LOST IN PARADISE
Walking down from the hameau called La Roche, to take the lower route to the village of Ruffec, two miles down the road, I get onto the voie verte – the Modern, thus disused railway which in Postmodernity got its metamorphosis and transformed into ‘green tracks’ for walkers and cyclists.
I intend to visit the little Romanesque church there. If it will be open today this would be the first time in my seventeen years in la Douce France, sweet, sweet France, that paradise which makes you often forget all that is foul in it…
While I pass the little building that once housed the railroad guard and was later owned by neighbour Vergnes, I think: My predecessor… After all he died last year. Though today is Quinze Août, it feels like already celebrating All Souls.
A reader from The North might ask: What about Quinze Août? So right he would be. Let me explain Quinze Août to that Northener, a stranger like myself – this by way of a little anecdote.
Precisely fifteen years ago minus one day my wife and I came back from a little holiday taken away from the house here. As at that time we did not own a car, the vehicle was rented in Le Blanc, eleven kilometres away. Then it was a Saturday, we drove at high speed, before six the car had to be handed in at the garage, otherwise we would have to pay for an extra weekend.
We arrived in the hameau twenty-five minutes before six and jumped out of the car. Under the surprised gaze of our very old neighbour, from the car we began to throw all our camping gear on the little road. Then I jumped in again, drove off for my race against the clock – and banged into another car that, at high speed, came around the corner. There was never a car in the hameau…
I jumped out, told the other driver that if he just gave his address to my wife we would arrange the damage to his car the following day. I jumped in again, drove off and just made it in time. The garage man, already closing up, looked annoyed at the front of the car. Yes, I told him – telling a lie, the third one in my whole life – that happened on a camp site… Bad luck, he answered, but that is insured as holiday damage. We arranged the payment for the rental.
That night I could not sleep a wink, my conscience was mangling me. At half past six I got up, did not wake my wife and without washing myself drove on my scooter into nowhere land, towards the house of Mr. Cossé as he was called, hidden somewhere out there. I simply had to ask him to come with me to the garage that very same day and let me tell the truth, he being my witness. I would just have to pay for both cars.
Arriving at his farm at seven o’clock Monday morning I was welcomed first by a deafening silence, surprisingly so as farmers are at it rather early. Then once more by the sudden explosion of a bunch of dogs in a kennel, becoming more and more ferocious as I approached the farmhouse. No one around…
Then, like a clown out of a box, the man appeared, dressed in his night things, hair as well as eyes in wild turmoil. What the hell, Man! What the fuck are you doing here at this god almighty hour? I explained in three words the aim of my visit. But, Sir – Sir, this is (yes now we are getting there) – this is Quinze Août…!!!
Just like the good Northener I am, I asked him ‘So what about it?’
Only Southerners now what it means, only in countries dominated by Catholicism do they know that on the Fifteenth of August the Holy Madonna is elevated into heaven. Only here do they have a holiday to celebrate the occasion, even if it is a Monday. So what the hell did I know that Monday, an unbeliever deep down in France!
I was a stranger in paradise. I am still a stranger, but today I would like to witness a mass for that Maria.
Meanwhile on the voie verte the mind is not in the walking, but somewhere else – with the dead and with the dying. This morbid twist given to the joyous feast of Maria, surely our Consolatrix Afflictorum, fits my mood all too well.
What are the chances of a sudden conversion of a devout atheist who is just going through the pains of a divorce from his maîtresse; who is suffering from rather unpleasant diseases of an impressive Damocles quality; who, within two weeks time, is suddenly losing his best friends to even worse afflictions; who is feeling the pain from a haemorrhoid in his asshole, which he suspects of being a tick? What risk?
Could a service held in honour of La Madonna, sneakily like a cuckoo, lay an egg of faith in the nest of the troubled soul of an unbeliever? After all, such are the hazards of the Condition Humaine, of man’s fate, the dangers of human existence which is always already ‘other’, however seldom if ever ‘self’.
Inside the church, unexpectedly serious, built from that faraway 12th century on, almost like the architecture of a Calvinist sanctuary, up front there is a bunch of nuns, behind them the vulgus. I sit myself behind them, in the back.
The nuns are singing like angels, like the true professionals they are, with fine voices. However, they never had a man, they are ‘married to Christ’ as it is said. So never the pains of divorce, nor the labour of child birth, not even an immaculate one. Summer time and the living is easy…
The sublime moment when the priest is drinking His Blood from The Chalice, outside the church a fearsome dog starts barking horridly. A bloodhound for sure, the smells from the cup must have escaped through the doors of this refuge…
A good reason as well as good moment for me to leave and visit the pub on the other side of the road which traverses the village. A few of my fellow sinners are drinking their foul drink and betting like their lives depend on it.
Surely, none of those fans of the faith I left behind will come here after service. I saw right into their faces when they returned along the aisle after their holy communion with the higher being. Admittedly, compared to the fatties in this pub they looked much healthier physically. For their facial expression, though, I did not care all that much. Ite missa est – and straight home.
Before walking back I visit the cemetery, always a sobering experience. I look for the grave with on it the maiden name of my neighbour’s mother which I did nt know till now. She was Polish, a woman who just before the Second World War decided to come to France and marry a French farmer, Mr. Robin. Kot is that name. Could it be Jewish?
Moraturi te salutant… Sure enough, these old folks who will soon die visit the graveyards with some relish, perhaps they want to get used to the idea.
On my way back, again on the voie verte, I find a bird’s little eggshell below a tree, splintered. Thrown out of its nest? Not lost, though – never been there.
Sierksma La Roche 15.8/2016