FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

IT IS rare for me to be on the streets be­fore noon. A com­bi­na­tion of sloth, an un­will­ing­ness to dress and the lure of the in­ter­net means hours pass along with the morn­ing. But twice re­cently I have had to take Ce­sar to his tem­po­rary groomer al­most 50km away in a lit­tle town pre­vi­ously only known to me as some­where to pass through.

With af­ter­noon tem­per­a­tures hit­ting as much as 39C, nei­ther beast nor groomer is com­fort­able in such con­di­tions. So he goes for a 9.30am ap­point­ment and some­how we both rise in time to hit the road.

It is the only time of day that life is vis­i­ble in Lavit. Nor­mally when I ap­pear on the streets, all it would need is the tum­ble­weed to blow through and the far away echo of a swing­ing door to be heard to com­plete the pic­ture of des­o­la­tion.

In all my time here I have never seen one per­son en­ter the town hall; never had to brush past a group of idlers; never had to drive around and around for a park­ing space.

The patina of time and his­tory hangs heavy over the town and only the coo­ing of the col­lared doves breathes life into the scene.

Or so I thought un­til the other morn­ing. Peo­ple, lots of peo­ple, were pass­ing up and down the streets, in and out of the boulan­gerie.

Lit­tle groups stopped to chat, shift­ing full shop­ping bags up and over arms; kisses of course were ex­changed on greet­ing and leav­ing; chil­dren on school hol­i­day scuffed around the mar­ket and its roof bat­ted back the sound of their laugh­ter and yells.

In the bank, in­stead of just me and the ma­chine, peo­ple were queuing to speak to the one teller. The au­to­matic door was open­ing and clos­ing as if equally ex­cited by the num­bers.

Three cars – three – passed me as I waited to pull out and I re­alised I’d hit rush hour.

Al­most giddy with ex­cite­ment I did a quick tour to marvel at the mov­ing cars and peer at faces and shapes never seen be­fore.

Even­tu­ally I got con­trol of my­self and car­ried on to our ap­point­ment and Ce­sar set­tled back down, ex­hausted from his re­lent­less bark­ing at the strange sights.

Re­turn­ing at 12.30pm was dis­con­cert­ing. The slate had been wiped clean of peo­ple and like Bri­gadoon all had van­ished, play­ers de­sert­ing the stage.

I am used to it now and used to the many me­dieval vil­lages that clus­ter here in their silent watch­ful brood­ing as if wait­ing to be awak­ened in 1617 not 2017.

Even the cats sit mo­tion­less on their win­dowsills, their know­ing, malev­o­lent eyes star­ing un­blink­ing. The dogs no doubt are ly­ing in ken­nels or gar­den shade, oc­ca­sion­ally madly scratch­ing the fleas that pro­lif­er­ate in sum­mer.

If, as is of­ten usual, the vil­lage has no cafe or restau­rant, there is not even the low-level buzz com­ing from the pave­ment ta­bles.

If there is, then it’s rarely the tourists, who of­ten sim­ply sit in si­lence rel­ish­ing the heat, the lack of move­ment, the lack of noise.

When I have guests I bring them to such places and we sit un­der tree or para­sol and all I hear is sighs of ut­ter con­tent­ment and I cease bab­bling to let their eyes and minds drift away.

This is the time of the day­dream when they plan an­other life, an es­cape from the grey­ness they’ve left be­hind and the drudgery of jobs they no longer en­joy.

They talk of a hol­i­day house, which even­tu­ally would be­come their re­tire­ment house and how mar­vel­lous it would be to stroll to a square for lunch with no time limit.

Gen­tly I tell them to en­joy what they have now and not pin ev­ery­thing on a plan years away. And I re­mind them that the gods laugh when men make plans.

“Ah, but that’s just you,” they say, “you who wouldn’t even book a hol­i­day in ad­vance to tempt the fates, as you al­ways say.

“Ev­ery­thing on a whim with you – al­ways last-minute de­ci­sions.”

This is the mo­ment when I fully ad­mit the truth of their words know­ing I never want to change and then slyly point out that I’m the one ac­tu­ally liv­ing here and came long be­fore re­tire­ment age.

I’m the one with the house they love (al­though we know the re­al­ity of that, don’t we?) and the ap­par­ent abil­ity to drift around and live in such daily beauty.

But then I laugh to take the sting out of my words and tell them they’re right: make a plan but ex­pect many de­tours and de­rail­ments along the way.

Af­ter all, why should I tread on their dreams? There are many at-peace cou­ples who’ve waited years but have ful­filled their re­tire­ment goal of the French life.

I used to see them reg­u­larly in the cafes and res­tau­rants, but with their fixed in­come down 25 per cent as the pound-to-euro rate shies just short of par­ity, they now view such out­ings as rare treats.

I don’t say this to my guests. I let them dream and I set­tle into my dream: the usual – a town that never sleeps, never slum­bers and peo­ple … loads and loads of peo­ple.

And noise. Good noise. That’s all.

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