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Published: December 18th 2009
At a sanctuary, near Boulogne
The dance instructor heard my brewing frustration, and he showed me the secret exit door. Two minutes later I was outside and free in the cold. I guess that's one way to keep from losing your students - hide the exit.
I was glad to be moving on, and the next day I arrived in Boulogne.
My host Jonnie, is one crazy lady. She’s 68 years old, and has more spunk than most people half her age. She’s Dutch, but grew up in Morocco and Spain. She speaks five languages fluently.
I told her she’d been blessed to live such an amazing life. She said she didn’t think so. She felt both at home and yet out of place everywhere. She’d lived in Holland for many years before determining that the Netherlands had lost its cultural identity due to the influx of Muslim immigrants, and had fled to France two years ago.
She had itchy feet. As soon as I left her place, she was leaving to visit her brother in Southern Spain, where he is remodeling hillside caves and turning them into tourist retreats.
Jonnie is the worst driver on the planet. As soon as I showered and
put my clothes in the laundry, we set off to see the area. I had hoped for us to drive around her tiny village and point out the church and anything else close by. Instead, she took me on an unending wild ride.
Somehow within six minutes she had backed her van into the side of an 800-year-old church, lost on a gravel road in a village she had never been to before. I had to reflect on the unliklihood of the whole thing.
Next she got lost again, before stumbling onto a catholic sanctuary which had recently been restored. It made for good photography, and I grabbed some nice shots. She became determined next to show me the local market town, which I’d already driven through on my way to her home. She got lost again, deliberately ignoring the directions of her TomTom GPS device, and we wandered around until we came to it.
It was Sunday night, and everything was closed. We drove back home.
I spent the next entire day catching up this blog. Originally I planned something for the day, but Jonnie told me to cancel it so we could run an errand on the coast
together. However, she cancelled that plan and didn’t tell me, so I did nothing.
I had requested to stay three nights at Jonnie’s home, but she told me on the second day that I couldn’t stay for the third night (because she was leaving for her own trip). Annoying, but now I’ll email the other host who had offered me to stay nearby. Not a huge concern.
The next day, I visited my ancestral village of La Chaize-le-Vicomte. It’s a small town very near the city of La Roche Sur Yon, near the Western coast of Central France. I had hoped to have more time to visit the town, which is why I decided to come to this part of France. However, the unexpected change of plans left me with only time for a two-hour tour.
In the modern world, the town assumes its role as an unassuming suburb of another medium sized city (La Roche Sur Yon). However, beneath the shallow, functional exterior, you can see this town has its own great history. In France, you can take the 600-year-old Eglise for granted - Nothing special there. But the orchards, the bridges, the ancient walls, the centuries-old homes and
the shops that pulsate with life…you cannot take them for granted.
I intentionally got myself lost down a forgotten cobblestone path, admiring a stonewall with a weathered texture so real that you can feel its surface with your eyeballs. As I turned a corner, one side of the wall gave way, and I found myself in an expansive garden.
I wandered through the garden, wondering for how many generations it must have fed this village? What kinds of vegetables? How many hundred varieties had it known? How many weeds had grown among its flowers? Did my ancestors eat from this garden?
I wandered up to the church and snapped one picture before the battery in my camera died. I walked behind the church and attempted to sit on a stone wall. As I put my weight onto the wall, the stones broke from their anchorage and tumbled to the ground. I was dismayed. This wall that had stood since before my great-great-great grandfather came to America crumbled easier than a soggy Nilla Wafer. I concluded that even very old structures need to be treated with respect. I stood next to the wall and looked down upon a still, green pond.
The pond had a layer of algae so thick that it looked like the skin on fresh pudding. I picked up a nut that had fallen off a nearby tree, and hurled it into the pond 50 meters away to see what would happen. The skin broke, and it made a satisfying “PLUNK” noise.
Because my camera was broken, I decided to memorize the wall on the side of a particular building. I stared at it until villagers began to gawk at me. While I did, I wrote a poem I have yet to transcribe, about how every crack appeared and every piece of paint faded from each storm over the last 800 years.
I imagined every young lover to lean against it and kiss someone and every old man to brace himself against it - every time the wall lived, for even a moment. (To follow this thinking, listen to “The Room Nobody Lives In,” by Elvis Costello)
I had expected to stay at another host’s home near La Chaize, but when I returned to Jonnie’s home to check my email, I was told that my invitation to stay with the nearby host had been revoked - they had
changed their plans for the evening.
I was in the middle of nowhere at 3 in the afternoon and I had no place to stay for the night! What was I going to do?
To be continued…
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