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36 degrees in Montpellier today – the sun like a dangerous weapon, scorching, punishing, to be avoided at all costs. Today I went to enquire about the Olympic-size swimming pool not far from here. Julie’s apartment is wonderfully spacious with big bright windows which unfortunately face south, so the shutters have to be kept tightly shut for most of the day. Luckily, Lynn’s place has a small air conditioner, so I spent part of the day there. Quiet nights here, cool afternoons there.

I’m not going to do much, these last days. Once I’d thought of taking the train to Nimes or going back to see more photography in Arles, but now, no excursions by train, that’s for sure. Just walking by the station, which I do regularly, makes my heart rise in my throat. I’ve gone back several times to try to thank the men who were so kind to me, but so far, only others have been there.
No, no more out-of-town travel until my last trip to Paris on Monday. Reading and writing, that’s the agenda. Walking around, eating cheese, drinking rosé, emailing, reading North American newspapers on-line, working, blogging to you. Too hot to move, in any case.
I’ve read my 3 books, the P.D. James Innocent Blood which I thoroughly enjoyed though found her stern and sour about human nature, the Kate Atkinson Case Histories the same, strangely. The one I adored was Nick Hornby’s Long Way Down. Can’t recommend it more highly. His work is so easy to read and funny that you think it’s a light summer read, but it’s not, he gets right to the core over and over, twists your guts, hits you over the head with a piece of wisdom.

“There was a break-up coming, you could smell it,” one of his characters says, “and no one was saying anything. We’d taken things as far as we could, and there was nowhere for us to go. That’s why everyone breaks up, I guess, bands, friends, marriages, whatever. Parties, weddings, anything.”

And another muses, “Do people get sad on holiday sometimes? I can imagine they do, having all that time to think.”

THAT certainly hit home.
Speaking of having time to think, here is a transcription from my little Clairefontaine notebook, written on the way from Montpellier to Bayonne last week:
Why am I here? What am I doing on a slow train meandering through the south-west of France, past clusters of red clay roofs dominated by one tall spire, past fields of dying brown sunflowers and innumerable vineyards? Why did I need to step outside of my life for five months?
1. to begin a memoir about our year in France – my parents – the Beatles – love – 1964-65.
2. to get away from the house, see what it feels like without my shell
3. to get away from my kids and vice versa
4. to see my life at a distance – what works and what doesn’t
5. to come home.

Ah, that’s the key – to come home. In less than two weeks.

A few memories of the past week that I didn’t have time in that expensive internet place to tell you about:
On Saturday, Michele and I went to the Cap Breton market. A small bar inside was packed with men talking and drinking a little glass of red while the women shopped; a sign advertised 6 oysters and a glass of wine for 5 Euros. As a treat, I bought us a slab of local foie gras, lecturing the vendor about the cruelty to ducks and geese and how I didn’t approve and was only going to try it this one time. I meant it, too, but did feel that I should try the stuff. We ate it that evening with our aperitif. Hard to say anything but, “Mmmm.” Like velvet, like cream, like … nothing else. Sublime, but at too great a cost to my fellow creatures. I won’t eat it again.
The large Spanish town we went to whose name I forgot was San Sebastian. An expansive sea-front, a lovely old town. We actually did not eat anything there, which was a first.
Michele went off one morning to buy honey, returning with a box filled with all different kinds, different colours from pale yellow to darkest umber: summer heather, acacia, “of the forest,” “all flowers,” heather later in the season. The honey competed with the apricot jam she made in a big copper pot while I was there. Should I spread my bread with thick chunks of luscious apricots or some “all flowers” honey? These are the dilemmas of a French sejour. I was especially grateful for this one, because it was really all French. In Gordes, we spoke a lot of English. Michele lived for awhile in Canada but has lost most of her English, so my whole time there was in French, with a real Frenchwoman cooking and teaching me how things are done. Inspiring.
Her very French grandsons Clement and Damien, at 6 and 4, amazed me as they ate dinner with the grown-ups, our last night a complicated Indian chicken dish with coconut milk and vegetables, mixed with a ratatouille-like dish, all eggplant and onions. My own children would have made vomit noises and sat eating bread; these kids just ate and ate. And then asked for cheese. “Je veux un peu de Reblochon,” said Clement, scooping a bit of the extremely stinky mould-rinded cheese we adults were savouring. “Moi aussi, je veux du Reblochon,” chimed 4-year old Damien, and they both spread it on their tartines and ate with gusto. People say France is changing, but maybe not that much.
On my last morning before taking the train, Michele took me around Bayonne and then insisted we had to have hot chocolate at Chez Cazanov, a tradition for her all her life. Hot chocolate, on a day that was 33 degrees at least? But we went, a lovely old-fashioned café with many mirrors, and out came a frothy mousse atop a cup of dark hot chocolate. The Spaniards value chocolate, Michele told me, and this is made in the Spanish way.
Oh. My. God. I wanted to sit there forever. Dark, grainy yet sweet, rich, thick …
With that taste in my mouth, I got on the train for Montpellier, got off and left my handbag behind. I blame the chocolate.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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