|Sunday June 24 2007|
French endurance rider Stephane Chazel and his wife Caroline (also an endurance rider) and their two adorable little horse-ridin' daughters were ind enough to let me visit their place in southern France between Assisi and next weekend's ride in Florac France.
I hitched a ride with Stephane's groom and long-time assistant Gaelle, and Audrey, owner of one of the horses we were hauling back home. We talked some along the way, them understanding me when I spoke slowly, me understanding not a word of French. I always admire those who speak 2, 3, 4+ languages, and always apologize fore my English only. “Habla muy poquito espanol,” I said. “If you speak a little Spanish, you will understand French, it is very similar.” Well, no, not to these poorly trained ears! I do't get French at all – the sounds, the spelling.
They said, “This is a long drive. I think by midnight, you will learn French.” I did learn about 20 words, one of which was “luin” - French for “far.” The drive would be “luin” - almost “mille kilometres.” It was a long drive, and hot. I stuck to my seat and myself. Beautiful countryside – green everywhere. From central Italy we drove through Florence – Bologna – Genoa – along the Mediterranean coast, to Nice – Marseille. It was a bit cooler along the coast, with a glimpse of the blue sea to the left, and the rather dramatic landscape inland to the right – plunging ravines and steep green mountains. The Italians (and French, over the border) have built a straight road through here – meaning bridge – tunnel – bridge – tunnel (and every one has a name, even if they're 100 m long), high over the ravines and straight through the mountains. Little towns clustered in the ravines, or up on the hillsides, houses hanging off the steep hills, their tall foundations built into the hill – no backyards for playing in here!
Gaella has worked for Stephane Chazel for 7 years, grooming, paperwork, some riding, and LOTS of driving. “Every weekend we go to a ride. This weekend Assisi. Next weekend Florac (2 hours away). Next weekend England.” Stephane either rides his own horses, or breeder clients. “Sometimes I think I'm too old to do this anymore, but when you love horses, it's hard not to live with them.” Audrey is a small breeder – 4 mares in training, and the mare who went to the ride is one in training with Jean Phillip Frances, whose stables we were headed to.
We stopped for gas twice (crossed into France at 4:30 PM) and got to Les Ecuries de Venelles (I practiced saying this many times), Jean-Phillip's stables. We offloaded both horses, the gelding to rest, the mare to stay, and unloaded Jean-Phillipe's gear. Then we re-loaded the gelding, loaded another, and continued on down the highways (almost all of them toll roads) another 1 ½ hours, till we left the highways and bigger cities for the French countryside.
“San Hippolyte du Ford,” said Audrey. Now for the few people out there who like me, can't make heads or tails out of French, it comes out more like “Saneepooleedufruah” and ya gotta say it as fast as you can. I practiced this many times, I'm sure to the amusement of my instructors. (By the way, Audrey's name is something like “Oudr' “).
We drove along a narrow tree-lined road, into the open rolling country under the bright ¾ moon at 10 PM, and pulled into La Maselle, horses in paddocks along a dirt road leading to old stone farmhouses and barns.
We let the horses out, walked them up the road to snack a bit, then put them into the stables. Gaelle showed me my room and I promptly fell on the bed and passed out.