12 December, 2006

Bruay la Buissiere, France

I just spent a very pleasant, sunny weekend in northern France. A friend bought a small house in Bruay near Bethune, about one hour from Calais and a few friends and I took the ferry across the English channel and arrived there late morning just in time to help get lunch ready. Because it is not in one of the usual tourist areas very few of the locals speak English so one is obliged to try a little French. This led to incomprehension on all sides but also to lots of humour.
Bruay is in the area which was devastated by the First Word War and is one of the poorer places in France. However, it is a very interesting place and the local inhabitants are very friendly and welcoming but puzzled why an Englishman would want to live there. Alex's house is a refurbished miners cottage at the end of a terrace opposite a local butchers and a small bakery. France still has very many small specialist food shops as supermarket penetration is much less than in the UK. Even in ordinary working-class areas there are cheese shops, wine shops, pattiseries and independent boulangeries. We went out early on Sunday morning to buy fresh baguettes and croissants which were baked on the premises. They made a superb breakfast with fresh orange juice, coffee and a slice of Port Salut and mimolette cheese.