On Sunday 13 September it was the 10th annual Birettes outing of the classic car club that we belong to. Our club, the Centre chapter of La Traction Universelle, maintains close ties to CitroBerry. Many of our members live in Berry, the name of the old province based around Bourges. Birette is a Berrichon dialect word meaning 'witch'. Thus, the Birettes outing is a women only affair.
Suzanne driving between Chateauroux and Issoudun.
I arranged to go as passenger-navigator with my friend Suzanne, the wife of our mechanic. This involved me driving through the forest and the Brenne for an hour at deer-crossing o'clock to get to her place by 8.30 am.
Bernadette arriving for breakfast in Issoudun.
We had opted to go in the cabriolet, but it was a grey gloomy day and we didn't even make it out of Chateauroux before it started to rain hard enough that we had to stop to put the top up. Then it was out along the deeply dull road to Issoudun, straight through a flat plain of endless cereal growing farms, enlivened only by the futuristic Radio France antennae array.
La Tour Blanche ('the White Tower') in Issoudun.
The Birettes were told to meet at a certain café in Issoudun at 9.30 am, where breakfast would be served. A total of 7 Citroëns and a Simca turned up, with about 20 women aged between 16 and 60, dressed in varying levels of eccentric costume. A post breakfast walk around the old centre of Issoudun got as many comments about the costumes as it did about the cars. Suzanne had lived in Issoudun when she was first married and her oldest son was born there, so it was quite nostalgic for her.
Parked at the Hospice de Saint Roch. The woman in black trousers
and white jacket is a reporter from the Nouvelle République (local newspaper).
Then we got in the cars and snaked our way through the narrow streets to the Musée de l'Hospice de Saint Roch. Issoudun is on the pilgrim route and the museum is the old pilgrim hospital building on one side and a modern purpose built gallery on the other. Let me tell you the whole museum is absolutely outstanding! It's free and has the most amazing collection, all of objects with a local connection. They include grave goods from a 5th century BC burial, the 15th century chapel of the hospital with a pair of high relief carved Jesse trees, a 17th century apothecary, a 19th century pharmacy, Micronesian artefacts collected by two local artists and benefactors, prints and drawings and modern sculpture.
The Hospice de Saint Roch.
Next stop was a picnic lunch in a nearby village. Fortunately Bénédicte had organised a room so we could eat without fear of showers. I had taken smoked fish and cream cheese paste, spread on Turkish flatbreads, rolled and cut into logs. They were a great hit. I also ate rice salad, a homegrown apple and some chocolate fudge cake all provided by others.
Parked in front of the church near where we had lunch.
After lunch we ventured into the Berry Bas (Lower Berry) and la Vallée Noire ('the black valley'), a mysterious region of forests, ponds, hedges and small fields with cattle grazing, criss-crossed with narrow winding roads, punctuated with tiny villages and bisected north-west to south-east by the Indre River. Since we were passing we did a gratuitious circuit of Bénédicte's village, sounding our horns all the way. Our destination was further along though -- a shop called Birette et Caboche ('Witch and Owl' in the Berrichon dialect). It had only been open a few weeks although the owner was well known to Suzanne. If you are into tea he is a familiar face locally apparently as he has been selling his specially blended teas at markets in the area for some years. To be honest I have no idea how the shop is going to survive. I would have thought it was too niche for the tiny, middle-of-nowhere village it is situated in. Mind you, tea is super trendy in France and about half the Birettes had tea not coffee for breakfast I noticed. Also, he sells artisanal beer, which I was much more interested in...
The new specialist tea shop in Montipouret.
After a while the word spread that the mayor was waiting for us at our next destination, the Moulin d'Angibault. This 18th century mill provides the setting, and title, for one of George Sand's novels and is now owned by the local authority who run it as a heritage attraction. She was very much from around these parts and I was interested to note how much Suzanne and Bernadette knew about her and how much they loved her writing for its evocative descriptions of their countryside.
The Moulin d'Angibault.
Once we'd escaped from the mayor's clutches we tootled off northwards again to meet up with assorted spouses, who had organised their own outing to a wind farm. A joint apératif was held on the shore of the lake in Mareuil sur Arnon and then we all made our way home.
At the main intersection in Mareuil sur Arnon.
I got home at about 9 pm, having crossed back through the Brenne and the forest, in the rain and increasing darkness, not having spotted a deer the whole day.Sortie remarquée des Birettes.