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Posts tagged ‘Isere’

Hand in glove

Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies.  My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly.  Granny had only one arm.  The other was lost in The First World War.  Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid.  She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were.  She never expected to marry after losing her limb.  With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love.  However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper.  From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth.   Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together.  I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.

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Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent.  She had seemingly no filter between what  was in her head and what came out of her mouth.  For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly  have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her.  And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child.  ‘James’, replied Madame.  ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny.  It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which  as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently her means ‘one cannot see you any more’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after.   My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog.  She wasn’t.  She was saying the first thing that popped into her head.  I have the same tendency.  I try to control it.  I frequently fail.

So what is that preamble about.  Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair.  She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand.  Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.

Which brings me to Grenoble.  Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France.  The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin.  He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square.  I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves.  He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go.  Breathtaking in 1838.  When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.

You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment  provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and  as the time approached to leave it  I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave.   I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there.  Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find.  My candied pellet is this:  the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance.  Guess who?  Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one.  Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier.  I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric.  From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful.  I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times.  My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place  and also retain a cornucopia of original features.  If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to  but I never want to overtax with tedium..

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PS:  Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness.  I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock.   Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.

It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford.  She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin.  Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild.  As it turns out

G K Chesterton agreed with me.  Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …

To A Lady Seen From A Train

Frances Darwin Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much

The Fat White Woman Speaks

G K Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should

I am not done with my changes

Such little lives we live if only we would admit it.  All of us however fêted.  Marking out our  pathetic tiny snail trails as we go.  Imprinting what we do – good, bad, downright ugly through our little journey.  Imagining ourselves important or impotent when in fact neither is probably true.

Stanley Kunitz, born in a place that I ran (or rather more accurately staggered) last Autumn at a time when I thought I would never run again has it right in this poem.  I, me, mine … not at all relevant when you equate the microscopic me to the great landscape of time in which we exist.  Just let’s protect what we have – we can do our little bit by acting decently, by regarding others with an importance not by dint of  their shoes or their achievements or their accumulated wealth but just because.  Because they co-exist with us on this planet we all accidentally find ourselves on.

I have indeed walked through many lives.  All of them in this skin.  And I will not be done and I will not give up hope  until I draw my fatal last breath.  Never.  Not at all.  I am many layered and yet simple cored just like you … if we all accept that, the rest is blissfully uncomplicated.  I give you this in answer to the weekly photo challenge titled ‘Layered’ of which a delicious gallery of entries you will find here.

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The Layers

Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

PS:  The picture is taken at Vassieux-en-Vercors where people lived and died in a rather more profound way than I can ever begin to imagine.

I asked the faithful light

Diu absentia … long in absence I have been.  I make no apologies.  It’s just a bit of life in my life.  Nothing dramatic.  No imprisonment, no hospitalisation nothing really to write home about.  Nothing to write about.  Except write I will.  It’s what I do.  Potted and neatly in a nutshell I have been moving rather a lot these past two months – US to England, England to France, France to England, England to France – friends and relics (stet) and Christmas with my most loved.  In Grenoble a temporary tiny flatlet with a view of snow topped mountains and on February 1 moving all I own from the flat in Cantal that I persist in calling home because it’s where I feel home, to our permanent Grenoble place-until-summer.  And beautiful it is.  But more of that another time.

No shadows lurking in my cupboard, nothing to make me startle and stare wide-eyed in horror, just life and settling and I will give you more of it, I promise … much more.

Shadows and startling seem to be the order of things in this world just now.  I rather feel that people are having to wear their most politically correct attire for dread of offending someone.  Anyone!  But I have always been the gal to stick her head above the trench and get it picked off by a beady eyed sniper far away out of sight on the other side of no-man’s land.  So I have a commentary on the world at large.  It is unhappy, it is uncomfortable and it is unpalatable for many.  For many others it is hopeful because it has been increasingly uncomfortable and unpalatable these umpteen years and they desire that there will be green shoots which might give they and their loved ones a future in what has been their shiny world rusted and corroded to dust.  Whether I agree or disagree with either side is neither here nor there but I  give a gentle reminder that alongside it’s bolder, brasher brother ‘Greed’, that ‘Fear’ is the greatest eroder of hope, of decency, of love that we, as humans  have in our armoury of weapons of mass self-destruction.  Try not to be led by fear.  Try instead, to be led by love.  It is, after all la fête de St Valentin who was beaten, stoned and decapitated under the rule of Claudius because, put simply, he believed that young lovers should be allowed to choose to marry as Christians.  Choice.  That’s the thing old Valentine was about and he suffered a particularly appalling death for his conviction.  In 269 AD.  Please let me trust that we have evolved and progressed in almost 2,000 years.  Just please.

My picture, which shows a rather perfect half (insert favourite cheese) moon, sentinel above a stone tower whose keepers can’t make their minds up whether to restore it’s authentic stone or leave it suffocated by the corset of concrete rendered upon it some aeons ago by zealous betterers, taken in the last 10 days in Gieres, a pretty commune just outside Grenoble it is offered for this week’s photo challenge captioned ‘Shadow’ (you can find the glories of the entire gallery here) – the moon’s shadow may not be apparent but it is there and, I would postulate, is not alarming at all.

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PS:  The title is taken from Cat Stevens’ (one of the enduring loves of my life) beautiful song ‘Moonshadow’.  Here are the lyrics and, as a bonus, a lovely clip of the man who stole a little of my heart in nineteen seventy-something singing it …. give them a read if you will – if I ever lose my mouth –  I won’t have to talk ….

Moonshadow

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if I won’t have to work no more.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if I won’t have to cry no more.

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if I won’t have to walk no more.

And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if I won’t have to talk…

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

Cat Stevens

Something so right

The title is ‘Wall’.  I have a quiet obsession with walls.  When I meet someone new I have to own up to to this compulsion fairly quickly to explain my conversation discursively tailing off when I spot a lovely piece of brick work or, even better, a good effort at a dry stone wall.  I want to learn how to do it.  When I was a little girl our brickie was a displaced Glaswegian called, predictably, Jock.  He used to come and speak unintelligibly and make walls in our garden or for a new garage or such-like.  The house had been built for Mr Lyle known for his savvyness with sugar, to-wit Tate and LyleEdwin Lutyens had an influence in its design and construction and Jock was loyal to getting it right – not just any old bricks, not just any old cement.  The right stuff for the right place.  He was a tiny man with a large family living in a little house on a not so pleasant council estate some distance from us.  He taught me by osmosis that one should never ever judge a book by its cover.  He was a good man with a skill and not a deep pocket and looked after his own as best he could. A man of extreme moods, the world was either bright and sunny or dark and repellent.  I liked Jock and was happy to carry him a mug of stewed tea laced with 7 sugars and whatever mother had made for elevenses or tea (we were ‘posh’ so that was cake or scones, his ‘tea’ would come later and would be what we called ‘supper’).  Simultaneously, being a horse-mad youngster, I spent much of this formative period on a pony out in the wildest parts of Britain – moorlands, highlands and sparce wastelands and I developed this love of walling.

So when I saw this challenge, I was all over it.   And I sifted through and through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures of walls that I have and gave myself a headache trying to choose because I stubbornly refuse to use more than one that evokes the prompt each week.  Nose-face-spite.  But then, just as I was throwing my toys out of my pram, spitting my dummy and generally being childishly unpleasant,  something so right cropped up out of the blue driving home from Grenoble at the start of the week.  A wall on a wall – a man-made stone castle, now decayed, toothlike atop the rocks, imperious and impervious to the elements and ever driving off the scurmisher as they remain standing firm.  Nature – 1, human beings – 0. DSCF1410

PS:  The title is from Paul Simon and picked because he says in that song ‘I built a wall around me’ which has always echoed favourably with me.  Give me a wall any day …. keep em out for I embrace my hermitude.

And I got a wall around me
That you can’t even see
It took a little time
To get next to me

And one last thing …. in answer to the request to find out more, I have discovered that this is actually Chateau de Crussol in Ardeche …. I believe the border with Drome is the Rhone which skirts Valence over which the ruin still watches

Dance me to the end of love

As previously noted, we drive a lot, little dog and I a motley pair and better still a trio completed by the husband with two brains.  One day not so long ago we set off for Grenoble at around 5 a.m.  We go to Grenoble reasonably frequently since HB2 has associations with IRAM (Institut de Radioastronomie Milliemetrique) and indeed worked there for 9 years throughout the 1980s.  He had a house in the Belledonne mountains until recently and still has a bank account at Caisse D’Epargne in the village of Uriage les Bains.  That we had to go TO the bank to reset his PIN will tell you that this particular bank is a teeny bit perochial  – this is a 5-6 hour drive and we can’t use the nearer branches in Cantal because Caisse d’Epargne is entirely localised.  Hey ho.

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Chateau d’Uriage in Uriage les Bains

We made it in time for His Brainship to get whatever it was sorted and for The Bean and I to have a stagger up to the chateau (now in flats which I rather covert the idea of living in) and back down again.

Back to the University campus for lunch and a quick meeting with the glorious and waspishly effete Philippe (him) and a speedy spin around Castorama in search of another garden chair (The Bean and me).  In case you are concerned, they didn’t have the right chair in the right colour … silly me – its almost time for Christmas, why would a shop have garden furniture in Summer!

Choices, choices – 3 p.m on a sunny Tuesday what should we do next.  We could walk in the mountains … appealing.  We could go shopping … I can always talk myself out of that one.  Or we can go to Vienne.  The Brains have been before and I have wanted to go here ever since I drove through it the very first time I came down to Grenoble on my own and decided, with no time constraints to go entirely non peage.  That Leonard Cohen played in the Roman theatre in 2009 is a further lure.  I love him.  I wasn’t there but I wish I had been.  He used to be accused of writing music to slit your wrists by when I was at school and proud of the fact that my dad looked like him according to the very beautiful Sarah Chant.  I was not very beautiful so having a father who resembled an icon was a way of attaining that popular girl status we all craved if only to protect ourselves from the less lovely bullies who would make your life miserable at the drop of your school beret.  I still bathe in his exquisite lyrics and though he has never really been able to sing and I am told his voice such as it was is fading, I would still have loved to sit and listen and marvel at the agility of the true poet.

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L’ancien Theatre in Vienne

Of course Vienne won.  You know that.  And we arrived in the late afternoon of a particularly warm day, parked and strolled.  This place is lovely.  The second largest city in Isere (the largest is Grenoble) which in turn sits in Rhone Alpes.  The Rhone strolls leisurely through it.  Large and languid it needs make no extraneous effort to impress.  It just is.  The town was first settled by the Romans and wears those remains well.  Here the semi circular Ancien Theatre, there the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie, the ruins of the medieval castle on the hill that was built on Roman footings, the pyramid (otherwise known as le Plan de l’Aiguille) which rests on a four arched portico this is a place that knows what it is.

It shimmys you through its history easily and the town moves around its monuments fluidly – al fresco bars and cafes abound and clearly it is thriving.  A huge new tourist office is being built looking over the river on which you can take a boat the size of a small principality to cruise and dine.  We made a note that we will.  It is a place we will return to and explore over and over again.  We whistle-stopped around it seeing the stunning cathedral of St Maurice, the elegant city hall and all the above except the needle.  I noted the casual layabout roman carved blocks by the Temple with some glee … one of the things I love about Rome is the way the ancient has just been squished in with the modern over the centuries and the bits that drop off just stay where they lay.  It has the beauty of an overstuffed boudoir whose owner can’t bear to part with a single thing, even if its broken.

I should note at this point that I have an overwhelming and admittedly, to the casual observer, quite possibly strange obsession with the departements and regions of France.  When we first drove the long drive from Oxfordshire to Cantal late last summer, we bought a book in one of the Aires on the way called ‘Les 101 departements de France’.  It is aimed at children …. probably quite young children if I’m honest but I love it.  Slowly, slowly I am making sense of the geography of this huge country and slowly, slowly I am learning all the departments, their numbers (they are numbered alphabetically) and I can idly note where the cars that punctuate my drives long and short come from.  And its not entirely pointless to know where they are from – for instance, there are lots and lots of Paris plates in Cantal and I know why …. if you want to learn you will have to stick with me because I am being discursive enough in this post already.  But I will, I promise, write about what I have learned the historic connection between the two is, before very long at all.  My pledge is that if you hold you breath, you won’t turn blue … I don’t want asphyxiated readers on my conscience so that will be spur enough to write it.  Back on piste …. I live in Auvergne (in Cantal – number 15 to be precise) and to the west of me is Limousin and number 87 is Haute Vienne.  Which means there must be a Vienne.  And indeed there is (number 86 naturally) – I’ve been there … it’s in Poitou-Charente and its capital is the lovely Poitiers which I will always think of as Sidney.  If you are as old as I you will know what I mean.  But Vienne is not in Vienne.  It’s in Isere.  And that it was historically called Vienna makes it even more confusing.  But one thing I was sure of  that Viennoisserie, the wonder of French patisserie must certainly come from Vienne.  I pressed my nose against several pastry shop windows … I am often to be found in this postion lured by the sweet wonderlands they always are.  And I went home secure in the knowledge that I had been in the home of the croissant.  Only to find that they come from Vienna.  But then again … maybe it was this Vienna.  Before it was Vienne.  Surely.  Surely the French can’t be eating Austrian pastries … can they?

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I’d buy it ….

On the long drive home I told my husband a story of a trip a little while ago … stay with me now, settle and I will share it with you.

In April we travelled to Russia.  For Russia you need a visa.  The two venerable institutions (that which he works for and that which he was visiting) communicated, many people filled in many forms for him and we travelled to Lyon to drop our passports, pay a fee and settle back for their return in a week or so.  Two Brains went back to the US a few days later (that our daughters are convinced that he is one of The Men in Black may go a way to explain how the passport was in Paris via Lyon and he still managed to board a flight from Europe and enter the US without a murmour) and I woke the following day to an ominous email telling me that something was wrong in the process and I needed to contact him urgently.  Actually, my paperwork (which I had filled out myself) was perfect but unfortunately the enormous combined brains of the two venerable institutions had made a mistake with his.  Frantic calls to Paris, more paperwork and eventually, after nearly two weeks,  a call to tell me that the passports were ready for collection in Lyon.  That I was due to travel to London on the Monday left me with no alternative but to drive down before the Consulate closed at midday on the Saturday.  Which I did.  And a lovely drive it was – sunrise over the volcanos of the Puy de Dome can never fail to captivate.  The Bean, unimpressed by the display  slept and we made Lyon by 11.  I ran in and out bearing the treasured passports complete with visas and skipped back to the car to take tiny dog for a walk and grab a coffee before the journey home.  The consulate is in a pretty area of what is a lovely city and one that I fully intend to explore but enough of buildings and rivers and city ambience, the point of this story is a person.

Pretty it is, but mostly closed on a Saturday morning, in this area that is mainly devoted to businesses.  Vainly looking about for a likely pit-stop I nearly fell over a tiny little lady pulling a shopping trolley prettily adorned with macaroons.  She was trying to catch the attention of The Bean so I stopped in politeness and truthfully complimented her cake-garnished pull-along.  In my opinion there can never be too many macaroons in a life, preferably to devour but if that isn’t an option then images adorning pretty much anything are an acceptable reminder of their delight.  The lady was truly like a sparrow – tiny, black eyed and spry.  She coaxed and cajoled The Bean who dutifully danced on her hind legs and the lady rewarded me with the tinkling laughter of so many fairies ringing tiny bells in the tree lined square.  She told me she had a dog indoors who is so old that he can only make it to the bottom of the steps twice a day to perform his necessary functions and that aged and slow as she is the dog can’t keep up at all.  She asked if I was from Lyon and I told her no, English but living in Cantal.  She was interested.  Did my husband work there … no – America.  She hoovered up every morcel of information I could give her and pointed in turn to the only cafe open on a Saturday morning in this district.  She wanted to know if I had children.  I told her about the girls and about the son I gained with marriage.  She laughed at my eye-rolling descriptions of them and asked if they visit often.  I told her they would in summer I hoped.  We chatted away and she asked if I had grandchildren.  Not yet I said.  And then all of a sudden her face creased in the wrong way.  The sad way.  Her dark beaded eyes clouded and tears pricked them.  I touched her arm and asked stoutly (I am English in a crisis) if I could help.  She composed herself and told me that she had lost a grand-daughter.   To start with I thought this must have just happened but in fact it was over 20 years ago. Aged barely 19, killed in a road accident.  A fool drove his car into hers.  He survived, she died.  She said not a day passes that she doesn’t think of the girl, a promising ballerina so full of life then brutally stamped out.  The girl was her youngest grand-daughter.  She said the dancing stopped with her passing.  I couldn’t leave her in her sadness so I suggested we take coffee together.  We walked the square and sat in front of the cafe for maybe a half hour.  I would estimate that this little bird was at least 85 and probably ten or even more years older than that.  Her clothes, immaculate, her tiny frame that would fit in her own shopping trolley, her lovely lilty slightly growly voice, her directness affected me then and I will always think of her.  Not as often as she thinks of her dancing grand-daughter but nonetheless I will think of her often.  The grief still so raw after decades and the root of it the fact that she still walks and her grand-child is motionless.  Dance me to the end of love ….

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Plateau d’Artense in the Belledonne above Grenoble …. to me this is where my father walked when his spirit left his body. I can see the lively young spirit of a dancer on the path with him

PS:  Familiarity breeds contempt – unfortunately 2 weeks later I got a rather official letter rather officially telling me that somewhere between Brioude and le Puy en Velay I had been doing a whopping 97 in a 90 zone – 1 penalty point, 45 euros and a note to self that nearly a year here has made me rather too blasé.  To note:  Here there is no 10% cushion … in fact at 90 kmh the allowable excess is 2 kmh – that’s less than 1 mile per hour at nearly 60.