9/28/11

My Birthday Surprise (Chapter Two) - Going Through the Mirror Down to My Past



Is it wise to go back to places where you have been very happy during some part of your past?

I have already written a post about my birthday surprise. We went down south to Carcassonne, a place I hadn’t been to for at least 30 years. A place that was part of my family history but not a place where I had lived.

My roots go back to the “Montagne Noire” and Arfons, my family’s birthplace on my mother’s side.

In 1989, we settled down in Brittany. I have told the story again and again. Sometimes, I would feel a twinge of sorrow whenever I started going down memory lane.

Arfons was still so much part of my life that from time to time I even toyed with the idea of buying a house there. The family home had long been lost due to family problems. But I still owned my Bonne-Maman’s garden in a lovely place, close enough to the village square. It was big enough to  have a house built there.

Then Les Tertres became our family home and Arfons slowly faded away.

Until this summer.

I loved going back to Carcassonne but I knew I had to confront my past sooner than later. We were so close to Arfons after all.

I was worried sick when Popeye started the car and we were on our way to Arfons, going through the same villages I used to go through 50 years ago.

Nothing much had changed. The roads still were narrow and in need of repair. The villages looked the same. Almost the same... A few houses looked really dilapidated.

We still were on the southern slope of the Montagne Noire. The sun was shining. Why should I worry about a few deserted houses?

Pretty soon we got close to Saissac. This is where my parents had a house built after my grandmother’s death because the climate is much warmer there than in Arfons.

Saissac is a very pleasant village with a castle from the early Middle Ages. This castle was one of the key places during the Albigensian Crusade. When I was a teenager, a family from Arfons decided to retire in Saissac.

As a family project, they decided to restore the castle which was falling in ruins. Pretty soon the whole village joined their effort... then they started getting funds from the department of Culture.

It was worth it.





But Saissac does not belong to my family history. I come from Arfons, from the heart of an extinct volcano, from the heart of the Montagne Noire.

So Popeye kept on driving. I got very excited all of a sudden. It still was sunny but pretty cool and humid outside. And then there were the smells and the sounds.

Brooks. I had forgotten. All over the place. Running through the forest which was getting thicker and thicker.




This one is the birthplace of the Canal du Midi, carried through in the XVIIth century.

From there, you keep on driving and you arrive to the Lampy which was the first reservoir for the Canal. 




For us, when we were children and later on, teenagers, it was our “sea”. We used to walk there from Arfons and back every day during the summer. No adults with us. It was very safe.

We had our favorite places there... besides walking round it. (I can’t believe how much we used to walk! Some days from 6 to 8 miles...) 




There was “La tortue” (the tortoise), our favorite spot to spend the whole day on its small rocky beach. We could sit on the rocks and read and talk... So many pictures taken (and lost, I imagine) of the girls playing at being the “The Little Mermaid”. (We had very childish occupations, seems like but we had so much fun.)





And then we’d go swimming. It was fun to swim across the Lampy... from one side to the other... except that you had to walk back where you had left your stuff. But since we never swam alone, it was fun going back because we were together, always together.

Hard to imagine such a simple and free way of living nowadays... and so much walking!

When the Canal did not need any extra water, the water level was quite high and the small beaches disappeared.

The Lampy belonged to us.

I was surprised by its deserted look, so many years later. In July!

The day we were there, it turned cold and greyish. All of a sudden. I had warned Popeye. There is a curve close to a farm called “Le Fajal”. After this curve, you start going down... You have left the southern and sunnier slope.

Bad weather and cold always start there. 








Popeye did not believe me. At first. Then he started feeling some insidious coolness creeping into our car. And he checked the thermometer. In less than one mile, we had lost 6°C - From 68°F down to 57°F...

“How could you stand it...?”

Well, I was much younger and second, we did not care about the weather. I guess we were tougher.



The milestone was still up. Quite worn out. But they have kept it. How many times did we stand on this imaginary border between two “d├ępartements” - Tarn and Aude? From one d├ępartement to the other, the road itself changed its name. One foot in Tarn and the other one in Aude. Our whole world! Imagine!


I started laughing when I noticed the first signpost... Bends for 4.3 miles. You have to know that when you see such a signpost, you are in for quite a ride! Hairpin bends. S-curves. Banked corners. On a very narrow road.

No signpost on the road still means bends because you are going down from 2.000 ft to 1.400 ft. But nicer bends! But signposts... Just imagine!

One thing was missing though. I was unable to find the spring that we called “The Love Spring” (La fontaine de l'Amour). I’m pretty sure the ritual went back to aeons of time. Whenever you really were in love with someone (which happened almost once every summer to each one of us), you had to go to the Love Spring, get a few drops in your hand and drink them while thinking about the loved one.

And our love was supposed to last forever and ever... And we went back to the spring every year... or worse, every month...

Which definitely shows that our world was not the world we are living in right now. We did believe in the miracle of love that was flowing from the spring.




I guess I no longer need to drink from the spring. With Popeye in my life for so many years, I’m sure I no longer need it.

It was fun though to believe in miracles before our lives became tougher and tougher in a world we were totally unprepared to face.

We faced it though. We grew up and we all survived. We all have children. Some of us have grandchildren. But nowadays, who would believe in the “Spring of Love”?






 

 (To be continued)




*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

I loved to hear you tell stories of Arfons and Bonne-Maman! What a lovely place--though I am not a fan of cold weather! The picture of the ferns is gorgeous. Well, all of the pictures are. Lovely.