Thursday 22 May 2008

Theory of relativity

We're back on the real walk, progressing through the Aube and the Yonne departments a day's distance at a time, as fast as our packs and our legs will allow.

By our second morning out, we realized how much our frame of reference had already shifted. No more racing around in cars, thinking nothing of a twenty-kilometre trek to the nearest food shop or a half-hour drive for a five-kilometre walk by a lake. We listen, bemused, at breakfast in the Domaine des Lacs in Lesmont and later at La Renouillère in Villeneuve-au-Chêne as fellow guests (yes, that has changed too) explain they plan to spend the day in Troyes.

"But that's nowhere near here!" we think, "it must be at least three days away."

Ah, but three days at walking pace. Just around the corner for everyone else.

A week later and the relativity of our life swings again. From €30 each for a room, a four-course meal with wine, breakfast and enough over for a picnic, in the beaming hostel in a chateau donated to the village of Étouvy by its English doctor, to a bubble bath and fine dining in the Michelin-rated restaurant of the Hostellerie du Clos in Chablis. Well, we've just passed our one-thousandth mile. And we'll soon pass our tenth wedding anniversary. So we follow the hotel receptionist down the corridor as if in a L'Oreal advert: "We're worth it."

There's no "better" between the two experiences. Just the richness that comes with the unexpected.

18 May 2008

A duty of care

In Tonnerre stands a big hall, 90 metres by 18 metres on the ground and reaching to a height of 20 metres into the huge upturned ship of a ceiling. The long, tiled roof is easily seen from across the valley as you walk down from the hills into the town. Even now it is perhaps the largest solid slab of colour in the view; and back in 1295 when it was built at the request of Marguérite de Bougogne, it must have dominated the thoughts and vision of travellers approaching Tonnere even more than the churches of Notre Dame and St Pierre.

This is the Hotel-Dieu, and Marguérite ordered it to be built because the influx of pilgrims heading to Vézelay and Compostela who stopped at Tonnerre were sqeezing out the local sick and homeless from the existing places of refuge. The new hall doubled up as a chapel and a ward for the needy, so the forty or so people who could fit into the wooden alcoves down each wall could attend Holy Mass without leaving their beds. For some, I suppose, this was handy: their Last Rites on the spot.

Despite being a queen of Scicily, Jerusalem and Naples and sister-in-law to one of the most revered French kings, Saint-Louis, Marguérite seems to have been genuinely concerned about the needy, getting down and dirty with the sick and dying, St Jaques pilgrims among them. She even had her own accommodation built in a connecting wing so as to be on hand with the nursing.

Up the hill by the Notre Dame church, the tiny St-Antoine hospice carried on letting the fitter travellers stay for one night only and the nuns there issued pilgrims with food, drink and a stipend of five pennies to see them on their way.

Until 1650 the Hotel-Dieu was the only place in town for the ill; and right up until the twentieth century the complex remained a hospital and a place for caring for abandoned babies. Upstairs from the large hall the small rooms of the museum offer a disturbing mingling of medieval copes and altar cloths, saints' relics, kitchen furniture, Royal wills, wheelchairs and traction aparatus from before the First World War. The photographs of empty white beds are eerie enough, but that of an unconscious (one hopes) man about to have his lower leg sawn off by smiling, wax-moustachioed orderlies freaked me, and I had to leave.

It was't my constant conviction that my toes will freeze and break off that drove me out. Not this time. It was the fact that we were about to visit a Dr Letellier, an appointment kindly and without fuss arranged by our hosts at the Ferme de la Fosse Dionne on hearing that David had been walking for several days with a grotesquely swollen leg and a feeling "like knives slicing into me with every step".

David has a sweet nature. That's why mosquitos love him so much. All the other bite-induced balloonings had been conquored by the cream and tablets of the chemist in Bar-sur-Seine, but one on his ankle just kept on growing, trapped between the top of his boot and the clamp of his sock welt.

Dr Letellier prodded at lymph glands then gently laughed and promised me my husband wasn't going to die. It was most likely a spider bite, he thought, and if not walked on or constricted would probably sort itself out in a few days. But since we were pilgrims and on our way, he upheld the long traditions of Marguérite and ordered up an alcohol compress, cream and pills that were already taking effect by the next morning. But no five pennies.

22 May 2008


On a brief trip back to London, inevitably, our world of green and streams continues to drift us above the concerns of home for a while or two. Indeed, walking out of the new(ish) Eurostar terminal in St Pancras for the stroll home, the May afternoon that greets us is dizzy with the temperatures of high summer, and we forget that the whole world is not also on holiday. What else could explain the missing cars around the mansion on around Tonbridge Street? Or the bubbles of people at outdoor cafés and in the doorways of pubs? We decide to join them immediately, in celebration.

For a day or so more our slow scrutiny of the countryside remains more real than the dust and culture of the capital. I spend a day from early breakfast to late afternoon tea, never leaving Lambs Conduit Street in a succession of dates and chance encounters with friends. We talk, we explain, we share woes and indecisions, we celebrate. Jennifer, Paul, Marc, Sara, Cigala and Ciao Bella, Tutti's. Sara's baby is almost due and we drink tea for hours in the café at the back of Kennards, laughing and sighing over the neighbourhood news.

Walking over Wimbledon Common a couple of days later to dinner with Steve and Reena, our ears can more easily hear the evening birds and the fall of tiny hooplas of catapillers from the trees than they can the buzz of house decorating and school fee conversations in the bars. I head for a discreet bush but stop myself in time: this isn't the countryside after all.

It takes little, though, to become submerged in London. I work for a few days and am lit up with the desire to help the theatre people I'm tutoring. I catch up with recent convulsions in arts funding and want to bring new ideas and new plans to my clients. But all that must wait.

Like a majorette's streamers, the cultural life whips round and dazzlzs us. Shall we go to the LSO's concert at the Barbican or to see Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem dance at Sadler's Wells? What about the Persepolis film? And the last days of the Peter Doig exhibition at Tate Britain? In the end, daunted, we do little but dive into the weekend papers and the bewildering world of Ken Livingstone's defeat and Gordon Brown's disgrace. Should we worry about the economy? Probably. And the world and it's wars? Undoubtedly. The Burmese cyclone puts our good fortune in focus; but there are end-of-year accounts to finalise, VAT deadlines and slow internet connections; and the fractiousness that comes with real life. Because London is rushed, always looking down at its feet and knocking shoulders against the strangers who can't keep up. Always leaping to grab the next thing and throwing the old one, unfinished, on the pavement.

By the end of the week we are ready to regret leaving again. As we walk through The Brunswick we meet more people eager for our news, and these connections are so pleasant they bind us to the place. I want to add my energies to those of the people who make this neighbourhood work. Even a visit to the store sucks me in. The boxes of books call to me to settle down and to keep their treasures to hand on a nearby shelf.

But as soon as we are on the train and speeding back through a sun-filled France, those joint tendrils, the temptations and suffocations of London start to loosen their hold and to wither.

Henry Porter in last week's Observer issued a call that snaps me back to my walking mindset. He decries the cynical, seen-it-all-just-waiting-for-it-to-fail attitude that is the only tone of voice left in art, music, journalism, popular culture or TV. The we-don't-like-success syndrome gone endemic. A pessimistic irony, as he calls it. More than the death of faith or of ideology in our society, Porter sees a fear of faith in human nature. People don't want to be caught committing the sin of trust. In the face of the world's seemingly intractable political and humanitarian problems, he asks us to expect more, not less, from our political and social leaders; and from ourselves and each other. We need to expect ourselves and others to succceed rather than sit around waiting to pounce on failure. "People are ... in the main more trusting, more hopeful, more resourceful and a lot kinder than is ever acknowledged in the public arena."

I remember the kindness of people we have met on our walk, sometimes just smiles and waves as we pass by. The essential simplicity of life on the road is what is good. Even if we might still be concerned about the weight we carry or the vissicitudes of the weather, it is essentially as pure and as unremarkable as going for a walk on a nice day. The calculations, the lists to remember, the deadlines - they are not essential. So long as the people whose company has enriched us this week still remember us the next time we drop back home.

13 May 2008

Monday 12 May 2008


I've been able to put more of David's pictures into some of the older posts -especially the 'Walk with me' one - as requested!

Sunday 11 May 2008

Update May 2008

Another new phase is about to begin. Our past seven weeks of contortions and false starts – and work breaks and holidays – will be over. Almost. For those of you who have observed that you can’t figure out what’s going on or where we are up to, here’s the plot:

After reaching Reims in March and pressing the pause button on the day-by-day walking, we spent a week of pure indulgence around the Lac du Der regional park in the Marne department, followed by two weeks based in a cottage in the Champagne area south of Reims (but a bit north of the Lac du Der), which allowed us to complete our original planned route from Fismes, just west of Reims, to a little village south of the Lac du Der called Lentilles, on the way towards Troyes.

We then drove to Troyes for our week with friends; and fresh from that holiday we skipped south to the Morvan where, from the base of two different cottages, we walked the Santiago de Compstela path from Auxerre north of the Morvan mountain range, via beautiful and moving Vézelay to a little town called Grury in south Burgundy, near to Bourbon-Lancy.

From May 13th there’ll be no more walking backwards and having to explain ourselves to other pilgrims. But it will feel strange to be back in the flatlands, back in the relative north. Because we’re going back to Lentilles to spend about nine days walking from there to Auxerre, starting once again to progress day by day on foot alone, carrying our fully-loaded packs. From Auxerre we’ll take the train south to pick up the route at Grury, where we stopped on 4th May.

It’ll be around 23rd or 24th May, Pentecost, before we reach Grury and can pin our shells back on our packs, hold our heads up among fellow pilgrims and just maybe share their company for more than a couple of miles on the way to Compostela. The walking in the Morvan has been beautiful and tough – higher and with a lot more climbing than we’ve been used to, long days that have reminded our legs what it’s all about. But the warmer weather, the glimpses of cosy hostels hidden away in the hills, and the two fellow travellers who we’ve walked and talked with – the tall, lined and relaxed Dutchman Wim and French Julien, short and sore but with good courage and a calm smile, a student taking thinking time form his social work studies – have made us eager to rejoin the proper route.

As of today we have walked 929 miles (1495 kilometres). It’s about 200 miles short of what we had imagined we would have walked by now. Yet when we reach Le Puy en Velay, around 20 June, we will have covered on foot all 1339 of the miles on our personal route from London.

We will be some three weeks behind our schedule – but the schedule was generous, and we hope we’ll catch up with ourselves and still arrive in Compostela towards the end of September.

So please wish us “bonne route” once more.

12th May 2008

With some exceptions

Slowly we have grown sure that France is a deeply paternalistic country, one where the government – the little government of civil servants not the big government of the politicians – probably does know best and will safely plan out the details of life. Without the State, we feel, it is doubtful that the French would live to the sturdy old age we can see, outside boulangeries in small villages, that they do.

It must first become evident to anyone visiting the country as they drive the motorways. Those endless ditties in rhyming couplets aimed at keeping the maximum number alive.

“Un trait, danger;
Deux traits, sécurité!”

No advert may be aired for anything that will pass one’s lips without a warning to eat and drink in moderation and to take exercise. The finger-wagging even gets chalked on the bottom of the “plat du jour” boards, together with a nationally-protective website: And the “Pour votre santé, evitez de grignoter!” (for the sake of your health, don’t eat between meals) clangs oddly at the end of ads for Macdonalds or Kinder eggs.

Then there are the TV fillers, five-minute programmes that exhort one to keep cleaning products out of the reach of children, to wear seatbelts or condoms or to plant trees for the environment. They’re not punchy adverts that, sophisticated westerners that we are, we would realise are manipulating us. No, these are mini-documentaries that interview “ordinary people”, apparently even-handed.

And as for the patronising tone taken at the entrance to most villages with their “Soyez sympa, pensez à nous!” pleas with drawings of children playing.

But this fairly benign paternalism is nothing compared to the rampant bureaucracy of lower-level government. Every village with more than a boulangerie and a church surely has its Mairie, its mayor and deputy mayor who are paid a retainer even if they’re only open for business on a couple of afternoons a week. The power wielded locally can run riot. We talked to people whose mayor had been in office for twenty-one years. It’s the Mairie that would watch whether a chambre d’hôte served a meal without the visitor, by regulation, eating with the family. It is the Mairies that knows if a restaurant with rooms allows a guest to stay the night without eating. The Mairies that can check and rescind licences.

But the most frequent example we see of local posturing is at the entrance to roads, and paths of all widths and surfaces. A round white sign circled in red that forbids vehicles to pass.


The variety of exceptions permitted locally is bewildering. Except for access. Except for the people living here. Except for farm vehicles …

Sauf bus
Sauf desserte riverains
Sauf communaux service public
Sauf gestion forestière
Sauf 4x4
Sauf ayants droit
Sauf engines agricoles
Sauf cars scolaires at carrosserie
Sauf livraisons
Sauf deux roués
Sauf autorisation spéciale décret du 06/02/1932

The fact that it is the local power-brokers who control these things is made gleefully clear by the addition of the regulation being invoked and the date the mayor took the decision to forbid or to permit an exception. On a heavily-wooded hilltop in the Montagne de Champagne, four deeply rutted and rocky paths sunk in mud and tree roots met at a collection of signs with the information:

“Sauf dérogation arêté affiché en mairie” – “Except for a list of dispensations posted up in the town hall”

Oh, right. I’ll just nip back down to the town hall then, shall I, to check whether I can winch my zimmer frame up here?

Or maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe all these signs and regulations are symptomatic of the sheer bloody-minded contrariness of the French that we British would secretly prefer to believe in? Symptomatic that is, that the French really would consider it within their rights and their capabilities to drive a car up a six-inch-wide scree slope.

All these “sauf”s belabouring our eyes sensitised me. But when another “sauf” lodged in my mind it took me in another direction entirely.

“Si on me dit, c’est chacun chez soi, moi je veux bien;
Sauf que chez moi, il n’y a rien.”

It’s a song on the new album by the excellent, poetic, reclusive singer Francis Cabrel – a veteran who I first heard twenty-seven years ago as a politically- and socially-concerned singer-songwriter. This song is called “African Tour” and takes the voice of an African man forced to travel to Europe via small boats to Spain to seek work illegally. Yes, he would rather stay at home; except in his home, there is nothing at all.

At the moment in France there’s a lot of talk about the “sans-papiers”, the illegal immigrants (or asylum seekers – it’s a moot point), many of whom are being thrown out by force. The government has declared that these people will henceforth be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, which seems to have aroused pain in the human rights fraternity. I suppose it depends on what the starting point is. If, for example, most applicants are routinely turned down according to regulations, then perhaps a case-by-case interpretation of the rules might signal a humanising influence.

Or maybe the French are too familiar with the random and personalised application of “sauf” by little people with local power. Maybe the defenders of the sans-papiers fear such personal prejudice or rank injustice will follow in the wake of case-by-case laxity?

6th May 2008

The mountains of Morvan

From the start, the high places of the Morvan held fear but also promise. Like the echoing Mountains of Mordor in Tolkein’s Middle Earth, few people know of them and fewer can locate them on a map. An empty region, floating somewhere off-centre in France. Granite uplands cast adrift in the chalk of Burgundy.

We’d dreamed of it as rolling hilltops of sparse green through which rasping stones would break. On the map, thin roads cut through the deep valleys unimpeded by towns or villages. Our route would stick to the high ground, encountering an occasional building – a hamlet, a farm or a sheepfold, or perhaps simply a deserted hovel. For all the research we did in advance, we found little accommodation. Our foreboding of long, steep days ending at basic mountain hostels was balanced out by the allure of this undiscovered region. So it became the region to base ourselves in for our cottage-based period.

Unplanned, zooming back to London for kit, we packed The Lord of the Rings cds and Howard Shore’s echoing music became the soundtrack to our Morvan. At first the forboding weighs heaviest, when the border of the Parc Natural Regional du Morvan almost exactly corresponds to the line where heavy rain clouds cluster and we live in a world of fog and shadows. But as the days clear and we trek south from Vézelay into the Morvan proper, I’m reminded of the Derbyshire Peaks for their granite and their height; and of Herefordshire for the small fields and orchards in blossom, and the thick hedges that knit it all together. Plunging ever southwards we encounter ravines backed by steep scars of cliffs; cascades and large lakes. The forests thicken and crowd out the pasture land and the views; and, as the mountain mass tilts upwards towards the south, we finally reach, after two weeks, the summits of 1530 feet at Mont Beuvray and 2730 feet (910 metres) at Haut Folin before gently descending through the sun-lush, white-cattled valleys of south Burgundy.

Though we thought of this area as empty and therefore backwards, long ago it was one of the most thriving in France. There are prehistoric echoes here, in the flints and paintings in the caves above Arcy-sur-Cure and Saint-Moré, of hunter-gatherers who found the plentiful running water, game and fruits a source of life. They cleared patches of trees and discovered agriculture. They heard about metal working and found the rocks here rich in different ores.

By the time the Romans invaded in the first century BC, the Morvan was the busy home of the Celtic Eduens people, traders, artisans, miners and farmers whose capital was at Mont Beuvray. The paths through the mountains were born there.

The Eduens already traded with the Romans, so when Julius Ceasar appeared they were ripe for adopting the Roman way of life – even if Mont Beuvray was, for a time, the rallying point for all Celtish tribes against the Romans. Slightly east, the Romans built Autun as an imperial new town to supplant Mont Beuvray and the temples, markets, circuses, craftsmen and money it offered worked. Further north on the same Agrippa Way leading from Milan all the way to Boulogne, we stood in the forest on a naturally-fortified promontory, awed by the size and efficiency of the Roman legion’s Camp de Cora whose remains rose above our heads.

But that was then. When the Romans left, the area slumped and the trees grew back. Not till the Middle Ages and feudalism was there the organisation – and the cheap serf labour – to make clearings and build castles, villages and churches. The paths through the forest revived and multiplied, the local to-ing and fro-ing buoyed up by trade, fairs and festivals, pilgrims and crusaders travelling through. Once more, the people of the Morvan adapted to these crowds of outsiders who brought new ideas and curious perspectives.

Even now the patterns of the Morvan recall those times. The chateaux on high outlooks, the hamlets or villages a little further off, the isolated farms where the lords granted rights of settlement and the use of wood and pasture to newcomers brought in to boost the local workforce, decimated by plague and war. The right to use the forest for building homes, heating them and to make tools and graze animals was enshrined: centuries later, an edict from the King in 1546 gave trees a commercial value so the landowners wanted to exploit them. Their attempts to retrench on those rights sparked a slow resentment that fuelled social unrest and made the south Morvan an independent-minded area ripe to support the Revolution.

Looking at the wooded peaks around us and the many tiny meadows with grazing cattle, it’s hard to credit that the Morvan was, for centuries, most famous as a wheat-and cereal-producing area. Nothing could be further from our memories of the vast plains of Picardy and the Marne which have today taken over that role. But the Morvan’s agricultural past was rich in the days before intensive farming – and may be rich again in a coming post-intensive farming era.

But grain was a seasonal income, and the Morvandieux once again showed their open vision in their willingness to travel for work. Many joined the logging and wood-floating industry that supplied all that wood to Paris. When coal became fashionable instead, they hitched oxen to carts and went off as carters or seasonal labourers out in the flat lands around. They were known as “Galvachers” and their departure each year on 1st May and return on 1st December gave rise to great fairs.

The most extraordinary example of open-minded generosity hospitality was the Morvan women. They became famous as wet nurses – leaving their own babies at home with grandparents to go and rear the rich children of Paris. Many a thatched roof was converted to slate or a smallholding bought on the strength of their milk, and fancy customs were brought back home to the Morvan too. Later, the travel was reversed. Orphans and abandoned children from Paris were sent here to be suckled and raised in exchange for a wage. Not only was the rural exodus experienced in the rest of France log delayed here by these extra incomes; but the new blood of the city children often remained, through intermarriages and work on farms or in trades. A continuation of the old blending and mixing of influences. Perhaps it is this attitude that has forged a special link between the Morvan and the Dutch, whose presence in cottages and cafés all around seems a source of contentment for the locals.

The Morvan is enchanting but changeable. Certainly it isn’t as fecund as Tolkien’s Shire, but the grass is plump and bright and the white Charolias calves are at peace under the snow of hawthorn blossom. Yet the forests can lose us easily and the valleys and hills will soon remove themselves from sight behind their veil of clouds and rain. In the Second World War, even the German occupiers were too intimidated by the forest to chase the resistance Maquis into its depths. Like the elfin Rivendell which sheltered the Fellowship of the Ring, the landscape and the Morvandais’ independence of mind made it the birthplace and headquarters of the French resistance, drawing fighters from all over France. The Morvan liberated itself in 1944, at a heavy cost to which the many monuments along the tracks and the harrowing eye-witness accounts in the Musée de la Resistance bear witness.

But the hospitality we find here floods deep-sprung from the older history of goings away and welcomings in. It is warm and matter-of-fact, a generosity served up in the heart of the homes. In the hilltop hamlet of St-André-en-Morvan the café-tabac is the front living room of a farmhouse where an old dog lies asleep in the mud. We sit at a plastic-clothed table in the gloom from the open door and the one tiny window. On the plain dresser are photos of grandchildren and a row of liqueur bottles that constitute the bar. The farmer’s wife, torn between us and her Suduko puzzle, comments on how many walkers came through twenty-five years ago when the GR was launched, but now she sees only one or two at the weekends. “But I’m here if they want me. I’m always here.” And indeed we did really, really want the ice-cold Orangina she set before us, however old its label.

Le Chalet Renard is uphill from a memorial to the Resistance and may have been one of the outlying farms that fed and sheltered the Maquisards. Now it is a walkers’ hostel with a newly-built extension. But here too hospitality is from the kitchen table where, even though a sign says “fermé” and the family is off to a wedding, the little boys rush inside to fill our water bottles for us.

In Saint-Brisson the young mother running the bar-brasserie on the square used the large, cool barroom as a play pen. I ate surrounded by the screeches of a soft ball game and the crumbs of a baby’s scrap of bread. A toothy baby in an ancient wooden high chair. In the Eco Musée up the road, the story of the Morvandieux’s past bleeds into the present and the future. In the present the open arms of the Morvan continue. This is not the kind of retrenched, enclosed society that shocks many English who think to set up home in rural France. Here the vet is Belgian, the jam-maker is Moroccan and the chambres d’hôte are run by a woman from Senegal. Local families retire into the enterprise of a guest house and campsite and are thrilled to meet the visitors from outside. But then, the Morvandieux themselves still often go away to work before coming back to take up the family living and a quality of life the cities can’t provide.

The Morvan is magical and full of stories and legends. It’s not quite the daunting place we had feared – but it is challenging and deserves respect. As we arrived here the hillsides exploded with wild flowers in yellows and purples. It makes sense that the natural handicaps of steep slopes, forests and robust winters, which prevented intensive farming ruining the environment here, are now being sung as natural head-starts in supply of organic, caring food.

At six in the evening we sit in the garden drinking white wine and reading, and I’m so hot I have my hat on and my feet are bare. At five past six we watch the arrival of a cold front from down the valley, a line of flat grey annihilating out the sun. As it passes, wild winds blow. At seven, we see little from behind the windows but tumultuous rain. By half past eight a red sunset also approaches from the valley and a clear glassy sky into which the birds fling their last songs of the day.

4th May 2008

Tuesday 6 May 2008

John-ny, John-ny!

Johnny Hallyday is stalking me.

He’s been at it since I was thirteen, pouncing on me as soon as I set foot in France. Who is this creep? An old guy with a sleazy voice from too many cigarettes, too old for his look, battering me with his guitar and single-mindedly keeping the long-haired rocker look alive.

I can go for months, years even, without being bothered by him. But just over the Channel, there he is on the radio, on people’s lips. Unheard of on our side, for the French he’s some kind of Elvis. Decade upon decade, still wearing that black leather, still filling arenas and provoking radio stations to count down the tickets sold.

This time it’s worse. Turn on the TV and there he is. Is it the leather or just his bones I can hear creaking? The mottled, aging face is hidden behind sunglasses big enough to do duty in a racing car. Yes, Johnny Hallyday does glasses ads now. Yet he can still fill the Stade de France.

I just don’t get it. I just don’t want to.

And now he’s sly. He’s using a pseudonym: Jean-Philippe Smet. That’s how he slipped in one Sunday night, into our room. And before we could put up defences, Johnny Hallyday was all around us, in a film that – gasp! – suggested a parallel universe where Johnny Hallyday was not famous; was just a loser by the name of Smet.

It was a baptism, that film. A rite of passage, an initiation trial. Johnny’s life and career laid out for our education under the guise of a thin comedic plot. A great many of his songs belted out for our appreciation, usually by his adoring fan, played by Fabrice Luchini – Johnny-worship being a largely male pastime, it seems.

Johnny was slit-eyed and pock-marked, the hair worn extra long only so it could be trimmed to a ‘reasonable’ length. I couldn’t tell if this Hallyday guy’s ego is so big he thinks his not being a star is clearly an absurd joke; or if he shows the most endearing, self-mocking humour in making this film.

Because, by the end of it, we were oddly uplifted, grinning as we hummed along with Johnny and Fabrice to the final rock star anthem, the one that has continued stalking me through every walk since:

“Tout en haut,
Tout en cuir,
Tout en noir!”

Just as he has always been.

28th April 2008