I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Long Fields Of Les Landes

On either side the river lie/Long fields of barley and of rye... ALFRED LORD TENNYSON The Lady Of Shalott

Les Landes (meaning 'The Marshes') is one of the départements in south-west France's Aquitaine region. The part I crossed was flat and relatively treeless. I followed long, straight country roads and farm tracks alongside irrigation channels. Some walkers find this section of the Way tedious; for my part, I relished the contrast with what had gone before. Here are acres and acres of arable land, laid out geometrically and given over to agriculture on a huge scale. One of the biggest crops is maize.

France produces more maize than any other European country. Maize (or corn as it's known in the US and Canada - short for Indian corn) is a cereal grain and the largest crop in all the Americas. Most maize now grown is in a high yielding, genetically modified, hybrid form. Originating in Latin America, it's now - like rice and wheat - produced all over the world. It's a staple food for humans and also excellent fodder for animals. Corn meal can be made into a sustaining thick porridge. In Italy this is called polenta. In Mexico it's the basis of many dishes such as tortilla. Corn syrup comes from maize. It also forms the basis of alcoholic drinks such as Bourbon whiskey. It can be turned into a low polluting biofuel, heat (from corn stoves), plastics and fabrics, and used as fish bait in the form of dough balls. Vegetable sweetcorn is a genetic variation of maize, high in sugars and low in starch.There's cornbread. There's hominy, a corn-based dish from the south-eastern US states. There are corn flakes. There's popcorn.

Gradually the landscape changed again as I approached the département of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and the rolling hills and river valleys of the Basque Country. I was in a state of perpetual excitement and expectation. For I was close to the Pyrenean foothills and would soon be in Spain and at the half-way point of my journey.

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