MES AMIS, LET ME TAKE YOU ON A TOUR OF AMIENS
THE FULL CYCLE OF FRENCH HISTORY
THE Tour de France pays a visit to Amiens this week, as indeed did this column. It’s one of France’s more understated cities, and certainly should be top of any ‘hidden France’ lists.
Once the chief town of a Celtic tribe, the Ambiani – yep, as Celtic as you or me – Amiens has been through the great mincing machine of European history.
After the Celts came the Romans, then the Goths and Visigoths and the Normans.
This corner of Europe has also been scarred by the 20th century’s world wars.
Some of that history is still on show – the city remains crisscrossed by tendrils of the Somme River, leading to the Hortillonnages, a network of canals cut out of the marshlands of the valley 2,000 years ago.
Tours on motorised punts through these waterways give a singular view of the city.
It’s doubtful if this canal trip gave Jules Verne his inspiration for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but it’s possible. The novelist lived here and now takes his eternal repose in the local La Madeleine Cemeterie.
You can take a Jules Verne walk, disappointingly not called Journey To The Centre of Town, or visit the Jules Verne International Centre on Rue Charles-Dubois.
From here you’ll emerge on to the Rue de Otages, and you may fleetingly believe you’ve stumbled into a film set – half-timbered houses, pavement cafés where groups of men smoke Gaulois cigarettes for a living (as far as I could make out).
The Cathedral of Our Lady in Amiens is the largest Gothic church you’ll see in this neck of the bois. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it looks as if it could comfortably accommodate Co. Louth.
Intricate statues, painted altar friezes and stained glass glories adorn the building; all this plus the relic of John the Baptist, housed in a jewelled case. It would be fair to point out that other places also claim the earthly remains of John, that main mover and shaker of the early Christian church. Those old bones of contention again.
Meanwhile back with the peloton, the Tour de France cyclists head towards the compelling town of Carcassonne – where it’s a rest day. That’s good, because there’s plenty to see should the cyclists fancy some light sightseeing duties.
The towers of its citadels reaching the sky present one of the most striking images in Europe – the whole thing looks like it’s tumbled out of a passing fairy-tale, but don’t be fooled.
History both dramatic and terrible lurks round every corner of the city.
From the battlements you can almost hear the Black Prince’s warriors spurring their chain-mailed horses towards the city, bent on mischief. The Cathars lived here, and connections with the word ‘cathartic’ are no coincidence.
The Tour restarts on Tuesday, 24 July, when it heads to the mountain stages of Bagnèresde-Luchon/Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet.
DRAWING A LINE ON DRUGS IN ANGLING
NEEDLESS to say there will be many samples taken to test for drug-taking – the Tour in the past had been a byword for substance usage. Other sports are now anxious to ensure their participants are clean.
Perhaps spurred on by the French cycling authorities’ stand against drug usage in sport, the Angling Trust, England’s national governing body for competition angling, continues its campaign to keep fishing clean.
According to their website: ‘The Angling Trust works with UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the International Angling Confederation (CIPS) to ensure the integrity of our sport is protected. The use of performance-enhancing drugs and other doping behaviour severely damages the legitimacy of angling and undermines the integrity of the sport.’ But which drug could possibly enhance your performance at angling? A few cans of lager, maybe, to help you doze the afternoon away. Or beta-blockers perhaps. The heart drug stops you getting too excited. I’ve only been fishing once, but enjoyed it greatly.
With unbelievable skill for a newcomer I was able to hook several unsuspecting trees.
A few cans of lager would probably have impaired my judgement.
TO HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT
‘I JUST saw a woman with a fancy water bottle, but instead of water it was full of Jaffa cakes. She is my hero,” said the Tweet from Georgia Sanders.
I’m pretty much in agreement with that sentiment; it’s not too far a step from the lad I once saw at a rugby match opening his flask and producing an enormous sausage roll.
IT seems that spiders can travel thousands of miles by releasing trails of silk that they use to propel themselves with the wind.
But some of this ‘ballooning’, as it’s known, has been observed when there is no wind to speak of, when skies are overcast and even in rainy conditions
So what’s happening here? Biologists from the University of Bristol think they know – the spiders are actually flying.
They fan out their strands of silk to make what is effectively a wing, and then employ some electrostatic force. Of course, the distance these spiders travel is nothing compared to my own wing mirror spider.
Many of you out there will probably have your own travelling arachnid.
My one, who has been with me since at least last Christmas, has braved rain, wind and sunshine – and seems utterly content. He has recently visited the Game of Thrones route in Co. Antrim and Co. Derry, and then made his way to (all the while affixed to the mirror) the Mourne Mountains and onto the Cooley Peninsula.
I did however give a wide berth to the very fine Seaforde Tropical Butterfly House in Co. Down.
I suspect it would have blown my spider’s mind.
THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF HIS MOUTH
FROM the first minute I heard flamenco music I was hooked. The raw passion of the Arabic and Gipsy music alongside that insistent guitar strumming – the result bristled with seductive musical tension. This was in Ballymena. An Andaluz group, lately performing at a festival in Belfast, had made the trip to an arts club in Co. Antrim. Thanks to the interest instilled by them, I’ve since made many pilgrimages to Cadiz, Jerez and Seville to fully appreciate the artform.
Of course, one of the pleasures of travelling is to experience the vernacular music. A memorable concert for me was seeing ZZ Top in Texas; left me wondering if this was the finest Southern rock band in the world, or a private joke of unfathomable complexity.
One act I’m quite keen to catch in the near future is Meat Loaf. The singer has announced a 2018 tour; but the odd thing is that, although he will be appearing, he’ll not be singing.
ML has said that he’ll ‘pass on’ vocal duties to Caleb Johnson, 2014 American Idol winner.
This strange semi-tribute act is surely the ultimate outsourcing. Perhaps the non-singing Meat Loaf should change his name to Mute Loaf. Or perhaps: The Artist Formerly Known as Mince.