Are we living right side up, or upside down?
I’m sitting at the far end of the lake in Caylus, France where the only foot traffic is from the occasional elder whose finished tearing scraps from the loaf of bread they came to toss at the remaining ducks that haven’t been scared off by teenagers chucking rocks at them on the weekends.
The clouds are grey in the distance from a light rainstorm that passed by not 30 minutes ago before we laid in the dampened grass in the shade of a weeping willow that left the ground cool with moisture, but not enough to wet our clothes.
Castle ruins from the French Revolution are on the top of the highest hillside to our left, standing with such fragility that I questions its safety in proximity to a village accustomed to foot traffic.
It feels like autumn, my favorite season, to which I’ve received much criticism from summer and winter enthusiasts. The wind blows strong enough to rustle leaves skimming the surface of the still lake disturbed otherwise only by water spiders the size of infant lily pads vaulting over top. Croaking frogs and surreptitious birds orchestrate the soundtrack of our scene when what looks like old war planes aren’t making rounds overhead.
The sun is reflecting the ecosphere onto the lake in a way which makes me recognize nuances of the real world that I hadn’t noticed prior, causing me to look up for an affirmation that I wasn’t just seeing things. The dichotomy has me digesting my senses and wondering, are we living right side up, or upside down?
Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see that something spectacular has been happening right before your eyes.
Of course I still have glimpses of awe, but not nearly so much as when I first arrived and was struck by a village, its inhabitants, their lifestyle, and the ambiance they’ve created which were so exotic to that of Palm Beach, Chicago, New York, and San Diego, the American cities I’ve gotten to know lacking hundreds of years of history Saint Antonin Noble Val had wholesomely stumbled upon back in the 12th century.
When friends and family came to visit this past week I was reminded of what wonder I felt when I landed here several months back, and was refreshed to see again what drew me to stay when everyone else had left.
The restaurants were no longer somewhere I sat to fill up providing a flat surface where I could comfortably draw for long lengths. They became foreign dining experiences serving food to flavor the palette with tastes we’re unaccustomed to in an order that doesn’t fall short of gluttonous. Meals are typically served in at least three courses over the course of a couple of hours, prepared with food gathered from local farms, simply because any other avenue is inaccessible, each assumed to be with appropriate wine pairings from vineyards wrapping around the region.
The spots where we set our towels on any given weekday along the river were no longer just a place to swim or nap in the sun. Showing them to visitors reminded me of what picturesque environments we had found, undisturbed by influxes of tourists and rare opportunities to sun bathe on stones set in place before our country was even an idea, alongside dams constructed to facilitate the livelihood of towns smaller than our average high school.
These aren’t just homes, they’re old mills, birthing houses, cobblers, tanneries – buildings of professional standing still somehow standing even after their professions became outdated.
The people I kiss-kiss in the streets were no longer just neighbors, shop owners, friends, and acquaintances. In the light of introductions they became walking-talking authentic representations of the values, practices, and evolution of a land we could hardly conceive finding our way to before the invention of flight in just a fraction of the time this country was thriving before us. They are the people making history, weaving past and present, advancing languages, setting the stage for travelers to perform upon as they become the audience for our peculiar conducts.
When they left just yesterday, I was left to wonder how I can remind myself to look at where I live, where ever that is, as if I were looking at it for the first time. Why did I choose to stay here? What drew me here? What do I love about this place? What makes here so unique? If only I could refuse settling into regularity I think every place would instill that same sense of invigorating admiration.
My mother first heard of Saint Antonin Noble Val from a movie called The Hundred-Foot Journey. She and I live on opposite coasts in the states, so I jumped at the opportunity to spend time with her as she celebrated her quasi-retirement and cancer recovery in a sleepy town. I knew nothing of the village, except that there were fewer people in it than there were in my high school, Palm Beach Central.