Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A discovery in Castillon du Gard




"Medieval village, first left." We made the turn and snaked up the hill towards Castillon-du-Gard, emitting suffused sighs of wonder with each twist of the panorama. A discovery was in front of us, waiting.

Admittedly, they are increasingly rare for Remi and I. For his various photographic projects, we have criss-crossed la Provence and the eastern reaches of the neighboring Languedoc and wear our metallic merit badges proudly. We even know of secret villages and bijous that are hidden in plain sight.

But Castillon? Well, it was just a mark on the map that we passed on our way to the Pont du Gard and my beloved Uzès. As we had just left nearby St. Hilaire d'Ozilhan and were taking the long road home (aka driving in the opposite direction of where we needed to go), it was time to explore. The light was softening to  a whisper and as we pulled ourselves and the pups out of the car, we realized that we had the streets to ourselves, just as we prefer.


And what unusual streets they are, such perfect cut stone paths...rock against rock to echo...


...and lead us down the yellow brick road...


...into a forest where things haven't changed actually, not since one thousand years.


And yet I felt slightly ill at ease, as if the old stones were holding their breath, waiting for us to leave them in peace. We did and let the light lie behind us.


Mystery is a fickle dancer. So, of course we were immediately tempted to go back by day...


...and discern with a wagging finger...had we been imagining things?


Solidly, yes. 


For there was something of the touch too much perfect...


...a stage set without blunder...


...as if the joke was on us.


What to make of this and these - those pictures that beg to be taken without posing?


A bit like a Frenchman captivated by an insouciant minx, we were slightly under its spell.


We visited a house for sale and returned, returned again; trying to imagine ourselves walking those streets...


...so different from the rowdy roll of Arles with no graffiti, no garbage, no wild cats to be seen. Could we? The answer is no. At least no for now.

But it was still a good discovery and like the mirage of the Pont du Gard shimmering in the distance, a kindly reminder not to assume but to stop and question. "Tu as toujours de préjugés," Remi has been saying to me lately. And I believe that he is right. I think that after all of those years in New York, I try to decide what a situation is or could be in advance as a sort of survival tactic. It might have been smart then but it could be time to change now. Better to think twice then. Once with your head of course but always, always once with your heart as well.



PS. My friend DA Wolf at Daily Plate of Crazy recently wrote a thought-provoking piece on the definition of wisdom that I think that you might enjoy. You can find it: here.

28 comments:

  1. I can almost hear the soft padding of history's footsteps on the stones of the empty streets.

    The last photo, of the Pont du Gard in the distance took my breath away. It brings back lovely memories of a vacation Tim and I took several years ago. We rented a motor scooter in Avignon and barreled out to the Pont. It was a hot day. We'd put our swimsuits into our knapsack, changed behind some bushes and swam in the river while gazing at the Pont. History and present melded in a magical day.

    Thank you for sharing these lovely corner of Provence with us.

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    1. Lorrie, can you believe that I have never done that? A lot of folks from Arles go to a secret picnic spot (that is still a secret to me) in the summer to spend the day. It does sound absolutely magical - especially as the experience of visiting the Pont otherwise is expensive and is often disappointing - at least for me - as you herded like cows through the site. Ahhh, I will have to go this summer!

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  2. I was beginning to get the Ben napping under the table feeling until I saw the yellow brick road, and got a chill. Door #1 has magic. I think y'all are getting close to your new home.

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    1. I think that you might be right, although not behind that particular door (which appears to lead to a rather large garden dotted with stone columns)...

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  3. Such a dreamy, wise post Heather. I will keep that with me today: Think once with your head, but always, always once more with your heart. Wow.

    The light you captured infusing the old stones. Magical.

    Crossing fingers and toes that the Yellow Brick Road leads you home soon.

    XOXO

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    1. Thank you friend. Although I know that I need to also make sure that I think with my head too! Sometimes it works the other way around...bit of a dreamer...as you know... ;)

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  4. Thanks again and for the tip on the DA Wolf piece, too. I loved it, not least because of the same reason why I always love your posts, the sincere personal touch.

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    1. Isn't she amazing? Always gets right to the heart of things. I am always so impressed by her writing - not to mention that she publishes every day!

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  5. What a beautiful piece you've written today Heather. It's so atmospheric. These little villages of Provence are so pretty and so untouched by the passage of time.

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    1. Just like your photos of Malta, Loree. I am so happy to have found you on IG!

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  6. Your instincts are (as usual) on-target, Heather.....the village DOES look as though it'd just been thoroughly prepped for a period-movie set, with the filming barricades scheduled to go up the next day.

    Two friends of mine DID, actually, once wander unintentionally onto a movie set. They stopped by the lovely farm/country house of a friend they hadn't spoken to for some time and, since they had a key to the back door (they'd lived there for a while, themselves), simply let themselves in as they always had. They were lounging in the living room with the beers they'd opened (not having noticed some furniture, such as a piano, which hadn't previously been in the house of their non piano-playing friend, or the fact that the house suddenly had flower-filled vases and no dogs) when several horrified and hysterical set managers/propmen (they'd been into town for lunch) came through the front door and began raising a very complete shitfit.

    I gather my friends abashedly made some very profuse apologies and GOT OUT (which the owner and her dogs had done the previous week).

    In any case, Castillon du Gard IS a very lovely spot.....particularly given the proximity of the bridge (which I know only from 1000 & 1 postcards.

    That makes me think of my first visit to Herve's family's house, when Know-Nothing Me sat at breakfast one morning and brightly asked about my favorite "fantasy" chateau "Do you think we can we go to see Izay le Rideau? How do you GET there from here? Can we do that someday??". I got mildly quizzical looks from my in-laws, and was basically told to just go down the driveway, turn left, and walk about 1/2 a mile".

    It was a disorienting (to Tennessee born&bred me, at least) as someone's telling me "Oh, you want to meet Elizabeth Taylor? Gosh...she lives next-door...just go over, knock, and say hey...it's EASY...."

    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. And Level Best you are, David. Another wonderful set of stories and how I hope (record on repeat) that one of these days...well, you know...that you write them all down beyond the comments section. Azay le Rideau is my favorite chateau in the Loire by the way. Happy memories there.

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    2. By the way, Heather......giving credit where credit is due, I do need to give a compliment to my French in-laws for never correcting me when I regularly referred, over several of those initial visits, to "Izay" le Rideau.

      Have I ever told you about how, during that first visit (when I was equipped with only my skoolboy, learned-in-Tennesse French) I arrived at the reception for my first exhibition in France (arranged, mais bien sur, by my mother-in-law) and, in front of about twenty people, told her that she shouldn't be such a greedy cocksucker? The term I used (learned from sanitized, American art-history accounts of Henri de Toulouse-L'Autrec's work) is complete gutter-slang and does not at all mean that a person is simply a "glutton".

      Everyone was very nice about the business and simply acted as though it'd never happened (although Herve hustled me downstairs and gave me a quick lesson in French idioms).

      Warily yours as ever,

      David Terry
      www.davidterryart.com

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  7. What an interesting town. I will have to visit one of these days. AND I loved your photos. Thank you again Heather!

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    1. You are welcome Judy! Have a great day...

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  8. A beautiful place...but did you ever encounter any people (or their detrietus) there? Thank you for continuing to take us on your explorations, Leslie

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    1. Rarely - and they would look surprised or spooked when they did! I am sure it is an entirely different experience in summer, alas...

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  9. I loved walking the winding streets with you, wrapped in history and imagining how life was in the town's heyday.

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  10. Have you considered coming back to the STATES?I think LIFE would be cheaper………just a thought!I know not the same but it might be worth consideration!

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    1. "Have you considered coming back to the STATES?I think LIFE would be cheaper"

      Oh, Elizabeth.....having just (as in five minutes ago?) finished reading a long article on gun violence/comparative murder rates in the USA, I have to say that you needn't doubt your instincts; life definitely is cheaper here than in rural Provence.

      Sincerely,

      David Terry
      www.davidterryart.com

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    2. A chillingly perfect response, David.

      And Remi's work is here Bella Contessa, so for now, here we stay...

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  11. It's so powerful to see your images now, having been there, having met you at last. There's a greater context and richness, if that makes sense. But these were compelling because they required a careful second and third viewing. Those crisp and exactly right and expensive details - too perfect. In this town you'd call in Set Decorating and tell them to age everything down and rough it up a notch. I've watched them do it. It's an art getting a patina, creating rust and centuries of grime in minutes. But some things can't be faked. Missing you! XXX

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  12. I think I've said this to you before, and trust me, I know it is no simple thing at all and nor is it quick, especially with all that life asks of us, but... perhaps it's time to gather your exquisite words and images for a book? Perhaps the "don't assume" is falling (like a whisper) - just at the right time?

    And thank you for the lovely mention.

    xo

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  13. The place reminds me of The Country of the Blind by H.G.Wells, clean and well ordered. But even the sighted one was tempted to leave the idyllic place.

    Wisdom grows with age.Thank you for the link to the insightful essay.

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  14. Wow - what a beautiful, spooky town! I love the blues in the first pics and the last shot is breathtaking. But where the hecky darn is everybody?? Not even a pupper in sight! It was a little creepy; I understand why you passed! But beautiful as always. I would also like to concur with Maywyn's and D.A. Wolf's statements. : )

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  15. Lovely insight and beautiful hidden village. I'll be in Provence this May and hope to do some exploring myself!

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  16. it is Jolly Exciting to wander around these villages with you pondering if you and the Monsieur will reside there shortly with a lostinfillinthelbank to continue on in another location.

    funny enough - this line that you opened with: ""Medieval village, first left."

    reminded us of yesterday as we took a stop in Encinitas (to buy snacks for the long trek home) and saw this sign

    "1883 Historical Schoolhouse three blocks" and an arrow.

    why yes, we did take a detour.

    because keeping an open mind about the future, even if it's only the immediate future, is the only way in such strange and uncertain times.....

    *wavingfromlosangeles*

    _tg xx

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