22 March 2007

Speeding train takes aim at wall

« Train roulant à tout berzingue se dirige vers un mur. » That's the headline I imagine reading this morning in the local Nouvelle République newspaper.
[Walt just pointed out to me that my train wreck metaphor is not clear at all. What I meant was that I hope that this upcoming puppy-raising experience won't turn out to be too hair-raising. This seems like a big decision and a long-term commitment, and I'm hoping we've done the right thing. Don't need no train wrecks. I'll be writing more about it, as you can imagine.]
Meanwhile, I can't say that Montluçon has an awful lot to recommend it to the casual tourist. Maybe it was because we were there at lunchtime and a lot of shops were closed. No, I don't really think that was it. Maybe it was because it was snowing and sleeting, and a cold, biting wind was blowing.

We were the only people lame-brained enough to be
out on the streets of Monluçon on such a cold day.

The old town looked a little sad, but not nearly as sad as the sprawling industrial area that seems to occupy three-fourths of the city's territory. Because I had read on Wikipedia that the population of Montluçon was 42,000, I pictured a charming, bustling little city set in hilly countryside. I remembered it that way from an earlier visit in 1995. I guess I was jet-lagged that day, having arrived from California only 24 hours before.

In a nice courtyard in old Montluçon, an architect's offices

Montluçon yesterday seemed much bigger than the population figures would indicate. It seemed a little grimy too, but then a lot of places seem gray and run-down when the weather is dreary and cold. We left Saint-Aignan at 9:20 a.m. and drove on the A-71 autoroute at 80 mph to an exit about 15 miles north of Montluçon (toll: 10.50€). It was only 11:00 and we figured we could take the "scenic" route along the Cher River for those last few miles.

It wasn't all that scenic, however, and we drove through an extensive built-up area, with much traffic and many stop lights, before got into the town itself. It reminded me of Vierzon or Châteauroux — not exactly picturesque. We parked and after a minute or two it started snowing a cold, wet, wind-driven mix of rain, ice pellets, and heavy snowflakes.

We had already had lunch by the time we saw this restaurant.

We walked around, damp and freezing, until we had seen and had enough, and then we ducked into a café and ordered a glass of white wine while we waited for the clock to strike noon. Walt said: "This is your typical French experience for the day," referring to the very plain, slightly seedy, and deserted café where Serge Lama's plaintive 1970s classic « Je suis malade » was blaring out of the sound system.

The rooftops of old Montluçon

Trudging through the medieval town and up to the château built by the Dukes of Bourbon, we had seen half a dozen restaurants along the old pedestrian streets. One was Indian, two were Chinese, and the rest were pizzerias. We picked one that served pasta and pizza. We weren't the only customers, I'm happy to report. Walt had snails and I had a salade niçoise as a first course, and then we both had pizza with ham, cheese, and mushrooms. We weren't disappointed with the food.

A church and an old house in the historic district of Montluçon

We ordered a bottle of red wine from the nearby Saint-Pourçain wine area, which we had never heard of before. A card in one of those little clear plastic stands on the table said the wine was made from Gamay grapes, the same as our Touraine wine and as Beaujolais. It was a 2004 and it was good. « C'est du cent-pour-cent Saint-Pourçain », I told Walt.

After lunch, we drove about 30 km east past the towns of Chamblet, Commentry, Doyet, and Bézenet before turning south toward Saint-Bonnet-de-Four and our destination, Ventuile (commune de Blomard). There we arrived at the Élevage du Berger de la Vallée des Géants and — this is the part where it becomes clear that the train is headed into the wall — signed the papers to buy a border collie puppy that was born on February 22 and that will be handed over to us vaccinated, de-wormed, microchipped, and registered in the LOF (Livre des Origines Françaises).

Irrésistibles — the unnamed puppy that
is licking Walt's hand is the one we're getting.

We'll drive back to Ventuile sometime around the first of May to bring the 10-week-old puppy home. Despite all the good advice (can you say "warnings"?) of good friends, we ended up being hard-headed about it. We really wanted a puppy this time, because that's a time of life we didn't get to enjoy with Collette. She was about six months old when we found her at the SPCA.

Chant with us: We hope we know what we are doing... We hope we know what we are doing...

Maybe this rainbow we saw when
we got home yesterday is a good sign.


  1. Good luck with your soon to come puppy, guys. I liked your photos of Montluçon. In the rain, a lot of stuff just looks boring and not scenic at all ;)
    But as I've never been there, I enjoyed the photos.

  2. I'm with Claude- Montlucon looked good to me. You are just a great photographer I guess. Perhaps you were wanting to see your pup more than Montucon...

    Ten weeks will be a good age. We got our Lucy at 5 weeks which should be illegal. I thought she might die the first weekend we had her b/c she refused to eat Eukanuka fancy puppy chow. Our vet suggested puppy chow and she thrived after that.

    The rainbow is an excellent sign. I don't think I've ever seen one on such a cold day as you had.

    Will you name your BB according to the french custom of the alphabet? Dogs born in '07 will have a name beginning with a certain letter...

  3. I am so happy for you both!!! I look forward to hearing about the new addition to your family. We hope to find our furbaby around Christmas time when we move into our new house.

  4. Dogs born in France this year are given names starting with the letter C. We haven't picked a name yet, but have several candidates. We have to live with them for a few days and decide which one feels right. We have until about April 10 to make up our minds.

  5. I'm more of a cat person, but I've never heard of anyone who's regretted getting a border collie. They seem like really good-tempered dogs. If the dog needs a job later, golf courses around here "rent" them to herd the Canada geese away from the greens. Any golf courses near St Aignan? :-)

    Note: even Vieux Lyon and Florence look grim under cold, rainy skies when everything's closed.

  6. YAY, I'm glad u found ur puppy....I was waiting to hear! Montlucon looks pretty good to me too.....much more picturesque than a dirty old American city...plus the food was good!

  7. Hi !

    Saint Pourçain sur Sioule has many, many excellent "petits vins", which are fairly well known regionally. For some reason they seem to go down far better in the summer months. If one is interested in horse racing, one can do worse than to attend a "Journée Saint-¨Pourcain" at the Vichy racetrack during the summer racing season. A host of wines for the tasting. (grin) http://www.auvergne.chambagri.fr/pages/rubsav/fiches/aboire/stpou.htm

    Montlucon was run by the PC (Parti Communiste) for many, many years, from 1997 through 2001, and by the Socialists for a full quarter century before that. Dunlop was "the" company which made the city hum and, of course, contributed to quite a bit of the grime. When the tire industry folded, that was it, industrially speaking. It has been losing population: in 1962, the population was something like 55,000, while by 2004 it had dropped to 39,000 or so. Sad, indeed. The town has changed significantly for the worse in the past 40 years, according to members of Amerloque's (French) family.

    If one drives from Saint-Aignan to Montluçon on the main national road, one passes through a town named Chateaumeillant. On the east side, along the highway, one can find the local wine cooperative, the "Cave des Vins de Châteaumeillant". Amerloque can unhesitatingly recommend the Châteaumeillant Rouge "Vieilles Vignes". It is a very good petit "autumn" wine: Amerloque sometimes serves it on his Thanksgiving menu. The "Rouge Prestige des Garennes" is excellent with Valencay chevre cheeses, as the Cave recommends. These are not great wines: they are good, honest beverages, representative of the French terroir and the marvellous - but disappearing, alas - French quality of life.

    Every year Amerloque picks up several cases of Chateaumeillant, including the "blancs" and the"gris". He usually offers quite a few of the bottles as part of the "etrennes".

    At a time when many products available to the general public worldwide are counterfeit (yes, even in supermarkets), and at a time when greedy hypermarkets are crushing the "exploitants" to cut margins to the bone, purchasing one's "daily" wines at a Cave such as the one in Chateaumeillant ensures that one is buying a genuine wine from reputable winemakers at a fair price, and not some relabelled plonk from the Common Market Wine Lake.

    On the same road, if one passes through a town named Culan at lunchtime of a sleepy summer day, one could do worse than dine at the Hotel de la Poste. (smile)

    M et Mme Amerloque are "dog, cat and horse people", and wish the new arrival - and her family, tout naturellement - many years of happiness ! Ca passe trop, trop vite.


  8. Bonjour Amerloque, we did indeed drive back through Culan, around Châteaumeillant, and through La Châtre from Montluçon to Châteauroux. I thought the countryside was pretty, but it was an afternoon of sudden, cold downpours (les giboulées de mars) that didn't encourage getting out of the car. I didn't know about the Châteaumeillant wines and will try them the next time I'd down that way. I buy from a similar coop (I imagine) just up the road from St-Aignan in St-Romain-sur-Cher. Thanks for the info on Montluçon. I was last there in 1995, and I don't remember the place being quite so gritty.

  9. Hi Ken !

    There was a typo in Amerloque's text. It should have read:

    "... for many, many years, from 1977 through 2001 ..."


    Yes, the wine co-ops are the very soul of France. (grin) They are all similiar, yet different. Some are far more professional than others. There is a nice one down in Gaillac ...

    The whole part of the world around Chateaumeillant and Culan can be very, very depressing in foul weather: Amerloque is most certainly on the same wavelength.(grin)


  10. Congrats to you and Walt, Ken! I'm sure she will bring you much love and joy. The new puppy experience can sometimes be like the new baby experience, but, fortunately, each phase doesn't doesn't last as long. Maybe a few nights of crying, a few weeks of potty training, and a few months of obedience training. No guarantees about the chewing, though! Keep us posted and congrats!


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