On Sunday I joined a group of about twenty neighbours on a stroll through the environs of my village (which is tucked away in deepest Burgundy). It was most enjoyable. We were guided by a friend called Jean-Marie who is a retired builder, hunter and keen local historian and who was generous enough to spend time interpreting various features of architecture and landscape that usually go unnoticed by the rest of us, certainly by me.
During the morning we traversed a forest where we were shown the imposing grave stone of a doctor who had been the owner of large tracts of land in the 19th century. Jean-Marie told us that the doctor was buried alongside his horse and dog.
In contemplating this mildewed memorial partially obscured by trees, I was reminded of the works of Ozymandius and their obliteration by the indifferent sands of the desert. Having reflected on the folly of man I felt driven to ask if the doctor's beloved animals had been sacrificed at the demise of their master or whether they had died of natural causes and been buried later. In response Jean-Marie told me that the horse had been interred standing up - an oblique retort perfectly suited to the supercilious tone of the question. A lady, clearly warming to the topic, wondered if it would have been easier to bury the horse in a foetal position, Jean-Marie reminded her that in those days people didn't mind digging holes and that they'd dug the Suez Canal by hand. It then occurred to me that the doctor may have been inhumed whilst sitting astride his dead yet erect steed, but was unfortunately unable to verify this startling hypothesis as Jean-Marie had resumed leading the tour and was setting too brisk a pace to be interrogated.
At midday we repaired to Jean-Marie's barn. The open doors allowed the sunlight to stream in and illuminate the magnificent flowering boughs that Jean-Marie had arranged as decoration. We enjoyed a sumptuous spread consisting of home-made concoctions skilfully prepared by the cooks amongst us. My own modest contribution of a six-pack of Heineken was soon shouldered aside by bottles of wine from nearby vineyards. The beer wasn't the wisest of options; if I get invited again I'll take along a frozen pizza. Everybody likes pizza.