December 27, 2016
The year wanes, eroded like my patience today. How many times can you be reminded to take your passport, tag your bags, get to the train station on time, get up by 8 or you’ll miss all to see in the city and eat your spinach, all in three waking hours?
Yes, she means well. She needs antidepressants. Or I do. Life gives us both anxiety, but she panics unceasingly whereas I do less often. Her fear outpaces mine by leagues. “Can we breathe more in 2017?” I asked her son that moments ago.
The daughters plugged in and tuned out almost immediately upon finding our seats, an ordeal of considerable magnitude as we had to walk over the seatless encampment of refugees between cars, the one we circled going up and down levels, forward and back aisles, squeezing through the narrow corridors of human passage to find our way through the maze.
How hard could it be? Cabin number and seat number. It took ten minutes of mind boggling math and engineering to finally land at the last quad of seats in back of coche 15.
A child’s English words catch my attention. The adults respond in French. Flocks of birds circle sporadic homes peppering the rural landscape whizzing by. The TGV doesn’t bullet the way it usually does, like when we flashed by kilometers from Paris to Narbonne 15 years ago. Perhaps after our stop in Perpignan, the train will pick up speed, dashing us to Barcelona.
Midnight mass in the 12th century cathedral at Narbonne rounded out the Christmas dinner of way too much food–lamb, salad, haricot vert, cassoulet beans, potatoes, figs, foie gras, du pain, pain, pain!–and drink (wine and champagne). It was lovely to walk the stone streets in the brisk, windy night, bundled in heavy winter coats, wool hats and thick scarves, all five of us, into the dank, solemn air of the ancient worship ground and gathering.
The sound of angelic choruses vibrating with the enormous, ancient, wood-piped organ created a majestic mood, and the parishioners seated in centuries old pews facing the gold-plated, ornate altar where mysterious rites of chanting, bells and smoke took place.
The wine helped open up my heart and lungs. I was moved. I stood, sat, stood, sang, sat, stood, sang…for two hours. I sang Christmas songs loudly-passionately (catching the echoes inside the mile high ceiling) in French, a few Gloria’s and hallelujah’s, and all was grateful and grand.
The experience for my children might have been less engaging. They fidgeted less than I did, but they were clearly unmoved. Having worked in a Catholic high school for four years, I at least was familiar with the procession. They went panicked blank when the offering plate was passed in front of them. They’re obviously not Catholic.
And their eyes widened in surprise and then ironic glee to see their father line up to take communion–a first sight for their two decades or so of life. When he and his mother returned to their seats, the universal let’s get out of here side glance and nod of the head had us heading for the doors at midnight–into the cold, then into our impossibly compact car, driving back past the canals and into the dark, lampless, skeletal vineyard lined lane to home.
L’Aude is a river that houses three main regions here down south, Salelles d’Aude being one of them along the canals in the South of France. The canals are one of Napoleon’s bright ideas for moving trade through the southern country. That big idea and expanding Paris boulevards and thoroughfares wide and far-reaching were revolutionary, practical and enduring.
Today, after last minute shopping in a quiet mall outside downtown Narbonne, some to-go sushi from the supermarché, and an espresso in the cafe by the mall exit, we ventured to a small hamlet close to Salelles called le Somail, one of the three divisions resting on the Aude. The sleepy port town boasts a tea house and ancient book store, the former closed for Christmas and the latter open for our roaming eyes and feet. Much of the tiny town is closed for winter.
The ancient musty chill air inside the book store reminded us of winters, many of them passed through, wind and rain soaking the stone walls of this tiny librairie tucked alongside the river of moored houseboats, cacophonous ducks and romping dogs–just before the stone bridge. The cool wind hurried our leisurely walk.
The town, abandoned by tourists and inhabitants alike, stood as contrast to bustling downtown Narbonne with its courtyard restaurants a-brew with ale and crepes, narrow boutique-lined lanes, stately cathedrale de Narbonne, and street music. We spent a fine-weather, blue-skied day sightseeing, shopping and eating crepes, croque monsieur, and macarons along the outside booths and stands of the market. Inside the farmer’s market, we crammed all five of us into a tiny tapas bistro of four long bar tables, where we ate duck and scallop brochettes, planchas drenched in olive oil and garlic, and grilled aubergine and courgettes, washed down with local white wine for us and orangeina for the kids.
We are gaining weight in kilos but will be losing it in pounds when we return, so it should be easy. Right?