France

Beautiful Dreamers in St.-Guilhem-le-Désert


Sunday, October 3rd, 2004: St. Fréchoux, France

Our typical Sunday in St. Fréchoux: quiet, sleeping late. Today I make scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. We warm the slightly stale baguette for toast, make another pot of coffee and ease into the day. There is a hazy sun poking through but it doesn’t really show its warmth until after noon. Our plan is a very simple one and easily executed: we will stop at the small town of Gignac on our way back to St.-Guilhem-le-Désert. Gignac has a lovely church and interesting monuments that we have seen from the highway every time we drive to Montpellier, which have piqued our interest from our first day here. Rose had not arrived when we initially went to St.-Guilhem-le-Désert and it really is a must see in the area.

Beautiful Dreamers

Gignac is typical of the local towns: an old “centre typique” and much newer subdivisions that are full of orange and yellow stucco houses, newly but unobtrusively spread out in her surrounding fields. It seems no different than in North America where farmers, when they reach a certain level of prosperity, buy their nagging wives new houses with all the latest conveniences. And we just drool over the beautiful old stone houses that they have left to the fields, and to the self-seeding trees and bushes that have made their new homes there. We talk about how much work that house would take or how much money a new roof would cost. Beautiful dreamers.

We drive up the small hill in Gignac to Notre Dame de Grace and are greeted by an unusual edifice. A huge old church with a Spanish front to it. It is locked today and seems to be guarded by a local, very grim man (in a tie, of course – it is Sunday!) who isn’t persuaded to crack even a small smile by John’s ultra-friendly “Bonjour!” We walk down the drive to look at the monuments that line it and I quickly realize that these small buildings are all Stations of the Cross, each depicting a different scene from Christ’s tortuous trail to Calvary. We end our trail at station number 6 and enjoy the scenery across the Vallée de l’Hérault.

Arriving in  St.-Guilhem-le-Désert, Across le Pont du Diable

We navigate through and around the vineyards and arrive in St.-Guilhem-le-Désert by a different route this time, via the Pont du Diable, which crosses the huge gorge that the valley drains into. It is a much different greeting today than the quiet town of last Monday. The town is full of tourists, many with dogs and noisy children. We have learned to keep constant vigil lest you should step in a big pile of steaming dog merde. The French just don’t get it when it comes to their dogs and don’t seem to care about ruining their expensive shoes. We walk, and despite the crowds, are still impressed with the beauty of the town. We see a sign posted that announces the upcoming celebrations of the Town’s 1200th anniversary of its founding by St. Guilhem in 804. There are a series of lectures, including one titled “Who Sold the Abbey’s Cloister?” (to the Cloisters Museum in New York City).

I make a very Provençal dinner tonight for Rosemary’s last evening in St. Fréchoux: a small roast of beef surrounded by roasted potatoes, artichokes and onions. We finish our store of wine, do some packing for our overnight in Montpellier tomorrow and say our good-nights.

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