"I want to show you something." Remi makes a swift right onto a tiny lane in the middle of the Alpilles. As often as we have traversed these roads, this one is somehow unknown to me. I am left to wonder where we are headed and why now. The sun has already started its descent and I am hungry, thinking ahead to the time remaining for the drive home, what I can rustle up for dinner. We wind around corner after corner to spy olive grove after olive grove, each ghostly in the waning light.
He pulls over at a seemingly random spot and unloads Ben from the back. "Come on." I follow him down a rock-strewn path. The point of a terracotta tiled roof raises up like a cowlick over the hillside. And soon, we were standing in a clearing gazing at an ancient stone farmhouse, or mas with a massive diagonal stone fortification reaching up on one side and a pebbly garden wall rolling down the other.
"Over here, " Remi calls out as I carefully pick my way down the path. I turn past the ivy and let out a gasp.
This mas was certainly something more, at least it had been, long ago. A series of arches extend off of the main structure into nowhere. No roof above, no form remaining to give a clue as to its origins. Was the home built onto the remains of a chapel? Possibly. A sculpted column in the loggia makes me wonder if it was a cloister.
Enough of the past. There are no ghosts here and the faded beauty of this batiment is still very pertinent in the present. I inhale it like a perfume.
The roof looks as though it could fly off with the next gust of Mistral but there are little clues that this home has not been abandoned, not entirely. Certain windows have been replaced. A wicker chair is placed in front of the arched entryway with a shirt slung over it, left out to dry. An extension cord snakes through the grasses to a generator hidden in a dried out well. Someone is living here à la Robinson Crusoé. My guess is not all the time, perhaps just in the warmth of summer.
Remi and I are both such dreamers. Soon the conversation falls away and imagination takes over. What we would do if we could somehow buy the property and make it ours? I know that I would clear out the fountains that have been nearly crushed by the surrounding vegetation. Remi suggests putting a small pool, a bassin, under the arches. Lovely.
I am sure that both of us have a hard time understanding the whys of the mas being left to slide in to such a state, even if we find it all the lovelier for it.
We linger and let the last of the light pull across us. A speck of moon pops over the olive trees.
"Have you ever tasted figues de barbarie?" Remi asks he spies the fruit exploding out of a group of cacti at the base of the house. I admit that I haven't so, gentleman that he is, he gathers one for me, getting pricked in the process. I take a tiny nibble. The fruit is as soft as the sun and the magenta juice stains our hands.
The desiccated trunk of a tree fascinates me. "How did it get like that Remi?" It smells warm, the wood. "It has just been left to rot, that's all, maybe for twenty years, maybe more." I can't imagine just leaving something be for so long.
Perhaps the mas is more alone than we think.
As we head back towards the car, we can hear snatches of song echoing through the hills. "Algerian", Remi confirms, workers of North African origin. Joyous notes bob and fade. Perhaps it is a celebration for the récolte, the end of harvesting the grapes. We stop to listen for a moment before heading home. There is always music in the best dreams.