Journey – Tales from a French Campsite
Cande sur Beuvron. Time slips by like water trickling through my fingers, a steady stream of moments. I am swimming in the pool. The pool is small and edged with trees, there are pink flowers and the shade dapples the water. I like it best when I’m alone. I swim up and down always heading for the shade.
Later I walk to the beach along a forest path, the smell of resin from the pines is very strong. Near the beach there is the scent of curry plant, the sound of crickets. A man runs past me to the sea; he dips down, collects water in a container, and crouching begins to paint the sunset. There are bikes and kites, a couple doing Tai Chi, people collecting shells.
The rhythm of camping is sleepy. I eat, I swim, I read, I write. We move between camps, each one a bead on a necklace, Cande sur Beuvron, St. Emilion, Honfleur.
At St. Emilion I buy wine and delight in its sunset lights, sipping it slowly. The lady of the chateau says if we drink it now it will taste of strawberries, blackberries and cherries but if we save it the wine will taste earthy, of mushrooms and leaves. We go to the market at Castillon and find goat’s cheese, black olives, plump, black, glistening prunes that I eat like sweets.
Every morning I collect baguettes and pain au chocolat for breakfast. I swim and swim and swim. There is a small tent opposite, two canvas chairs and a folding table, a primus stove. The couple sit around a storm lantern and talk in quiet voices for hours. I like to watch him in the morning as he prepares the coffee. He does everything carefully and quietly. His skin is brown against his white shorts and T-shirt, his hair gold against his skin.
Early in the morning I pass a man on a patch of grass, he has slept outside all night in his blue sleeping bag. When I pass him going for my morning wash I see he is half out of his cocoon, brown arms wrapped around his chest. He sleeps, oblivious to my passing. Hot days slip past. I lie on the sun bed in the dappled shade and read.
Honfleur has tall houses lining the quay, five to six stories high, painted in muted colours of grey and pink and cream, very narrow. It pours with rain so we shelter beneath an awning with a middle-aged couple; we strike up a conversation about the weather and holidays and horseracing, Deauville racetrack is near. The man is drunk and very friendly.
Later I buy a brooch, two chicks sheltering beneath a red umbrella, they have red feet. According to the stallholder it was made ‘pendant la guerre’. She pins it to my blouse and every time I glance down the red catches my eye. I will take it home and put it on my jacket to remind me of this time. I don’t say anything but I see it as a lucky omen.
When I get home I pin the brooch to my jacket but I catch it with my hand and the umbrella breaks off. I keep the pieces to glue together but then the chicks disappear. Now I only have the umbrella, kept safely in a box with other damaged jewellery, earrings without hooks and broken necklaces.