I spent a night at what was once The Hotel Thermal, in a room overlooking the Opera House where the French Republic was abolished in 1940 and where the past remained, indelible and palpable. Vichy seems a ghostly memorial, forever the movie set of its own period drama.
The theatrics continued as I drove to nearby Saint Andre le Coq, the first place to be designated the geographical centre point of the EU, and stopped by a house beyond which the village gave way to open fields.
This once grand place was dilapidated now and in the low winter sun had a cinematic air which bordered on the ridiculous. It immediately put me in mind of The Tara Plantation and had the strains of The Bonnie Blue Flag emerged from within I would not have been the least surprised.
A neighbour passing by told me that the owner, a descendant of the man memorialised on a plaque on the gatepost, had abandonded the property whilst suffering from some mental illness and was now, she believed, confined to an institution somewhere.
At Saint Clement, a monument to its time as Europe’s centre, when German reunification shifted it eastwards, sat abandoned and unloved just ouide the village. Inside the wood cabin, which must have served at some point for quiet reflection on the merits of European togetherness, someone had scribbled their admiration for those who had other ideas.