|View from my window onto the monastery garden|
Early evening, before dark. Such peace reigns here, only a few sounds. There's the background noise of water from a mountain spring or fontana running into an open tank, where goldfish dart and circulate or rest near motionless, perhaps feeling, this morning anyway, the warmth of sunlight on the water. Snatches of birdsong, the occasional yap of a dog, the yowl of a cat, possibly our own cat unnamed as yet and who shall simply be called Bella, at least by me. Though it is unlikely to be her, as she yowls infrequently, usually when I come out of the kitchen door onto the patio in front of the tended garden. A mixture of greeting and hope that she might be fed.
A cloud has drifted down now onto the snow capped mountain I can see from the window of my cell, but this morning for the first time, the sun came out, wreathing all the mountains in light.
This place is impossibly picturesque.
Yesterday's walk was to my local train station,
then on to the village of Fontan.
To reach the station you have to walk through a dark and dripping tunnel, one of many cut into the mountainsides to let road and rail traffic pass through. I walked back from Fontan along the main road, and then climbed – slowly – up the steep slope back to the village. Wherever you go here, you have to toil up steep slopes, or descend steep slopes. That's how it is. It will either make me very fit, or – incline me to take the train quite frequently.
Today's walk was up the GR 52A (grande randonnée – hiking trail) which starts just behind the monastery, and goes on for several kilometres. I don't know how far I walked, it seemed like a long way, but then it was uphill!
This is a little closer to the snow-covered mountain visible in the first photograph
The strangest thing is that in 2011 I was on a train from Torino to Ventimiglia. This train wanders briefly into France, as it passes through the valley of the Roya, before returning to Italy. Going through this spectacular mountain scenery on a sunny morning, clear blue sky, it made a brief stop close to a medieval village of cream, yellow and ochre buildings, topped with purple roof tiles, and built in layers into the side of a mountain. I wished I'd taken a photograph of it, but its image stayed in my mind, as somewhere I had to visit one day.
When I applied for this residency I had no idea that it was in this same village I passed through a couple of years ago, for I had not remembered its name. But I recognized it as soon as I saw it, despite the grey skies, despite it being much higher up than I thought, for the train track runs almost half way up the mountain, with the road far below in the valley, skirting the river Roya. So here I am, in a building where Franciscan monks have lived, off and on, from 1662 to 1988. And which is still as it says in the guide book un lieu de retraite, a place of retreat. The curved archways and vaulted ceilings – even the ceiling of my cell is vaulted like a chapel - give a sense of gentle enclosure. The stone corridors of the cloisters echo with the slightest sound.