Pompadour, France 2011
We arrived at Orly after a short flight from Porto, and picked up our car for the drive down to Pompadour. It’s about a 5 hour drive, but we figured that by the time we transferred by bus from Orly to Charles de Gaul, went back through security, flew to Limoge and then drove to Pompadour, it was a wash, time-wise.
We were fortunate to have a nearly new Peugeot 5008 with GPS waiting for us. “MoneyPenny” as we called the GPS, due to her clipped British accent, had it goin’ on. She deftly guided us through rush hour and roundabouts and got us to Pompadour in good stead. But I did want to keep searching for the button that would activate the bumper-mounted torpedo.
The vet inspection was under way when we arrived in Pompadour. Of all the dressage shows I’ve been to, Pompadour’s “jog” track is probably the most beautiful, with its background of the castle guard houses. It was an crisp, sunny, beautiful afternoon, and when the jog was over, everyone repaired to the beer garden.
Where there was not Fado music playing. Instead, it was something Parisian, with accordians, something that could have been the soundtrack to Amalie, some utterly light hearted music that matched perfectly with the golden-hued afternoon light.
Pompadour has become known as one of the friendliest shows on the circuit. The riders love that their horses all stay in big airy box stalls in the historic, honey-colored barns of the French National Stud. Management always makes everyone feel welcomed and looked after. Parking is a little tight for the big rigs, and hotel rooms can be a bit difficult to find, but restaurants are good and plentiful, with several within walking distance of the show grounds. The town is built around the castle, and the castle houses the Stud, and it all overlooks the racetrack and the cross country course that has been the site of French Eventing Championships.
Dinner included judges and officials from seven different countries. It’s such a blessing to be a part of these meals, with so many diverse backgrounds represented, all united by dressage. Axel and I joke that we are part of a traveling circus. There are people that we only see perhaps once a year, but when we meet at a show we all resume our conversations as if we’d left off only yesterday.
We are staying at a bed and breakfast, or “gite”, on a small Thoroughbred breeding farm. The rooms are the usual for the area, small, with slanted ceilings, but the breakfasts are delightful, and there are curious young horses just a few steps away. We sit outside one evening, sharing a bottle of wine with our friend, Finnish judge Maria Colliander, and we see shooting stars. It is so clear and dark that the Milky Way stands out as if painted onto the sky.
The main arena is flanked on two sides by the magnificent barns, and behind “C” is the clocktower. It’s a stunning backdrop for dressage, and I spend the weekend alternately painting and photographing. By Sunday the temperature has gone up, and spectators have foregone the bleacher seating in the sun for the cool shade cast by the south barn. I’m standing there with them, when I start to see spectators decide that the judges shouldn’t be the only one in the shade on the short side of the arena. Although the officials try to convince them to leave, more and more of them fill in the spaces between the judges’ boxes at “M”, “C” and “H”. Not a single horse spooked, and not a single Dressage Queen had a hissy fit.
The awards celebration is on the terrace of the Castle. No horses, just show-attired riders, and their families, friends and dogs. It’s a party, and it’s France. There are Juniors, and Pony riders, and Young Riders, and they’re all exuberant, waving flags and cheering each other on regardless of what country they’re from; there are Prix St George and Grand Prix Riders, joking and wrestling the copious swag of their winnings, doing impromptu “victory gallops” on foot. There are dogs playing underfoot as the awards are presented. there are babies giggling at flags. There are hors d’oeurves, and wine, and champagne, and lemony afternoon light.
It’s hard to leave on Monday morning. We point MoneyPenny in the direction of Charles de Gaul airport and head toward the A-10. I always forget how beautiful this area is until I return to it, and then I forget how beautiful a summer morning can be here until I’m driving through the dawn. The A, well tended and civilized with aires (rest areas) at regular intervals, rolls gently between fields of wheat and sunflowers. Europeans have a different style of driving than we’re used to in the States: Thou Shalt Not Hang About In The Left Lane is the First Commandment. I enjoy this orderly routine: no one is trying to pass me on the right, and I don’t see anyone texting and driving.
We navigate the antique highways of Paris in order to get to CDG, and as the traffic builds I spy the Eiffel Tower. “I’m driving through Paris,” pops into my head, and the thought delights me, even though it’s stop and go for a while, and I am, as usual in Europe, driving a standard shift car. MoneyPenny delivers us precisely to the entrance of the car rental return, and we step from France into international travel mode. It’s a long way back to San Diego, on cramped flights packed with summer vacationers, through storm-delayed Atlanta, and we don’t turn the key in the lock until 3:30 in the morning.
But there is nothing like your own cushy bed at the end of 26 hours of travel.