(Click to enlarge) Some of the sights of Auxerre. I had previously visited Auxerre in 2000 when, early on a Sunday morning, while heading south on our way to Rome, I had pulled off the autoroute and rolled into the car parking on the square in front of the cathedral with the aim of getting to mass. That I had done so with a caravan in tow now seemed hardly credible given the narrowness of streets and the busy traffic however it had been much quieter on that occasion. Indeed in spite of the proximity of the cathedral we were not to get mass there but had to seek out another church. The scarcity of masses in this once Catholic nation never ceases to surprise me! On our search, however, we encountered some of the amusing statuary of the town and on this later visit we determined to re-aquaint ourselves with one that bore a passing resemblance to Mary Poppins. It was not in fact Mary Poppins but a likeness of Marie Noel! Marie Noel is not a French Christmas greeting but, as I subsequently discovered, a former inhabitant of Auxerre who is regarded as having been the best female French poet of the twentieth century. Not being used to classifying poets according to their sex, it is a concept I have struggled with. One wonders if it is code for "she wasn't really any good at all"- or, "She was o.k. for a woman," with the unspoken implication that as everyone knows women just don't cut the custard when it comes to real poetry. On the other hand it may be just the French obsession with sex. This was a source of puzzlement to me when I was at school. Why, I wondered, must all French nouns be either masculine or feminine? Why can't they just leave off thinking about sex for long enough for a table to be neuter?