Christmas has come and gone, snow covers the ground and the radio crackles with news of ice on the roads and freezing temperatures outside. I thought this might be a good time to look back over warmer times and have taken the extracts below from my book of my travels in south west France, Between Two Rivers.To the east of Cahors the river meanders through a landscape of small vineyards, orchards, fruit farms, cereal crops and pasture. There is a sleepy, unhurried feel, and in summer the fields are punctuated only by the occasional couple working their land. Protected from the fierce heat of the day under straw hats, their skin aged a roasted brown, they move between the rows of crops often bent double for several hours. In the villages old women dressed in black talk or sit on balconies in the afternoon shade watching the world go by. Small groups of men cluster under a spreading tree in the public square or play boules on the dry, dusty earth. Long silences punctuate conversation, their movement is slow and the occasional chink of the metal balls is not enough to disturb the tranquillity of the moment. Small lizards scatter in a staccato motion over hot paving, stopping every few moments to lift one foot from the ground. The rustle of leaves, the drone of bees and from time to time, men in lycra, skin tight, streamlined and displaying all the colours of the rainbow, will sweep through the village like a comet: new-age travellers on two wheels with twelve gears - head down, pedalling hard and talking amongst themselves oblivious to their surroundings. The only other sound of their being is the smooth whisper of rubber rushing over wet tar: then they are gone – racing against time and leaving the old world where it was, to count the seconds that pass so slowly.
There is something wonderful about market days. Towns and villages that at other times are quiet and sleepy, become transformed, their mellow crumbling walls acting as a perfect foil to the brightly coloured umbrellas; the vibrant reds and greens of the produce of summer, the saffrons and browns of winter. The play of light falling between tall buildings in narrow streets that hold in the atmosphere, condense it, and squeeze every ounce of colour and noise until they become vibrant with excitement. Herbs and spices, spit roast chickens and the strong aroma of countless cheeses assail the nostrils. They are for me the embodiment of France, and I never fail to be moved by them.
Post published by Tom King 9th January 2010
Illustrations and text from Between Two Rivers.