Sunday, 30 August 2009

Cubertou - The Last Days




Cubertou – The Last Days

Peace and silence. In the kitchen, E whisks something in a bowl. His running commentary, sometimes to himself, sometimes to others.
I'm making mayonnaise. Put bread in the oven. Maximum. I'm going to slice it. There is – potato salad – salami – cheese – use up the lettuce as well. All you need to do is reheat the stew a little bit.
To me – the bread in the oven – check it in two minutes, press it – he gestures with thumb and finger - if it goes crik, crik, it's ready.

I drive to Bergerac airport to pick up some new arrivals. When we pass through Villeréal it's 36 degrees. But there's a pale and fuzzy wedge of cloud moving across the sky heading towards us. It has a pearly innocent glow to it. But then it grows thicker and thicker and overhead there are swirling patterns of shades of grey and silver. The first fast drops of rain fall, chilly and personal on the skin.

Driving back between Villeréal and Montflanquin the light gathers and swoops on the cut wheat fields, a blaze of burnt yellow, stinging the eyes. Over towards the horizon the sky is a haze of smoky purplish grey like a picture fading out, dissolving at the edges.

Back at the Cubertou kitchen E lines the plates up on the counter, lays fish on them, then spoons out vegetables and finally, the sauce. Then he points to them. Go, go! he says.
We carry them out across the courtyard. Thick drops of rain are falling. Last week the stars watched over us. Tonight the air is heavy with moisture, a clammy dusk. The candles flicker and struggle with the wet and drooping sky. New people and new weather.
OK, these are ready, go, go!

We come back to the kitchen, carry two more plates over to the barn where the tables are laid out, covered with the blue waxed cloths.
We'll hear this in our sleep I think, E's voice saying, Go, go!
That and the thunder following the forked lightning. And the monotonous drip drip outside the barn as rain splashes onto something metal.

Cubertou dramas:
Water shortage. Ja and I catch the last drops from a dribbling tap into carafes, so that at least people will not die of thirst before the supply runs out completely. (the water came on again the next day.)
H weeping in the courtyard in the middle of the night because there was a spider in her room, so I persuade her to come up to the spare bed in the large upper room.
An accident – a lorry running into M and Ir's car (but no-one hurt) the car a write-off, having to be towed away.
S falling ill with tonsillitis.
J-L's blackberry going missing.
A's plane from Southampton having to turn back because the rubber was coming away from the windscreen.
It's like a Guy de Maupassant story says B.

The next day is overcast, which means its cool enough for me to walk all day. I take the forest path to Chateau Bonaguil.

The following day it's hot again. I take the train (ie the SNCF bus) from Fumel to Puy l'Eveque. I'm the only passenger until Vire sur Lot. When the bus approaches I stick my hand out and it stops. The driver says I shouldn't have waited there but at the other side of the road, where there's a shelter. But that's going in the other direction I say. Doesn't matter apparently that's where I should have waited.

Sitting in the old streets of Puy L'Eveque, there's one of those moments when life feels like a reflection, with a burst of music from an open doorway, a memory, the sound of water trickling over stones, the tone of a church bell. The dry chirp of a bird.

Cahors, at the Musée Henri Martin. A neon sign says the temperature is 43 degrees. Henri Martin lived near Cahors and adopted the pointilliste style. His Toits Rouges is not on display there, but it was the photo of that painting, of the red roof-tiles against the blue water that made me want to go to the exhibition. The water reminded me of a lake near Shkodra in the north of Albania. A group of us went there on a Search and Rescue exercise. We left much too early in the morning, about 5, before it got too hot. The students had to find the location of a (simulated) downed plane, using compass and map references. Fortunately, I did not have to do this, I took photographs and wrote a report of the exercise. I took a short cut to the lake, where we were all going for a swim afterwards. Scrambling down a scree-covered hill I lost my footing and got covered in bramble scratches. I was glad I was on my own and there was no-one there to see my undignified fall.

Cahors was just as hot as that day in the north of Albania. But there were no mountains to climb. And the Musée was cool. And even though Les Toits Rouges was not on display, there were several landscapes of villages, hills and snaky long poplar and cypress trees.
Back at Cubertou, the thunderheads were climbing up in the sky again, muttering and deliberating about a forthcoming drama. But it didn't rain.

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