Today our aim was to visit the Proust Museum in Illiers-Combray, arriving their for the afternoon session at 2.30pm. This, and the fact that it was raining when we woke, made leaving before 11am unnecessary, so I had two cups of coffee in the restaurant after eating about a quarter of a kilo of muesli. All this was very helpful and we left in one of our more solidly awake states. The rain got lighter and for most of today is has only been a light drizzle or mist. Things have started to dry out.
We headed for La Loupe, which means the magnifying glass. Hmmmm, a town called the magnifying glass? Tho’ is became clear that it is named after the river. So it’s a river called magnifying glass. We pushed along through a wooded countryside, especially near Senonches, wooded with lovely big trees rather than the heavily coppiced skinny trees that France often has. A wall of bright green. Spires play a significant role in Proust’s account of Combray, so as we approached Illiers-Combray we looked out for them. In the event the modern water tower and communications mast eclipsed the spire. We got to Illiers-Combray at 2.15pm, just in time for the afternoon opening.
It’s a great little museum, based in Tante (aunt) Leonie’s house. Descriptions from the books (In Search of Lost Time) evidently come from Proust’s five holidays in his aunt’s house. It was great to see the lamp that projects scenes from a child’s book of French history onto the walls, and there was Tante Leonie’s room with her Vichy Water and prayer book just as in the books! We did a quick stroll around the Guermantes path, and Swann’s path, by the River Loir (no e, it’s not the big one further south), and saw the municipal park that was fictionalised as Swann’s garden. Combray church spire is impressive, and inside it is a barn, with a painted wooden ceiling in a sort of barrel vault. The french visitors looked like they knew their Proust – advancing lots of questions to the their guide and nodding knowingly at literary references. Tante Leonie is probably more loved than the youthful narrator. The picture is, of course, Tante Leonie’s house.
After Illiers-Combray, we were, of course, running a bit late and we rushed on through Dangeau at such a speed that we missed our turning and ended up at a horribly over trafficked Marboue via the D361.5 and D361. We then followed cycle route signs into Chateaudun, since the main road (N10 but it goes right theough the middle of poor little Marboue) is nose to tail juggernauts, which predictably led us a very circuitous route, dumping us in the sink estates of Chateaudun. It was difficult to find the town centre – the town is divided into an historic bit around the river and some grungey and extensive areas of unpleasant flats, some evidently vandalised. After three attempts when we found we were heading out of town, indeed left the city limits and could see the ring road growling softly in the distance, we finally found the nice bit and reached the campsite, but it was 7pm and the shops were shutting or shut. So we ate at a decent pizza place (Vesuve) – bit salad and a big pizza. And we had a brief moment in the common room here at the camping municipale, with free wifi, but it closes at 10pm so once again we were a bit late. We are both reading our books and trying not to notice that the rain has started pitter pattering on the tent.