Saturday, October 22, 2005

Where are you going?

Where are you going? Where the wind blows.Where are you going? To the market, buying fruit.Sue opens the door, warily, she speaks French but I hear her British accent. Daren, her husband, looks like a rocker, bearded face, tangled hair, with a soft voice. He is locked in his mother tongue. He is a bricklayer, a skillful worker, spends day and night restoring the house, polishing the Harley in the garage, caressing the dog. They are living at an intersection of a French village au pied de Pyrénées, they are happy people. You have to go to Jaca, they say, cross the Spanish border and just follow the route, never miss San Juan de la Peña. In the morning they talk about violence, about living in the suburbs of England, about their abandoned life. About coldness of the heart. Sue was a social worker, she pours cereals into a bowl, she still needs to free herself from images of horror. Ben, the 11-year old son, enters the kitchen, leaving for school. He has changed so much, Daren says later. He used to sit before the TV there, killing time. He was so scared. Sue gets some fresh milk from the fridge. It is his second childhood here, they say, now he is alive.It is late in the evening, almost dark, when I follow the bumpy road aside the motorway, the sign reads Chambres d'hôtes, I need to find some place to sleep. The building looks uninhabited, just a diffuse glimmer of light oozing from a window. The door opens into a kitchen, a woman with white hair is sitting at the table, shyly smiling at me. She starts to speak, apologizes for being nearly deaf, her daughter would be here in a minute. A huge garden behind the villa with lawns and pruned trees, plastic chairs and tables, rusty bars, parasol. A Chekhov zone. A Chabrol scenery, forlorn land, once flooded with laughter, with life. Who was living here? The daughter, in her sixties, looks like a countess. I am on my way to Bordeaux, I say. The rustic parlor is filled with clocks and rugs and yellowed dreams, a map of the historic Paris and a photo of a girl in dancing dress, beautiful and real. My daughter, she says. I was working as a real estate broker, I was living in Paris. A proud, lonely lady living with her mother in an empty villa. One day I got here for business and I fell in love with this villa, so we left Paris and moved here 23 years ago. It was deserted, then, she keeps saying.San Juan de la Peña, the monastery is built into a rock. Fat men are taking pictures, posing before the chapel. I listen to the water flowing underground, to the sculptured faces at solitary pillars which had once been the living space of the monks. Later, I return to France through le tunnel du Somport, I do not like tunnels. There is no border just the road and a valley of rock faces. But at Urdos, 8 miles away, the border police stops me, the customs officer is a young tall woman. Where are you going, she asks. You've got something to declare?