Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Unexpected delights

The car broke down. Again. The problem a mechanic had incompetently fixed a bit north of Clermont-Ferrand stopped us completely a bit south of Aurillac.

We pulled up, ironically outside a Renault garage that had closed down, called the insurance company, and were told we'd have to wait an hour. We walked into Montsalvy for lunch.

Montsalvy is a sweet little town, once you get through the fortified gate, with a single main street lined by low stone houses. Nothing much in the way of attractions, just an old church, a monks' refectory that now serves as exhibition space, and a few bars and restaurants.

And one marvellous, unexpected delight; a treasury in the local church.

Here were fine liturgical vestments, chalices, monstrances, curiosities. A monstrance with tiny cherubs peeping between sharp shards of sunburst; another with angel-heads in entrail-fat clouds. A crocheted surplice that used to belong to a Colombian priest, and on his death was left to the priest here in Montsalvy who had once worked with him. All displayed in a tall, light, vaulted room, just off the south aisle.

It was a little like the town. Nothing would rate two asterisks in the Blue Guide; no Romanesque candelabras, no priceless medieval textiles or Limoges enamel, no Byzantine ivories. Just a collection of interesting and sometimes beautiful things, which neatly occupied a few minutes while we waited for the mechanic to arrive.

And then we had to go all the way back to Aurillac to get the car fixed, through a horrendous traffic jam in the narrow one way street at the end of which the garage was located. And then we were told it would take a few hours to fix. And then we discovered there was a street theatre festival in Aurillac.

There were white-faced, rouge-cheeked ladies in huge white satin crinolines. Pirates roaming the streets. Jugglers and bubble-blowers, prestidigitators and propagandists. There were Duos Habet, two men in stridently plasticky suits - one lugubrious, one glib - who present magic as a means of mass manipulation and neatly puncture their own mysteries with sardonic cynicism, and there was an incredible Italian clown who spoke a language entirely his own invention and threatened members of the audience with immense streams of cross babbling if they dared to sit in the wrong place, and flirted outrageously and still wordlessly with a woman who took his photograph, and ...more silliness, like this.

And then Jacques' mobile rang, and the car was ready, and we were actually, after the unexpected and uproarious fun of the afternoon, just a little bit annoyed.


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