In Rouen for just one day on my mother’s first trip abroad, we get into conversation with a friendly man, and, for some unfathomable reason, despite her evident reluctance, I accept an invitation to lunch at his home. Not unpleasant but it made a large hole in our short stay. My preparations for the visit hadn’t been great either and my memories of Rouen were until now vague and unsatisfactory.
This time was much better (apart from the train trip from St Lazare where I had a reserved first-class seat but couldn’t get to it because of the crush of homebound humanity and lack of coach numbering so that I spent the journey standing with my arms extended crucifixion style to enable my fingertips to touch the wall and keep my balance, while admiring the passing flood plain of the Seine).
All better on arrival. I found the city with all its old half-timbered buildings charming even though I realised after a while that there were patterns in the appearance of the old buildings, indicating that much was post-war reconstruction. It was none the less well done and pleasing, the environment around the old charnel house (one of the few left in such extensive condition) fascinating rather than charming.
I’ve wanted to know more about Normandy for some time, stimulated by Flaubert and a countryside and coast reminiscent of the West Country (so reminiscent that a number of Norman locations were used when filming the 1979 film on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, modern Dorset being considered not sufficiently Dorset-like).
Not only the landscape but also its variant of French with a multitude of disguised Scandinavian place names and its history where not more than two hundred years separate Rollo the Viking from the administrative sophistication of the Domesday book and an imprint of Norman French on the law in England of which remnants still exist (“La reine le veult” being a standard parliamentary phrase when the sovereign approves a law).
It would be highly satisfactory to know more about the process through which the Scandinavian blended to become Norman French, or at least to be familiar with the state of research in this field.
Not a bad rabbit to chase…