28 May 2009

Riding to Preuilly in a Jaguar

It feels strange to be the front-seat passenger in a car that has right-hand drive. A British car, in other words. Day before yesterday, our friends S. (English) and J-L (French) came to pick me (American) up and drive us down to Preuilly to see Simon and Susan (Australian). S. has a Jaguar. Susan and Simon have a blog called Days on the Claise.

As the passenger in what would be the driver's seat in a French or American car, I kept trying to step on the clutch or brake pedal as we drove down the curvy road that leads south out of Saint-Aignan. Despite my efforts, my feet touched only floormat. We were driving toward Châtillon-sur-Indre and on to Azay-le-Ferron. From Azay to Preuilly, it's just about 10 clicks, as they say — that's 10 kilometers, or 10 minutes.

The most direct route from Saint-Aignan
to Preuilly takes just over an hour.

We stopped at SuperU to fill up the Jag's fuel tank. Jean-Luc pumped the gas. In France, when you fuel up at one of the supermarket gas stations, you usually have to drive from the pump up to a booth to pay for your purchase. In this case, the driver was on the wrong side of the car. J-L had to walk up to the booth to pay the bill. S. was telling me what a pain it is to be alone in the Jag when you pass through an autoroute toll station. You have to get out of the car to go pay the toll, because you're on the wrong side to reach out the window.

As we drove along and passed other cars, it sometimes seemed as if we were too close to, if not straddling the line down the middle of the road. I tried not to squirm too much, because S. seemed to be a good driver. I'd never been a passenger in her car before. We didn't sideswipe any Renaults or Peugeots along the way, but it was close, I thought. She's a good driver, and I wasn't really worried. It was just that I was on the wrong side of the car to not be driving.

On the way out of town, Jean-Luc said we absolutely must stop at his cousin's house on the way back later in the day. We were driving by her house as he spoke, and he pointed it out. He said he hadn't seen this particular cousin in about 20 years. S. and I laughed, because everybody who lives within 10 miles of Saint-Aignan seems to be one of Jean-Luc's cousins. « Ah, tu connais cette personne-là ? », he'll say. « Eh bien, c'est mon cousin. » It's funny, almost like my home town in North Carolina, where I have dozens of cousins.

The road south straightens out 5 or 6 miles south of Saint-Aignan, and the drive to Azay-le-Ferron is a straight shot from there. Châtillon is about the only curve along the way. We could just cruise along and talk amongst ourselves as we traveled. In French, because J-L doesn't speak English. S. and J-L had never been to Preuilly before, so I was navigating. It was not very strenuous work.

A set of decorated window shutters in Preuilly-sur-Claise.

And then we arrived in Azay. "Turn right just up ahead, and we'll be there in a couple of minutes," I told S. When we arrived at the intersection, there were big black-on-yellow signs across the road: « Route barrée », the said — road closed. The directional sign posted above, pointing to Preuilly-sur-Claise, had been taped over. "Merde," we said. "And we were so close." It was nearly noon and we needed to get there.

What to do? There was a scramble to find a map. Just continue on, I suggested, and hope for a helpful road sign. Pretty soon, we came to another crossroads. A sign pointed us toward the village called Obterre. We stopped on the side of the road and looked at the maps we had found in the car. Obterre was not on any of them. Nor was the road leading to it. The maps weren't detailed enough.

We took the road to Obterre anyway. It went in about the right direction — northwest. We drove along through pretty countryside and came to a place called Le Grand Village. It was definitely not grand, but it was picturesque, with old farm houses and stone walls. Then, a mile or two farther on, we came to an intersection. Left, right, or straight ahead? Straight ahead, according to a sign, was Obterre, which was not on our map. There was no indication where the road to the left led.

But on the right, the route was barrée. That must be the road leading to Azay, which had also been barrée at the other end. So to the left, in all likelihood, would be Preuilly. There was no sign. We turned left and drove through a nice forest. And sure enough, we soon we arrived at Preuilly-sur-Claise. I wonder what S. and J-L were thinking about my navigational skills. They probably prayed I knew where I was going.

It had started raining again. It had been raining when we left Saint-Aignan an hour earlier, but the rain had let up along the way. In rainy Preuilly, we turned right into the rue de l'Horloge, Clock Street. A couple of big vans were parked along the left side of the narrow lane. The Jaguar was just able to squeeze by, with S. doing an expert job behind the steering wheel. She's lived in France for 20 years or more, and she doesn't mind driving on "the wrong side" here, in her English car. The few people walking on the narrow sidewalk were gawking at us. « Des Anglais », they were thinking.

I bet Susan and Simon were surprised to see us arrive in a Jag. We drove by their house and then found a spot a little farther down the road that was wide enough to permit S. to parallel-park without blocking traffic. (What traffic, actually? But a few cars, including an old white van spewing oil smoke out its tailpipe, did go by while we were there).

This is the château at Preully in a December 2008 photo.

As we parked and got out of the car, I saw Susan walking down the road to meet us. She was walking in the middle of the street, as we do here because traffic really isn't an issue. The cars that do come by are going very slow, so you have time to get out of the way. As I said, it was raining. Susan was wearing a jacket with a hood, as I was. S. and J-L were bareheaded and getting wet. I was pretty sure it was Susan, despite the "disguise."

Oh, I forgot to mention the dog. He's a big yellow Labrador that they call "Mo" and we left him in the Jag. Why Mo and not Moe? Well, Mo is short for Mohamet, but that's a name S. and Jean-Luc keep pretty much a secret, so as not to offend anybody who might hear them say it. They didn't name him Mohamet — that's what he was called when they adopted him.

Anyway, our first order of business was lunch. We were going to eat at a restaurant called L'Image. The rain stopped as we began our walk up the street to get there.

To be continued...


  1. Oooh, that would sure be an odd feeling to be the passenger on the left side! I can relate to the stomping of the foot on the oops-it's-not-there clutch... I've been driving a manual transmission for my whole driving life (over 30 years!) but I just got a new car, and it's automatic... it really is hard to get used to involving only one foot.

    Sounds like a picturesque drive! I can't remember the last time (duuh... ever??) that I described my route as "through a forest".

    Looking forward to more!


  2. The forest is the Fôret de Preuilly, and yes, we were surprised to see you arrive in a Jag (a car both of us have a weakness for :-)

  3. Judy, if you are like me you are still stomping on the clutch but it turns out to be the brake pedal. Lots of sudden stops that way! What kind of new car did you get?

    Susan, the Jag was nice but it was still strange to be on the "wrong" side.

  4. Hi Judy and Ken, I've always had an automatic and I wouldn't change it for the world. Although ... I'm probably the only 'automatic' driver using both feet: right to accelerate and left to brake!!! And guess what? It works! It's a very long story ... I won't bother you with it here. Martine

  5. Oh, I love road trips in France and taking a detour is often the best part. Thanks!



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