Sunday, 15 January 2012

France, Béziers and The Origin of Faeces

It was quite a steep and demanding climb up from the river L’Orb to the Cathedral St. Nazaire which took us through the narrow streets of the old quarter which except for electricity, mobile phones and satellite dishes probably hasn’t changed a great deal since the days of the French Revolution. The Cathedral is one of the largest and most important in the region but sadly it was closed right now for lunch so we had to make do with the sweeping views from underneath its Gothic exterior across the meadows and woodland on the other side of the river bathed in light swirling mists all the way to the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains) in the Languedoc National Park away to the west.

Behind the Cathedral and in the streets running off the Place de la Revolution we found the restaurants that it would have been nice to come across the previous evening so we checked the menus and the prices for later and having found one that we both liked agreed that we return later. We left the old quarter and walked to the modern centre of Béziers with the shopping streets flanked on all sides by tall handsome buildings with iron balustrades and balconies rather in the Catalan style. We stopped for a while in an expansive square and had a drink in the hot sunshine and watched local people going about their business and then we walked on.

Béziers is a member of ‘The Most Ancient European Towns Network’ which is a group of the oldest cities in Europe in a sort of exclusive twin-town arrangement. It was founded in 1994 with the aim of addressing common issues within the towns, such as archaeological research, tourism and heritage. The members include Argos (Greece), Béziers (France), Cadiz (Spain), Colchester (United Kingdom), Cork (Ireland), Évora (Portugal), Maastricht (Netherlands), Roskilde (Denmark), Tongeren (Belgium) and Worms (Germany).

I wonder if, when they get together, they talk about dog mess because although Béziers is a nice city, like a lot of other places in France it really has a serious problem with canine excrement! I assure you that I am not exaggerating here but literally every few metres along the footpaths we came across little piles of dog poop. It is estimated that France has nearly nine million pet dogs and as a general rule the owners couldn’t give a frog’s leg where little Fido drops his load and they would no more think about clearing it up than they would consider drinking Californian red wine or standing in line at a bus queue.

Occasionally we saw evidence of doggie doo victims – an initial large skid mark at the source of the unfortunate event and then a pattern of diminishing patches where the victim has tried to remove the obnoxious filth from their shoe. Avoiding it is a chore but it’s easy to know when you have stood in it – it could be a slip and a slide and a sprained ankle, it might be a gasp from a passer-by as they clasp a hand over their face or, if neither of these, it is almost certainly going to be the malodrous smell that is released. This certainly explained why lots of families in Béziers seemed to keep their shoes outside on the balconies because next to stepping in nuclear waste tredding in dog waste is one of the most unpleasant accidents of all as the foot comes down and like a faeces fondant the hard crust breaks and the smelly interior oozes out and fills the tread in the soul of the shoe!

You have certainly got to have your wits about you in Béziers that’s for sure if you are not going to spoil the sightseeing walk with a smelly accident. For the most part the art of safe passage is a subconscious affair – the eyes briefly scan downwards taking in the next six or seven metres of pavement in front, and then you can walk forwards in moderate confidence before the process starts again. One thing that you definitely don’t want to do on an Autumn day like this one however is walk through or kick the fallen leaves because there is no way of telling what obnoxious filth lies beneath.

It was still quite early when we returned to the Hotel and Kim had had enough of walking even after a short break and a glass of wine declined my invitation to go back out into the city again. I thought that there may still be things to see so I left her resting and went first to the Park des Poetes which was glorious now, bathed in late afternoon sunshine perfectly accentuating the colours of Autumn. In a prominent position in the park was a monument to another of Béziers’ famous, Jean Moulin, one of the heroes of the French Resistance in the Second World War and then I left and walked along Allées Paul Riquet, turned right at the statue and walked for about a kilometre to the crimson bull ring which was closed now for the season and was undergoing a refurbishment. To be honest, Kim made a good decision here because Béziers is never going to get into my personal top ten of favourite cities and having seen the arena I returned directly to the hotel.

In the evening we walked back into the city and went to the restaurant that we had picked out earlier where we had a nice but unexceptional meal before walking back to the room for the final night in the city.

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