The passport control in Dover was French and, despite me rocking back and forth, we had no problem leaving English soil. He smiled and waved us forward. And so onward: on to the ferry, that lumbering giant of duty-free shops and European tweens dressed in American sports paraphernalia and practicing their smoking and football hooliganism. On to the noticeably different French landscape, with its tall slim trees and wild underbrush, and tawny Van Gogh wheat fields. We drove into Burgundy after midnight in a lightning storm. I’ve never seen such violent electricity at so close a range, splitting the sky in several places at once, and lighting the vineyards which spread for miles on every side. C, our host, rolled down the window to crow. ‘Do you smell that?’ he said, breathing in the thick, humid storm-air. ‘That is the vines. That is the smell of wine.’ He continued to exclaim ‘vineyard!’ at every plant we passed. ‘Look at that? That field’s covered in vineyards. And on the other side? Vineyards.’
The small villages we passed through were idyllic: small clusters of cafes, boulangeries, and war memorials. A town named for frogs, Grenouille. And finally Joncy, where we pulled into the drive after four, hanging back in case the house was occupied by thieves and smugglers. C walked around the house cursing the locals who usually tend the house. ‘Typical French,’ he said. ‘We’ve been paying them all year. And look at the gravel! And the garden!’ He invited the men for a smoke in the orchard, and pacified E and I with a small thimbleful of Armagnac to send us into a deep sleep. When I finally laid down, the early morning air was filled with pastoral sounds: of cocks arising, of cows bellowing, of the lark’s motet.