I’ve had two especially enjoyable walks lately, and I’d like to share them with you. These were walks that had not so much to do with the location, and everything to do with the people I met along the way. I do believe that a place informs its people, but today I’ll just talk about the folks I got to meet.
And I’ll pepper this post with photographs from various walks and hikes I’ve enjoyed this summer.
Let’s begin with the time I set out on a fresh morning, enjoying air that felt noticeably cooler than it had in many weeks. It was bliss. My usual walk takes me out of town past the cemetery, and on this day I passed two teenage boys walking with their grandfather. Perhaps they strolled to the cemetery? These boys are two of the nicest teenagers I’ve ever met, always stopping to say “bonjour” to me, even long before we officially met and learned each others’ names. (In this town, kids stop what they’re doing to say bonjour, which delights me to no end.) I had never before met their grandfather, but he was eager for a bonjour, too, and he commented on my “determined” gait.
I wished them all a good day, and continued on with my walk, returning via the same road about 45 minutes later, to find the three walking back into town just ahead of me. Now I was certain they’d been to the cemetery, perhaps to say bonjour to the old man’s wife, the boys’ grandmother.
About the time I caught up with them, another woman coming from the direction of town also arrived on the scene, stopping to talk to Grandpa. Her dog was eager to keep walking, but she was eager for some visiting. Grandpa noticed me as I walked past, again commenting on my brisk pace, and he expressed surprise at how far I’d walked in the time since we’d met earlier. His curiosity got the better of him, and he started asking about me and why I happened to be living in this little town. And where did I live? And how long had I been here? How long would I stay?
Thus, it came out that I would soon be moving to another house. On which street, he wondered. When I said, “Chemin de Font-Fresque,” the semi-idle chitchat became serious, as the two older folks both started giving me a little history about the area. First, I’ll note that I pronounced the street “fohn-fresk,” barely touching on that “n.” I’ve seen font in French, but not fresque, and I had assumed it was some variation of frais, the French word for “fresh,” but I didn’t really know.
Font sounds like the word for a fountain, but it actually refers to a spring; a fountain is a fontaine. In a small nearby town, there is a Font Romaine (Roman spring) that I stopped to visit this past spring (see it here). This is a place where the water seeps through the rock; the Romans built a trough to capture and hold that water. Two thousand years later, the water still seeps and the trough is still full.
Font is also a word in Occitan, the regional dialect that is the language of the troubadours and of chivalry. Around here, street signs and names of towns are often written in both French and Occitan, which I just love. So, that is the font in Font-Fresque.
As for fresque: the old folks that day said that it is the Occitan word for “fresh,” which is certainly how it sounds. And—this is great—both of the anciens pronounced it “fresh,” not “fresk.” They told me that both are correct but that “fresh” is authentically local to the environs of our town.
And about the specifics of the location: according to the two folks that morning, there used to be a spring further up the hill from where my house is, but it’s “gone,” they said. Built over? Dried Up? Hard to tell. Along the road that runs from the center of town toward my new house, said the woman, there is another place where there used to be a bigger spring. Folks in town would get their water there, and she said it tasted superior to Perrier (which is sourced about two hours east of here). Alas, that one too is gone. I later learned from friends that someone was eager to bottle the water and make some money. They drove a huge exploratory drill into the ground, which inadvertently and permanently changed the flow of the source. The water is still running somewhere underground, but no one knows where, and thus it has virtually disappeared.
That experience was still fresh in my mind when I set off the next day for another walk. I left a little later than usual, and saw many more people than usual, running into a few friends and a few dogs.
I was walking up a steep part of the path when I met a woman who was walking her dog and gathering wild blackberries. “For a tarte,” said she. We talked about berries and baking, and then she spotted a friend working in her olive grove, and stopped for a brief bonjour. That friend is the mother of the two polite teenaged boys from the day before; she is Natalie, who is often out working with her olives and her vines.
After parting with Natalie, I continued walking with the gatherer of blackberries, and our conversation turned to other topics. It turns out that she and her husband are vintners who live here in town near a friend of mine, and we have other acquaintances in common. There has already been a conversation about scheduling a tasting at her winery.
I had parts of the walk to myself, and there were parts that involved a bonjour or a scratch of the ears for a friendly dog. I walked back through town and across the bridge to my house, where I stopped to say bonjour to one of my neighbors.
We ended up having quite a nice conversation, and were just closing when a younger man and a boy rode by on their bicycles. “My son,” said my neighbor. I have lived in this house for nearly a year, and I have never yet seen this man; one friend of mine told me that he no longer lives here. And yet here he was, coming over to have a visit with his mother.
It turns out that he, too, works in the wine business. I didn’t fully grasp what he was saying, but I think that the vintner he works for sources (rather than grows) many of his grapes. My neighbor’s son, Sebastian, visits the regional growers to inspect their fields, selecting particular fields for particular wines. He’s a buyer, but a remarkably skilled buyer.
So we talked briefly about wine, and rather suddenly he turned to walk into the garage, returning with two bottles of wine to show me. One has the Catalan donkey (they’re stubborn, he said) for a label, and the other has a somewhat more traditional label. We talked about the grapes, the styles of the wines, and what to eat with them, and the next thing I knew, he handed me the bottles and told me they were a gift.
I think I need to take more walks.
Word of the day
The other evening, when the heat of the day had abated a little, I threw open all the windows to let in the breeze and freshen the air. I was going about my work, when I heard the buzzing wings of a largish bug. It was indeed one of the largest dragonflies I’ve ever seen, and he’d flown in for a bonjour.
I adore dragonflies. They make me happy. The French word for dragonfly is libellule, pronounced Lee-buh-lewle. A dragonfly is a fun little critter to encounter, and libellule is a fun word to say.
I just saw a video of a television show from 1974, when Aretha Franklin was a guest. She was asked for her definition of talent, and this is what she said:
You got somethin’ goin’ on.
Yeah, I like that. Rest in peace, Aretha, and thank you.