Sunday in Saint-Flour

Lounging on the bed, propped up on cushy pillows, Saint-Flour, France

Last night was noisy. A young man was shouting and banging on a door just down the street. It went on for quite a while, then there was the sound of a car pulling up, a car door slamming, a car driving away, then silence. I wouldn’t have minded if whatever he was shouting was helping my pronunciation, but I didn’t recognise any of it.

A little later, there was an enormous crash bang. A young woman had run her car into the wall at the same spot! Being a narrow road, it’s hard to imagine how one can run a car at speed into a wall, and again, the French she was using wasn’t familiar to me. She was OK - on her phone and hopping mad by the time I poked my head out the window to see what had happened. She got towed away and life went on.......People spilled out of the Cathedral, men with caps, women with canes, the priest in a bottle-green robe. Small groups went into the Hotel for a bite, or sat around an outside table with cafés reading papers and magazines from the newsagent on the corner. In the park, small groups were afternoon, everything except the odd restaurant was closed.

Today I felt like walking and following whichever road looked interesting. I found myself at a stoney cemetery, baking in the sun, the graves festooned with flowers and little marble plaques....In a corner, plastic flowers and silk leaves had blown up against a wall. Even the rememberings by people who are left behind become forgotten.

...The road got smaller then began to climb and became a grassy track. Suddenly I was standing beneath a small Church perched on the very highest point in the region, a huge boulder in suspended animation resting impossibly just below it, a hawk wheeling above...................A few steps further and a familiar statue stood towering over the valley. ...There was a bench and I sat there for awhile; now the hawk was circling below..........If you look closely, you’ll see that on the opposite horizon, windmills, like so many whirling white crosses, also tower over the valley. Each a source of its own kind of energy......On the way back, I sat on a bench beside a tree that was doing the same thing.

Sitting in the park, legs stretched out, I watched a couple encourage their panting boxer (dog) to hop up and have a drink from a fountain. A few minutes later a man got out of his compact car to fill his water bottle from the water spurting into the same fountain. He then drank it. I would have imagined the water was being circulated rather than using fresh...? A cheerful chatty man with a grey scruffy beard had just thrown his grey hairy pup into another fountain on this side of the street...before stopping to chat with the boxer and his owners.

A policeman on a motorbike gave a young woman motorist a ticket. Much paperwork and writing was involved. She appeared to have multiple documents of different colours to hand to him. They smiled at each other. Which reminded me of being in the back seat when a senior student at college (I was her junior by several years) was pulled over by a cop in Sydney. He queried her interstate licence plates. She got out, they chatted for some time, he asked for her number, she married him.

A few notes:

Men on holiday don’t wear socks.

Wire-haired dachshunds are incredibly appealing. I’ve seen three today. Or one with three different sets of people...

When a policeman is giving somebody a ticket, onlookers all carry the same expression on their face: a semi-smile with slightly raised eyebrows conveying at the same time fascination, smugness it isn’t them, relief it isn’t them, an air of innocence in what they ARE doing, disapproval of whatever the person was doing to warrant a ticket, disapproval of the policeman for ticketing them, curiosity to see how both parties are taking it, deeper curiosity at what the motorist actually did wrong and how they got caught, sympathy, complete lack of sympathy, and longing to keep watching it to its conclusion without looking like they’re looking. Even if they have to slide along the bench a bit to get a better view past that post...

Saint-Flour is like an Alice in Wonderland world. Yesterday I helped a young woman with a stroller negotiate a door into a bank. I passed that way a bit later, and the bank was gone! In its place was a butcher shop!! A shop will be closed, dark and full of cobwebs five minutes after you’ve walked past and it was full of customers. Streets turn up in different places each time you try to find them; alleyways turn up never to be seen again. Or, maybe once again......but twice is probably the limit.

I’m beginning to recognise the local kids- the girl with long hair, glasses and a pink bike, and the brother and sister in the cobblestoned square in front of their father’s delicatessen.

And apart from the moments when I think my French is going backwards then realise the people I’m tuning in to are speaking Japanese or German, I feel that I’m getting the hang of it.

P.S. I absolutely mean no disrespect. Absolutely; it’s a beautiful thing and very moving. I am simply sharing the workings of my brain. After admiring the statue on the hill, my first two thoughts were; he looks like Elvis, and, I forgot to put sunscreen on.