I’ve returned to Paris, leaving early in the morning from Montpellier, after a little weekend break. But, I’ve been jotting down some of the short time I had away, it was a good adventure.
After getting in to the hotel, late — on Friday.
I went in the next morning to Montpellier to search for a car — I rented a SKORDA, never heard of them — a kind of speedy little sub brand of Volkswagen, with lots of spit and speed; getting out of town was a series of paths of frustrating turnings and concatenations — trying to find a road that actually lead out of town — through the maze of the city. Once I found the route; I ripped away — trying to see what 140 km per hour was all about. And…it was good. There’s something to speed.
I went off to the coast, about 15 km south of Montpellier. It was raining, with mist coming in from the Mediterranean. I headed over to an ancient monastery and cathedral, now still in use for musical presentations and services. But bare of any amenities. I was alone, for most of the morning. It still rained — a fog rolled in, and the waterfowl sang their songs, wheeling over head. One peered at me from a fence rail; it remained silent. And never left it’s post, examining me, in an orange slicker, hooded, walking quietly in the muffling rain, down the sea lane, looking out over the marshes and salted plains. It was beautiful, this bird — with a curious palette of feathers; rather pompous, actually. It didn’t seem to mind my plumage.
I sat in the cathedral; it was dead silent; closed my eyes and reflected; you come, you go; you breath in, you breath out; at some appointed moment: it’s over. But for now, there is beauty in the silence of things. There were sarcophagi on the floor, arrangements of stone cut lapidary expressions from the 12th century. But, it was quiet enough to hear a little about the rain outside. Then I headed on to Aigues Morte — the town of dead water. (No, this isn’t a morbid sequence, it’s merely what was there.) This is an ancient town, walled in, to guard the waterways, from centuries back. Still it rained, adding a medieval drizzle to the scene — now it was colder, the rain left a chill. I left and still wandered, working my way around the numerous round abouts, stopping in fields and country byways, returning later in the evening to the Chateau where I was staying. It was bereft of people; three people, from what I could tell.
I headed into the city, Saturday night, to connect with Françoise Dormeuil, a friend. She had helped us earlier with some of our opening efforts, trying to develop the stance of a European sensibility — for our US clients, in 2000 and 2001. She’s moved to Montpellier to change her life, to evolve to new dimensions; she’s given up on her many years of public relations work. Her house was wonderful– set in the old section, surrounded by an array of old pines, charged with the energy of children wrapping up the tail end of their birthday celebrations. They were so sweet, greeting me in French, with the customary French kiss of introduction–twice for some, three times for others. Later, her new friends came and we talked, in English and French until the early morning. I returned to the hotel; it was locked up tight, the storm windows sealed, all the doors bolted. There is something rather country like about this; the hotel, each time I have arrived, has been “closed”. No one there. I pulled my key from the box; there was a little note in French. That was it. I arrived the first night this way, then the next…
Got up Sunday and left again, this time further out to the Camarque. The sun was peering through the clouds, and the wind whipped them further out to the coast, far out to sea. Driving along, ripping the highways in my little SKORDA (why not Skorpa?); it was thrilling. The Carmaque is a strange area — long salt marshes…with Flamingos. And wild horses, running about — most of them white. There’s some fishing; some farming. But otherwise, it’s long stretches of grasslands, wetlands, seamarshes and mudflats. I spotted a flock of flamingoes rouge (how they refer to them) took a detour off the main road, into the quieter countryside and came upon a strange scene. A goat, lying in the middle of the road, before a ferry, which crosses a small river, every half an hour. Rather odd, this tiny ferry, running people and cars across a river that easily was merely a stone’s throw, from side to side.
Later, I reached the shoreline and turned around, to head to the mountains. I drove all the way back to Montpellier, through it and high in the mountains south of Millau. I was looking for another monastery, tucked far back into the hills. I found another — Place du Pelican, before it, a version with a series of stations of the cross, arranged over the spine of a hillside. Again…there was no one there. And then she appeared, a little nun, speaking about the wind and the sun. She must have been 4 feet tall, buffeted by the wind, exclaiming. She asked if I could give her a ride to Montpellier. I was going the other way.
I drove on, further into the mountains, up to the St. Guilhem le Désert — another monastery and Benedictine retreat. This was situated at the end of a tiny village, which followed the delicate and precarious streetways, bathed in sunlight — leading up to this edifice and other hermitages, arranged and abandoned, further up the mountains. I hiked a little way out to these ruins — remote, they were. It actually reminded me a little of Tibet, going back into the hills to the monasteries — and there, scattered up on the cliffs, the hermit outposts. They were here, too. Same idea, I imagine. To be out there, you must go out there.
I spent a while there, surveying the sanctitude of the interiors. Again, there were very few people in this spare and disciplined space, the darkness of the inside of the chapel, illuminated by the pierced beauty of two small circles of light, arranged beside a glowing cross, cut into the stone. Outside, a small courtyard, for meditation, was bathed in sunlight, placed in the center of an square arcade. The wind whirled around the courtyard, grasping the tops of the long cedars, flowers turning their heads to follow the sunpath.
I drove further up the gorges, sliced down the middle by a raging river, with medieval ruined towers, tumbling into the waters below, edged with wind drawn trees.
I drove down the canyon to Grotto de Clamouse. This is a cavern that was discovered by the French spelunkers in 1945; I went on a tour with the French tourists. There was a joke offered by the guide, something that everyone laughed nervously at…involving: “lumiere”, or light.
I discovered what this was. Lagging behind the tour, to let everyone get ahead, to try to look at things more closely…they turned the lights off in the area left behind. So, I felt along for a way before I could actually see a n y t h i n g — to catch up. It was interesting being here in the caverns — I was into spelunking when I was younger. Here, the deposits are truly remarkable, great standing columns of antiquated dripping, crystalline stones, like aeons of candle drippings, century after century, time after time. Water dropped on my head. I thought — “now it’s my turn.”
I continued to spend time up in the mountains, looking over the ancient ruins, guard towers of the valley, looking down the gorges. Then I meandered back to the city in the evening.
Finding light in the caverns was one thing, finding the station to return the car was another. Sunday night, everyone is coming back to town. Suddenly after a time of no people — I had plenty, along with their cars. One hour later, of turning and labyrinthine whorls, trying to find the station by geographic reckoning, I did. Parked the car, took a cab back to the Mas de Couran, the country lodge, in the quiet farm side of Lattes (not the drink), outside Montpellier. And…it was locked, the windows boarded up, the lobby dark. I searched in the kitchen for something. Finding nothing except for some chocoate cake and half a pineapple; I packed my gear. I stayed outside, putting a magazine in the self bolting door to keep from being locked out; I wrote, and drew. And read. I watched the swallows turning in the air. There was a cat, out exploring, flowers closed for the night; as did I — I went to the room, and in a silent little hotel — crashed…at midnight.
I arose before anyone, the cook was in the kitchen. I called a cab and came into the city, boarding at 7.30am, for Paris, Gare de Lyon.
Here’s to a good week, afer a restful venturing forth.
See you soon