 6-hour trek, though I'd say less than 5 even with generous stops. That's five hours away from anywhere to get lunch. And I like a bit of lunch.
As I have noted already, this town is half closed. No bakery open, convenience store says back in 4 weeks. Finally a shop open - where do the locals go? Must be a big grocery store down the road a ways.

Five iffy clementines and a package of chocolate chip granola bars. They'll hold me over.
I could have reserved dinner at my hotel, but then noticed the menu - wing of ray with St Nectaire.
Um, fish... with cheese.
N.... no
Let's hope the pizza place up the street is not on vacation. I spied lasagna on the menu in the window, and I've been craving lasagna since yesterday.
Yesterday. 2nd round of the Open Pairs for my level of player; M and I were 18th after the first session. A long way from the top 7 needed to advance. The cold sandwich in my bag really didn't excite me, but happily we found a little bistro to ask nicely if we could eat our own meals there, and they said ok so M was happy and I saw steak & fries on the menu and my sandwich remained uneaten.
Gotta have something hot on a cold rainy day. You want to move up 11 places or not? Let's have a small carafe of wine with that.
So I ate hot food and we had a coffee and got back with five minutes to spare. They only give you about 40 minutes for lunch, and most people just sign up for a sandwich at the tournament venue. In the afternoon we played about as well as we had played in the morning. I never look at our ranking as we go, even though I'm the one keeping score. Knowing jinkes me : if I'm doing badly I do worse, and if I'm doing well I get over-confident. Best not to know.
Really, we played the same. Just as many dumb mistakes and failures of courage and lack of noticing. Same cardsense.
We came up 7th overall.
We're going to Grenoble in April.

A hot shower (wow, that water gets real hot if you want it to) and a nap, and I walk back up along the main tourist street with it's 'local flavor' restaurants with their truffades and tartiflettes. All closed. The pizza place farther up is open, though. And they have an edible, molten hot, lasagna. If nothing else is open tomorrow, I'll come back for a pizza. Though a good tartiflette would be nice... No worries - they probably make tartiflette pizza here.

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