Wednesday, June 14, 2006

from Pierrerue: windows

Carcassonne. Someone once said: the problem with it is that it’s just a little too perfect. An old town, crumbling, decayed, then, in a flurry of activity, rebuilt some two hundred years ago so that it now shines.

But you know, phrases like “it’s a little too perfect” are just not going to scare me away. I’m fearless. Besides, my artist neighbor approved of the trip and I am in awe of her. She dresses in silks and linen slacks daily, even though on some days the only people she sees are her husband and me. Somehow, I don’t think she does it for either of us. She has the style gene.

And, moreover, Carcassonne is a big town, with a reputation for great chocolates. I need gifts for some of the people of Pierrerue: for Marie-Rose for helping me navigate the Pierrerue street(s), for Celine for opening her house to me last Sunday, for my artist neighbor for letting me eat my lunch daily on her wonderful, secluded patio so that I can look out at the hills and let the sun warm my bare shoulders.

Alright, reasons enough to go. But this time I am no fool. I don’t just plunge into errands and sight seeing. I start the afternoon right:

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As I make my way up the hill to the old walled part of the city, the wind really picks up. It is intensely difficult to navigate across a bridge with your skirt flying in every direction especially of an upward type and with your packets of chocolate flapping away like out of control boat flags against a wobbly mast (that would be me). But I am undaunted. I am made of hearty peasant stock.

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from the bridge, looking up at it

The town itself is significantly empty. The wind has little to do with that. You don’t come to these parts of France if you have issues with winds. It is le football that creates the feeling of a French town abandoned by its own kind.

So that the numerous restaurants on the square look like this:

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Though if you looked hard enough, inside the bars, you will find this:

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It is very very late by the time I pulled in to the Canal-side restaurant, Pourquois Pas. My landlady is there, serving a tableful of boat people (the vacation barges sometimes stop here for dinner). This time it is a bunch of American dentists with their wives, in France for a brief and very luxurious jaunt along the Canal du Midi.

I talk to them because they have that Midwestern “I am friendly” air that invites conversation. They speak of their trip thus far and they keep repeating how shockingly friendly the French are – in Paris and even more so, here in the south of France.

They told me Parisians were snooty. Parisians helped my wife constantly with her suitcase or when she was having trouble navigating the stairs! And here, we just cannot grasp how it can be that we talk about them as haughty. Everywhere we go, everyone is so nice to us.

This particular dentist had not traveled much up to now (money is not the issue here), but this year he is seizing the travel bull by its horns.

My wife and I noticed that we are getting those little creaks in our bones. We have a window. The children are out, we still hobble around well enough. We have to see the world for ourselves. I’m finally taking time off to do that.

Carcassonne missed its window. Hundreds of years ago, when they were building the Canal du Midi, Riquet (the architect of it) proposed that it should run through town. The citizens would not put up the money for it. And so it was routed a few kilometers north of it. As a result, other towns prospered and Carcassonne fell by the way side. More than a hundred years later, the city changed its mind and so the Canal was rerouted right through town. Too late. Water commerce was on the decline. Carcassonne blew it.

So I did not say to the dentist better late than never.

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Canal by the restaurant, around 9 in the evening

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baked cheese on a blue plate