We have spent the last few days at my sister's house near Moissac, and today we are moving on, booked into an hotel at Arles. I know almost nothing of Provence and it's our plan to drive up the Rhone valley and into Germany... If time allows we will go to Wuppertal to see the suspended railway, one of Andrew's ambitions.
Here at Panel there have been quite a few changes in the two years since we were last here. All the houses have been given numbers - to help the sapeurs-pompiers, or the ambulances, in case of emergency. The old ways - where everyone just 'knows' where everyone else lives - are not fit for purpose. So this little house, whose address is just 'Panel', the name of the hamlet, will now be known with a number and street name.
The landscape has had me enthralled, with its small valleys and fields, little woods, rolling shapes and winding roads. I have tried to paint it, draw it, but not very successfully. One problem is that everyone else's timetable has to be fitted in - driving here, driving there, visitors coming, going to the market, booking in for lunch. This is part of my pilgrimage experience - how to adapt to the moment and yet allow myself to be or see or have what I feel I need.
As we drove up from the Pyrenees, which I have not really recorded for you, we were following the Garonne which in Spain was left with visible bed-boulders and low water, which instantly, at the French border became a deep, calm, watery river (completely different management objectives, I suppose). Very near here it blends with the Tarn, presenting a magnificent huge wide calm open space with impressive bridges.
We passed various small towns - one in particularly dragged us in by waving a fortified church at us over the horizon. That was Simorre, with a 12th Benedictine glory in a small place, and I loved a tiny house (one of many for sale - petit prix). Eventually I spoke to the vendor, English, Geoffrey - who said 'In its present state, I'm asking €60,000....' I would offer 25, but I don't really want a house, however tempting, in the Gers. So sweet.
On Thursday, we went for lunch to the Uvarium, a splendid little Deco pavilion in Moissac, right on the banks of the river - very very beautiful place. It was originally built by the commune as a spa when the local mills closed, but its been through many uses and is now a fancy-pants diner. How they manage to produce so many meals from a portacabin in the gardens is a mystery. Later we went on a mini-cruise in a little pleasure boat. €9 each for an hour, with a detailed commentary in French, for up to 12 people. I could understand some of what the lady said, and it was really amazing what she found to say about just a mile or so of river - the history (Napoleon, the mills, the Uvarium, the wildlife, the camping, the railway bridge, the canal-viaduct going over the river, the blend of Tarn et Garonne, the Canal-Deux-Mers, the local sports, etc etc.... A lovely interlude. My sister recently went with some friends on this same boat as a booze-cruise. They had it to themselves and brought champagne with them....
Today in the pretty field across the valley a man is standing stock-still, wearing orange neon gilet, and I guess part of the chasse. Here they hunt wild boar, deer, pheasants, anything that moves. My sister had told them she didn't want la chasse on her land, and they have been courteous about it - once bringing her a huge plastic bag of bloodied parts after they had - with her permission - come onto the field in front of her house. This was too much for her - the blood, the skin and bone and hair, so it was given to friends who reported how delicious it all was.
Now the croissants have arrived, time for breakfast, and then we're off. We have a day's schlep ahead of us.