St Antonin Noble Val
JR heads east to Germany and I spend two days in Paris. I leave S's apartment on the avenue d'Ivry and walk up to the Gare d'Austerlitz, board the train for Caussade. I buy a newspaper which I'm glad of, for the book I've brought to read turns out to be rather pedestrian. The sun shines fulsomely all day, and its still deliciously hot when I arrive in Caussade. I head for the road to St Antonin, think some positive thoughts, and stick out my thumb. Three or four cars go past in as many minutes. Then one pulls over. A gallant Frenchman, you see, they still exist. A friendly youngish man, cheerful, he smiles a lot and yes, he's going in my direction, not quite as far as St Antonin, but he can take me to the turnoff. He's on holiday, he's going to some event called Le Fil de l'Eau, which is about the history of the past century. He is determined to practice his English, as he says he once spent a week in England, doing a language course. I slip a few English phrases in, to encourage him. After a while I tell him I'm Scottish which immediately and predictably brings an enthusiastic response. Since he's not in a hurry, he decides to go out of his way and take me all the way to St. Antonin.
Memories come back as I walk along the narrow cobbled streets. The newsagents, an art gallery, a shop selling all kinds of fancy soap, the main square, with its crowded café seats, the agence immobilier. P's house has a few cobwebs outside the door and I make a mental note to dust it down. Open the door into the kitchen, and put down my bags, with relief. Open the shutters, open the kitchen window, to let the warmth in and the air circulate. I've arrived.
The first day's 'petite randonnée' started at the bridge over the river L'Aveyron, and climbed up to the Roc d'Anglars - the white rocky cliffs opposite St. Antonin - taking a tree shaded path. There were all kinds of different butterflies, black and white, lapis blue, russet brown.
When a russet brown one landed on the path it was utterly indistinguishable from the reddish stones. And the ones that were sky blue as they fluttered around, disappeared completely when they landed on one of the white flowers, almost cream coloured, with long thin stalks and round bursting balls of flowers, like fireworks which have just gone off. The outsides of the wings of the sky blue butterflies are creamy yellow with faint bubbly markings so that it is almost indistinguishable from its creamy flower hosts, with their straggly and untidy hair. So the russet ones were on the path with reddish stones, the black and white ones on the flat plateau where the stones were whitish and grey and veined with dark seams, and the lapis blue and creamy ones clearly lived among the white flowers with the wild hairdos. Not so much adapted as reciprocal. I wonder if we do the same, even if unconsciously? I feel sure we do. We blend in with the land, we adopt its postures and its slopes, its vegetation colours, its roughness, its dryness, its temperature and its patterns. The land moulds and shapes us smooths and whittles us, turns us into its own.
You don't need the church bells to tell you its midday. The sacredness of that hour is announced by the sudden quietness in the streets. The neighbours are no longer talking to each other, children are no longer playing outside, all the shops are closed and a solemn silence reigns. C'est l'heure du diner. A pigeon coos. You can hear the houses breathing. A fly that's come in the open window, careering around. Then falling silent, once it's found its way out again.
This street is so narrow that there's only just room for a car to pass. As the street actually ends up in the river, (though there is a possibility of turning right before you do) there's not much traffic. But there are tourists who walk past, yes even in this hour between midday and one o'clock. As the kitchen is on the ground floor, they pass only inches away from my window, and sometimes they look inside. It surprises me how quickly I've adopted a nonchalance in the face of this blatant curiosity. At first I felt as vulnerable as a snail whose shell had turned colander, but it no longer bothers me and sometimes I don't even register it any more. I wonder if this habituation is at the root of the colouration of the butterflies as reddish brown as dead leaves and stones, or the blue ones whose wings are straw coloured on the outside.
This morning I heard a loud American voice outside the window. He was a tour guide, informing his tour that this façade was typical 15th century, and further down there used to be a small leper's colony. Oh really? I think, peering down the street at the ex-leper's colony. Maybe that's why it so conveniently ends up in the river.