3rd February 2009
The trip south began on Sunday evening, on a coach from Edinburgh to London. On the stop on the way down, about three in the morning, the forecourt of the services had a light covering of snow. The relief driver was delayed. So we waited. When he finally arrived he described the motorway as reduced to one lane, with the traffic going at 30 miles an hour. London's at a standstill he said. Arriving at Victoria, the pavements were covered in snow and slush. There was no way I could make the airport in time for my flight, assuming there would still be any flights. But perhaps I thought, instead of trying to book another flight and staying overnight in London, I could see if there was a coach to Paris. And there was. The woman at the check-in said she was surprised that the coaches were still running and amazed that peope were still travelling today. A loudspeaker announcement said that no coach services could be guaranteed. The Gatwick and Brighton service was cancelled. No London city buses were running I heard on the coach radio, the M25 was blocked with stationary traffic, lorries stuck in snow on the A23, no service on the underground Central Line.
On the short trip to the bus stop outside Victoria coach station, my feet got soaked. On the Paris coach, I peel off my wet socks and boots and place them next to the heater, wrap my freezing feet in my jacket. A couple of hours later we're at the ferry terminal and my socks and shoes are almost dry. And the snow has turned to rain.
The sea is a greenish mustard colour as we leave Dover but it later becomes a more healthy looking green tinged with greyish blue; glauque is the only word to describe it, the word they use in the south, la mer glauque. I drink coffee, gaze out of the window. Because you can see that power travelling along beneath the water surface, pushing it up into waves, it seems as though the sea is covered by a skin, like material that is filled with wind making it curve and bulge. Like a sail, like an awning. The waves broken by the ship into white bubbles of foamy froth make it clear that the sea surface is not impermeable but it still looks that way when you see the movement and the power travelling underneath the surface.
Snow on the quai at Calais. Snow on the fields as we travel south. The radio says that many regions in the north and west of the country have been affected by the snow, Pas de Calais, Seine Maritime, Picardy.
Paris was a little dream -like. Was I really here? How wonderful to be here. The dream métro took me to République, change for Place d'Italie, get off at Austerlitz. Perhaps there would be a night train to Montpellier. Perhaps it would leave from here, though I didn't know. Tried to remember the names of other possible stations - Gare Montparnasse, Gare Lyon? But I was lucky. There was a train to Montpellier leaving in an hour's time and from Austerlitz. Change at Narbonne. I call Céline and she says she will pick me up at Montpellier at 8.30 in the morning.
And so I arrive here this morning at La Laune, near Vauvert, where it has been raining constantly since Saturday I'm told. The roads are covered with water, the fields have turned into lakes and the ditches into rivers, but tomorrow it will clear. So it is said. The brownish purple colour of the earth around the vines seems to be reflected in the sky. There was a tiny chink of light on the horizon earlier, but it's disappeared now. The bulls in the fields are wet and bedraggled and the rain has turned their coats into a pattern of tufts, wet curls, decorated with rivulets. They are hunched against the rain. The bulls in the lakes I should say, standing on sodden little islands.
It's getting dark now and a pale streak of pinkish yellow light is lying close to the horizon. The pond fields are reflecting this light. I can still hear little gurglings and pattering sounds of rain. And in the distance, faint bird calls, soft warblings, wavy sounds, and one or two hooped circular sounds, that rise and fall. The Camargue night begins.