A Lesson about Leccy & A Trauma in the Terroir
At 9pm, the gods turned a fire hose on us. The furious winds that had battered caravan Kismet all day gave way to torrential, hammering rain. The ferocity of the wind vindicated our decision to stay an extra day in Les Arbrets and avoid towing. (For advice on towing in wind, please see my blog To Tow or Not to Tow? – Is it Safe to Tow in High Winds?)
The following the morning, we were smothered by snuggly pups; perhaps scared by the rain still hammering on the roof. It made for a slower than intended start; Ruby gave us one of her little songs, then every time I tried to get up, she threw her paws around my neck and pushed me back down. Puppy love is impossible to resist!
In any case, it wasn’t the most alluring day to get outside. A swamp the size of The Everglades had formed around Kismet’s step, then, things improved markedly once we had squelched through it to pack everything away in the rain. For the first time in her life, Big Blue refused to start. Her battery was completely dead.
Our intention had been to stay only one night, so we had left her hitched to make a quick getaway. However, we had stayed an extra night because of the wind.
And here was the lesson we learned about leccy. Kismet was hooked up to the site electricity, but we hadn’t realised that leaving Kismet’s towing electrics connected to Big Blue would drain her battery.
I dripped my way into Reception and from my own, personal puddle, managed to convey that, “Le voiture ne marche pas – The car doesn’t work.” The receptionist kindly dispatched a man with les pinces – jump leads. A new French word; one perhaps worth remembering.
The second we had been jump started, our soggy saviour disappeared into the murk.
“Don’t stall. DON’T STALL!” was our mantra as we pulled Big Blue and Kismet carefully forward off the slippery pitch.
“We need to do at least fifty miles without stalling,” Mark pronounced. So, the first part of the journey became like the film Speed; we couldn’t afford to slow down or stop – and all the while, the satnav maintained its stony silence. After telling it to shut up the other day, it had sent us to Coventry – and it really meant it! Fortunately, we didn’t make any wrong turns and we didn’t stall.
Our day was toll-tastic; we spent well over €100, with more than €60 of that crossing from France into Italy via the Fréjus tunnel. It worked out at about 50c per mile! Still, if things go to plan, we won’t be passing back through the Mont Blanc tunnel for over a year, so it would have been no real advantage to go that way and buy our usual 10-trip / 2-year pass. At least that is what we kept telling ourselves!
A stop at the service station just after Fréjus relieved us of €1.89 per litre for fuel, the most we have ever paid. Then €7 for two microscopic coffees and two barely-visible bars of chocolate. I gave up. It was clearly just one of those days where we were going to hemorrhage money.
The rain was still lashing as we entered Italy, so we decided to forgo an interim stop and push on to Barolo, the famous wine-growing area near Turin. At least the rain stopped as we progressed east. As we entered the UNESCO-listed landscape of the Langhe in Piemonte, the signature regiments of bosomy hills, topped by castles, were shrouded in mist. The nebbia – mist, gives its name to the noble Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo is used to make Barolo, the most famous wine of the region – also considered one of the best reds in the world.
The chap on reception at Camping Sole Langhe in Vergne greeted us warmly. He explained why he spoke perfect English. “I lived in Wimbledon for two years!”
“You can walk through the vineyards from the campsite to the villages of Barolo and La Morra!” he told us when we asked where we could walk The Fab Four.
As Mark set up, I tried out one of these routes with the dogs. It didn’t go well.
As I left the campsite, I could smell the sweet, alcoholic smell of fermentation. The harvest had just finished and partial bunches of succulent, fresh, shiny black grapes still littered the alleyways between the rows of vines. They looked so perfect. I ate one; it was delicate, sweet and fragrant. I picked a small bunch left behind on a vine to take back to Mark.
It was still warm enough to wear shorts and sandals, although it turned out that my sartorial choices were not the most wise. The mud was unbelievable. Heavy machinery had recently passed through for the harvest and the thick, clay soil of the terroir, which gives the wine its body and character, stuck to my sandals. With every step, they collected a further rim of clay and got heavier and heavier. It was like walking on concrete snow-shoes.
The signs on the footpath towards Barolo petered out. Half and hour later, I could see Castello della Volta on the hill above Barolo, but felt that I had gone far enough. I performed my U-turn around a small lake, then started to head back in what I thought was the direction from which I had come. Somehow, I managed to stray horribly off track. I don’t know how I got it so wrong, but it was like being lost at sea. Vineyards on their hills rose and fell around me like monstrous waves, making it impossible to see where I was; drowning in the landscape.
As the light began to fade, I got quite scared. Following the path that I thought led to our home village, I saw a sign for Vergne pointing back the way that I had just come. Each time I hit a crossroad, there were no signposts. Then I slipped and fell on the slimy mud, adding insult to injury with an inelegant slither on my backside down a miry bank.
Wet and miserable, seated in a quagmire, I felt hopeless. Looking around, I vaguely recognised a walnut grove that I had passed on my way out of the campsite. I could smell fermentation. From the lowly perspective of my muddy wallow, I was granted a glimpse of Kismet through the trees.
I snivelled, dry-sobbed and squelched my way back. I tried not to catch the eyes of our only neighbours, reading quietly outside their VW Camper. On my super-sized sandals, I sidled crab-like past them to conceal my mud encrusted and skid-marked derrière.
“I brought you some grapes. They’re in a poo bag and I fell on them.”
Mark regarded my gift; a bulging doggie bag, distended with grapes and smeared with mud from its pressing by an ample rear.
“Are you sure that you haven’t mixed it up with the bags containing poo?”
He noticed the chin wobble and wrapped me in a warm, protective cuddle.
“It’s the thought that counts.”
He managed not to laugh.
And promised to clean my sandals.
Although we had been loosely following Stoptober, we decided that the occasion demanded wine.
It seemed incongruous to be drinking a French Burgundy in Barolo, one of Italy’s finest wine regions, but solace is needed when you have soiled your shorts!
For advice on towing in high winds, please see my blog To Tow or Not to Tow? – Is it Safe to Tow in High Winds?
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