Friday, April 3, 2009

Three Rivers of France by Freda White

I'm soon to be embarking on a three-week trip on foot through the Dordogne river valley, walking from village to village with a small backpack. This book, first published in 1952, was recommended as additional reading on the area by several modern travel guides. I'm very glad that I sought out a copy at the University of Alberta. 

White writes about the geology, architecture, social and political history of southwest France with obvious love for her topic and in an engaging, accessible manner. It is the ancient history, the formation of the limestone causses and river valleys and the settlements there by successive peoples that interested me in particular. 

Advice for the modern traveller is outdated, naturally. I was amused to read that I could expect my meals at a farm-hotel to be cooked in an iron pot over a fire. In summer "remember that arms and legs rashly exposed to the sun can give you fever, and that rayon does not protect the skin from actinic rays." Since it is April, very early in the season to be walking, I will be grateful for sunshine rather than rain.

This passage also caught my fancy: "It is fun to buy books in France; not because the shops are well stocked, for they are not. [...] But the bookshops are staffed by people in whom even the over-bookish education of France has not killed the taste for reading. It is only in France and Scotland that it has been my experience to be refused a book on the ground that it was not worth buying, though it stood on the bookshop shelf."

I'm only taking one book with me, Ali Smith's The Reader, and may therefore have occasion to test the services of a French bookshop.

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