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St. Roch

It’s 9.45 a.m. and I’ve just come back from a more than hour-long morning walk in the breeze, which is still here. At night, central Montpellier is extremely noisy, not only because of the ubiquitous bars and restaurants and the talk of people returning home resounding in the echo chambers of the narrow streets, but because we are all dwelling cheek by jowl with the neighbours beside and opposite us. I can smell their cooking, hear how they are raising their children and certainly celebrate with them every nuance of their taste in music. (Someone close by loves the mindless banging of techno; I would like to have a little chat with him sometime.)

But in the morning, especially, I can now say, Sunday morning, it’s a different world out there – tranquil and still, except for the church bells and an occasional mass emanating from a church. As I walked around at 8, there were only a few stray tourists eating breakfast in a sunny square and a few stray cats stalking the streets. Later, I went into a church – the massive space inside lit up joyfully, sun pouring through the stained glass windows, the priest amplified as he chanted the prayer, and in the pews which could hold hundreds, there were nine people huddled at the front.
In the “lest we forget” department, I stopped as always to read the signs on the wall – in one house lived both a 15th century pope and Paul Valéry, a 20th century poet raised in Montpellier. The signs often commemorate heroes of the wars. There was one about Jean Moulin, hero of the Resistance, who was tortured and executed in 1943; several noting that the inhabitant of this house was deported and died at Auschwitz. Many kinds of past are kept alive in the streets here.
It’s the Festival of St. Roch this weekend. St. Roch was a young priest from fourteenth century Montpellier who studied medicine, then gave away his worldly goods to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way he stopped again and again to take care of those afflicted with the Black Death, which killed 25 million people in Europe at around this time. He eventually caught the disease himself and went to a wood to die. It’s said that he was kept alive by a dog which every day brought him bread, and he recovered. There are masses and events in his honour all day; a table has been set up on the main shopping street, to give out free water from St. Roch’s well. I hope it’s good luck; I drank two glasses, and others were getting big bottles filled. We were shown where the actual well is situated – at the back of a shoe store.
The trains station here, scene of my recent devastation, is called Montpellier-St. Roch, and now I know why.
Every time I go out on a sortie, I am grateful for my wallet, and every time I come home, I am grateful for my key. Just recently, I’d said to myself that I had to get over my extreme nervousness when travelling – the day of a departure, my stomach heaves, I’m speedy and anxious. I wonder, now that the worst has happened, at least in the travelling department, if I will be calm. I wonder, if I am ever left penniless again, if a dog will bring me bread.
************
1 p.m. I just picked a book out of Julie’s bookcase: Hold Everything Dear, by the much-admired John Berger, the extraordinary British intellectual and artist who’s lived in rural France for decades. By the second chapter, he’s writing about Palestine and Israel from a 100% pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli point-of-view. I Googled him, to find that he’s part of a coalition that wrote a petition to the Beatles (I guess Paul McCartney) urging him not to play in Israel because of Israeli human-rights violations and various horrific abuses.
Perhaps I should not have walked out of the film last night.
The issue for me is this: if we admit that Israeli Jews, immediately after WW2 as their state was being created, began a campaign of intolerance and annihilation, we are admitting a most heartbreaking fact about human nature, that we are incapable of understanding, tolerance or empathy; that human nature relishes power and domination far more than any common humanity. That’s why I and so many others are struggling. And also because yes, unrealistically, I call Jews to a higher humanity than others, because of what they have endured, because of who they are. Who we are.
The Globe columnist Margaret Wente, whose conservatism either drives me into a frothing rage or else sounds remarkably sensible, wrote recently of the world’s propensity to blame Israel, to focus disproportionately on Israeli misdeeds when the planet is overrun with countries and leaders committing terrible acts. She’s right. And yet, there’s another side to the story, one which I didn’t see last night because I walked out of the cinema.
I’m talking so often to you because I have no one to talk to. Many thanks for listening.

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3 Responses to “St. Roch”

  1. patsy says:

    dear bee, one day i hope you will see a film called "Another Road Home" a documentary made by Danae Elon, who is a Jewish Israeli whose parents are intellectuals, and who made this film about her and their relationship with the Palestinian man who was their servant, her "nanny" really, for most of her life. It is not polemic, it is honest emotionally, it cuts through the rhetoric, it tells a story, it moved me deeply.
    your friend, with sorrow and hope in my heart for all of the artificial divisions, the walls we build, between ourselves.

  2. patsy says:

    dear bee, one day i hope you will see a film called "Another Road Home" a documentary made by Danae Elon, who is a Jewish Israeli whose parents are intellectuals, and who made this film about her and their relationship with the Palestinian man who was their servant, her "nanny" really, for most of her life. It is not polemic, it is honest emotionally, it cuts through the rhetoric, it tells a story, it moved me deeply.
    your friend, with sorrow and hope in my heart for all of the artificial divisions, the walls we build, between ourselves.

  3. beth says:

    I'll find and watch the film when I'm home, Patsy. Many thanks for the recommendation.
    all my love
    b.

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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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This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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