War graves and foie gras


First World War cemetery.

It’s warm in the sun, and cool in the shade.  The Roman road goes straight and true, through fields of potatoes, maize, beet, and oats, and a few exotic things.  From time to time it’s lined with lime trees, but there are no hedges, fences or walls, so it feels open and free.

The wind turbines are either still, or turning so slowly you’d think they’d just woken up and needed to practise their Tai-Chi before the day’s work.  Perfect for cycling.

But I’m in a bit more of a hurry than the turbines.  I have to get nearly 50 miles, and then be in a state to play at Galerie 115 in Saint-Quentin at 3.00.

I didn’t really mean to stop, other than for coffee and a biscuit.  But it’s Sunday, and there is no coffee to be had.  So that gives me time to stop at one of the many war cemeteries on the way.

I’ve been playing Frank Bridge’s Meditation, for Ukraine, and thinking how fragile civilisation is, and how stupid war is – civilisation’s greatest failure.  Of course all these people would be dead now anyway.  But they shouldn’t have had to die in 1918.  And will we ever learn?

There’s no-one to hear it, but that’s not the point.  I need to play Meditation here, too, to these hundreds of neat white gravestones, whose names I can’t bear to read.

The sun shines on these fields of the Haute-Sommne now, but it’s very sobering to think what lies beneath.

I wasn’t entirely sober when I turned up at Galerie 115, five minutes before the 3.00pm concert.  There was a modest crowd already, and I wondered if they thought I’d forgotten.

I got to St. Quentin in time, following a line of sight to the monstrously large basilique, and was surveying the restaurants round the square.  The last one looked the most promising.  A gentleman in a smart jacket hailed me.  A cello on a bicycle!  Bravo!  Haha!  Come and play for us!

So of course I did.

I was plied with drinks, and a couple of plates of amuses bouches.  I played James Bond, which got a wider audience, then The Swan, which went down very well, and then I don’t remember.  I was being pressed to stay in his hotel, but we settled on lunch, so he phoned his wife Marie-Paule at the hotel to say he had a guest, and off we went.

The Hotel Des Canonniers, dating mostly from the 18th century, is an architectural gem.  It is a boutique destination, owned and run by Giles and Marie-Paule, with a real small cannon in the garden, and Giles’ splendid Morgan parked out front.

After foie gras, a stew from heaven, and wine and cheese, there was barely time to photograph him beside his cycling prizes, before he wheeled me across town to the Galerie 115.

The Galerie was celebrating the opening of its 90th anniversary exhibition, and the audience was in the mood for fun.  They danced to Bach Minuets and Irish jigs, and would have gone on all night I think.  Helene and Andre offered me a place to stay, but I had to weave my way across town, to my hosts Gaedan and Fleure, where after dinner and more fine cheese and wine, I got my cello out for the fourth time…

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