There’s a grassy area beside the shallow part of the river, where it divides into two, separated by an island of stones, which disappears when the river fills up, gets swollen with rain and haste, submerges the stones with just a flick of its river tail. But the river is somnolent and gentle today, fill of sparkling sun splinters which it jostles on its way, tumbles them over the larger stones that stretch across to the island. This is the place to hear the river’s song, and there are often people here, sitting on the low wall, watching the river’s dance, its loud rushing – almost roaring, when the water is high.
But today, there’s no-one there, the flat grassy area beside the river path is empty. There is one tree, with, I notice for the first time, a picnic table and benches, underneath the tree. This is just the place to sit down and have lunch, salads I’d bought in M&S. I walked slowly along the path by the languid river. Usually I walk quickly, almost as quickly as the river-in-spate but today I wanted to walk slowly, to be aware of my pace, aware of the tall fronds of grasses, with their heads full of seeds, some in clumps, like miniature trees in leaf, some long and feathery, lace-patterned seeds which are easy to run your fingers along, strip the seeds and scatter them over the grasses.
One end of the picnic bench is shaded by the tree and that’s where I sit. This bench has immediately reminded me of the open park in Saint Antonin where I spent some time a few years ago. It was summer, and hot. Every day I’d leave the house where I was staying (P*’s house) in the rue Frézal, with my notebook and pen and bottle of water and sit at one of these benches, shaded by trees, and write. At lunch time I’d put my things in my small rucksack and go to the boulangerie and buy a croissant or one of those delicious broccoli and salmon quiches, take it back to my picnic table. I don’t remember now if I bought coffee too or if I made up a flask at home and brought that with me. Coffee would definitely have been on the menu, to have with croissant, sitting at the table in the shade.
Old buildings in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val
I would stay out all day. The house – an old, medieval building in a street of medieval buildings – was cool and dark with its thick walls and small windows – designed to keep out the summer heat. But I am not a medieval French person and I can hardly bear to be inside when it’s so gloriously warm outside – when there is so much sunlight still to be enjoyed. So, in the evenings, after eating a salad supper, I would go out again, walk through the old streets and the warm stonework radiating the day’s warmth. Sometimes I’d cross the bridge to the old (former) train station, its yellow walls in the yellow evening light, and watch the perfect reflections of trees and flowers and houses on the river Aveyron.
Reflections of buildings and sky in the water of the river Aveyron
Some afternoons I went for hikes in the surrounding countryside. I had bought a booklet that described the local hiking trails (petites randonnées) with rough sketches of the terrain and dotted lines winding up hills and through woods and forests. I explored all of these trails and I only got lost once. The path seemed to disappear, after I’d climbed up a steep trail next to some rocks. There was a rail embedded in the rock, with a series of looping ropes to help pull you up. Then there was no more discernable path, just a series of what looked like impassable rocks. So I climbed back down, following the path back the way I came. But that was the only time that the little dotted trails on the map let me down. Every other time I managed to follow the dots and sketches, which formed pleasing loops so you did not have to go back the way you came.
|Looking down on the Aveyron river|
On clifftops, home to lots of butterflies, I could look down on the Aveyron valley and Saint Antonin itself, far below me.
|View of Saint Antonin & Aveyron river|
I feel as if I’m looking back on this time with a very particular vision – there is of course some nostalgia, but also an element of remembering, of re-living almost, those glorious hot days, the lush foliage, the mirror-sharp reflections in the Aveyron river, the beautiful tiles on the rooftops, tumbling layers of rooftiles in colours of rust and ochre yellow, lichen and yellow soil, green-grey and beige and all with a layer of time and age, warmth and timelessness, baked with heat and it’s that kind of saturation-with-sunlight that I think about and feel, right now.
It’s not so much that I wish that I was there – although that would be most agreeable and in fact, I would have been there, had it not been for the current pandemic and maybe that’s why I’m thinking so strongly of it right now – but it’s more that I am almost surprised that I can see those streets, houses, paths, rooftiles and river, so clearly now – can feel the hot sun on my skin, the stony paths underfoot, the cool shade of trees, my sunhat shading my shoulders – the black cat who came to visit me at the picnic table, sitting on the other bench, its cat company under the magnificent shade of the tilleuls, the lime trees.
All this, from sitting at a similar picnic table by the river Tweed eating couscous salad from M&S, on my way to see Miguel, the optician.
|Maison de l'Amour doorway, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val|