Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reading Week in Languedoc: Part 1

When I first posted that I was going to Languedoc as guest author I also mentioned the poster of a monastery I had on my wall as a child; how the yellow-walled building were perched on the top of a hill and how I could see the monks there, busily going about their tasks. Well, as I approached Perpignan airport on Monday I am sure I saw it - slightly smaller than I remembered, but on a hill with wooded slopes all around. So I grabbed my camera, looked again but it had gone. So this picture is what followed afterwards - wooded slopes and fields, a haze of heat covering everything and then in the distance hills merging into sky.

Now I guess should not have been surprised to see Jane Rogers (the other author on the course). After all I knew she was going to take this opportunity to take a bit of a holiday, but when I saw a woman that looked very much like the photo I'd recently seen of Jane Rogers waiting at Manchester for the flight, and then seen her again mid-flight, then again waiting for a bus outside the airport, I didn't say anything at first. I wasn't absolutely certain it was her. I thought of waving the book I was reading ostentatiously around (which was one of the books on the reading list) to see if she looked interested but in the end resorted to blurting out 'Are you Jane Rogers?' Another great photo-opportunity missed.

We shared a taxi (with Jane's husband and another woman) to Perpignan Railway Station where we said good-bye - for then at least- and I investigated Salvador Dali's famously inspirational waiting room, but I am afraid it failed to inspire me at all - it was small, with plastic chairs, and a solitary man smoking - so instead I went back to the main ticket hall and looked at the ceiling. This I could believe was the centre of the universe, or at least a depiction of the centre of the universe. I stared at this until I felt slightly dizzy and then examined my thoughts very carefully to see if they were different. But I could detect not an iota of inspiration, only an overwhelming feeling of panic. I had to catch a train to Besiers - and in order to do this I had to try out my very rusty and never very good French. But very luckily I found some people whose gaps in English were far less severe than my gaps in French and eventually managed to throw myself on a train... which very fortunately happened to be the right one.

Zoe (from Seven Wonders Holidays) picked me up from the station and very soon we had entered the old world of Roujan

or more specifically La Maison Verte (I was given a the little two-story cottage which clings to the side of the main house by the gate - 'the Limpet') which looks a good deal less imposing on the outside than within the interior courtyard.

The man who used to own the house came from a family of wine growers - rough stuff apparently - which seems not to be an unusual occupation in these parts. After lunch I went for a short walk above the village and came across a crumbling church with bells that sounded the hours, and half hours with a doleful repetitiveness

and sported an interesting gargoyle that appealed to me rather a lot

with a graveyard above that with elaborate mausoleums

and family plots. I keep finding myself in graveyards. These places fascinate me, and I am not sure why. I don't think I am particularly macabre, but I do like to walk among the stones. Maybe it is because they seem to me to exude a sort of peace, or maybe it is because they remind me a little of my childhood. My grandfather was a monumental mason and although he was buried under his own piece of marble very soon after I was born, my grandmother's house kept the trappings of his occupation for the rest of my childhood: the white marble chips making up the path, the half-finished grey shiny slabs stacked up against the green-painted corrugated iron walls of the workshop, the pieces of partly-shaped slate, the stone urns with mesh for flowers and the letters engraved in Welsh and English waiting to be filled with lead 'Most beloved', 'Fy Mamgu', 'At Peace With the Lord'. In France it seems that things are even more elaborate.

The soil was dry, dusty, yellow and the day was hot. As I walked I saw no one and the sounds of the human world quickly disappeared. The crickets and grasshoppers seemed to warble quite aggressively in the long grass on each side of the path - as if it was not just the heat but the sound that was making the air shimmer around me. It was early afternoon by now and I was the only one stupid enough to be outside. Soon the grass gave way to grape

some large and green and covered in that bloom which made them seem frosted

and others small and black, already like small glossy currants. I liked the pattern of the rows stretching up the gentle slopes and the gnarled texture of the ancient-and-fragile-looking trunks, and for a while sat beside one relishing the quiet and marvelling that I was there in the heat, completely alone in the middle of a French vineyard, when just a few hours ago I was in the middle of much colder Cheshire.

I returned to the village past reminders that no matter how hot the summer, cold winter will inevitably follow,

and then beside busy streets and alleyways - the latter always a particular favourite of mine, because I always like to feel they might lead to somewhere wonderful...and all I have to do is keep walking and I shall be there too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visual and verbal feast, Clare.

"The crickets and grasshoppers seemed to warble quite aggressively in the long grass on each side of the path - as if it was not just the heat but the sound that was making the air shimmer around me."

Reminded me of a piece of writing I did about being a railway station in Italy a long time ago:

"The heat fills up the hole the noise of the express has bored, so that the quiet seems to shimmer like the air, and Walt feels that strange everpresent pang, of being alone and away from home; the language escapes like a butterfly and flutters about the heads of the Italians who, like him, are waiting to go to Rome."

Sat Aug 12, 04:05:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Df - Yes, see what you mean. How strange we should both think of the same thing.

Sat Aug 12, 11:24:00 am  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

This is a beautiful expression of your walk among the graveyard and vineyard - I reading about how you were transported so quickly to somehwere so different!

Sat Aug 12, 02:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks CB, and thanks for picking up the tag for the book meme too. I liked your list.

Sat Aug 12, 07:11:00 pm  

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