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sept: Dial M For Merguez

THIS morning, all has changed -- the sky isn't overcast, but purest blue; I'm woken up not by the rain on my tent but the heat in my tent; the tractor isn't decrepit but extremely new; and, most worryingly, it's not in the next field but in this.
Madame Moulinier appears and we're expecting her to tell the tractor driver off, tell him not to mow this field as there are campers in it. But no: she's here merely to move some firewood out of the tractor's path.
"It's for the sheep," she says in French, indicating the tractor. "There is some poor grass, some mauvaise herbe, which they don't eat, so if I didn't mow it, it would be everywhere. Like it is over there. It would become forest."
Madame Moulinier has very thoughtfully learned what sounds like GCSE French, and speaks to foreigners in that rather than the full-screen full-motion French of her conversations with French campers. Every so often she pauses, thinking of how to simplify a complex thing she wants to say. But at least all four of us can understand her.
In the afternoon we go canoeing. At least, we call it canoeing, though it bears the same relationship to real canoeing that a brisk walk over Mill Road railway bridge does to rock climbing. A more accurate description might be "floating down the river on pointy things, in a slightly paddle-assisted manner".
The canoeing company operates all the way up and down the Vézère, you can choose to start and stop at any of their riverside stations. One station is just downstream of The Bridge At Tursac, so we elect to finish there and start a way upstream at Thonac.
The bridge at Thonac, not to be confused with The Bridge, which is at Tursac.
Thonac (that's pronounced Turn-Ack, of course) turns out to have its own bridge, nearly as good as Tursac's. They really have got bridges sorted out in this part of the world: not only are they, by and large, lovely, but they all have little signs naming the river or stream they're crossing. A tiny example, but emblematic of the French appreciation of a sense of place, of locality, which the English seem long to have lost.
The four of us end up with a two-man canoe (which, at least, looks like a proper canoe such as a trapper or a Last of the Mohicans might recognise) and two one-man ones which are just moulded plastic shapes with pointy ends, a shaped seat and two shaped footrests. The river, however, is quite flat, and even where it's a bit fast it's not white-watered.
The best bits are where the river has cut away the underside of the rocky walls of the valley; curtains of dripping vegetation hang down, and the heat outside gives way within the space of a yard to a welcome, slightly damp, cool. The last, and largest, overhang (in the photo) is part of the Roque St. Christophe itself, and fifty feet above our heads dayglo-kagoulled tourists are being shown round the galleried Neolithic caves. We, of course, are tourists too, but even in the pink plastic canoes we are, or pretend to be, different: above they are admiring the past, but we are also admiring the present.

FOR our evening meal, Ian decides to relive his student days in Toulouse. We'd bought, in a morning shopping trip to La Bugue, some eggs, instant mashed potato, merguez and harissa. These last need more explanation: merguez are long sausages, extremely red and evil-looking, and harissa is a chilli sauce, the consistency of tomato purée, originating from French North Africa.
Real chilli heat being almost unknown in France, the harissa tube is labelled extremely defensively ("s'utilisant en petites quantités"), but as Brits we, obviously, take no notice. Harissa is actually quite hot, though not of Encona strength, but it's a fruity sort of hot that I've not encountered before.
The potatoes are made up in one pan, the merguez fried in another (Stu, handily, has a two-burner camping stove). Frying the merguez turns the oil a deep red, but Ian is troubled about their veracity as student fare. "They haven't shrunk much," he complains, "they must be some kind of up-market merguez." We can tell the concept is somehow oxymoronic to him. "The merguez I used to get," he continued, "used to be about sixty percent fat, and they'd shrivel to almost nothing. Which is the whole point, 'cos then you fry the eggs in what's left in the pan, and they get this wonderful pork-fat kind of taste. These eggs are just going to be red and that's it."
We fry the eggs anyway, in whatever these posh merguez have provided. "Filth!" exclaims Stu delightedly, shuffling the eggs round the pan, "It's all just filth, this, isn't it?"
And it is, though as we trough our splat of mashed potato, wonky red sausages, and motorway-café eggs, helped along with some tidy '94 Gaillac and Corbières, all we can notice is that it's splendid.

 Camping à la ferme Moulinier
sept:Dial M For Merguez
(K) All Rites Reversed -- Copy What You Like