Friday, December 3, 2010

The Street of the End of the World

It started with the olives. They were the bright green, naturally salty kind the French call lucques and they were on display, fresh from the harvest, at a market table under a magnificent white platane tree in the square of St. Guilhem-le-Desert, a medieval town in southern France. My friend Irene, who had volunteered to show me some of the country in between my two workshops near Montpellier, encouraged me to try them. I demurred, noting that I had skipped breakfast. "Maybe later, with a glass of wine."

At that instant, a vivid woman dressed in all the colors of a flower garden appeared in the square and greeted Irene, who made the introductions. Her name was Eve Fouquet. She was an artist who lived in St. Guilhem. She had decided, on a whim, to walk to the square at that moment. "I've just come back from Bordeau and I brought some good Bordeau wine. Come to my place and have a glass."

Of course I bought some of those excellent, meaty green olives. Eve led us down a steep, narrow cobbled street and up high stone steps to a magician's cave. Some of the interior walls were from the 11th century, and still bore traces of 11th century paintings.

Eve poured wine and showed me a laptop gallery of her paintings, many of which excited me as portal images, and celebrations of the Goddess, and evocations of elemental powers.

Eve suggested lunch at the Hotel Guilhaume d'Orange, named - like the town - after the battle lord of Charlemagne who decided, after his wars, to become a monk. I ate local trout, and we were joined by friends, one of whom brought a very large and happy black dog named Emma.

Eve proposed an afternoon walk - a promenade - to the End of the World. There is a street in St Guilhem that bears that name, the Rue du Bout du Monde. After the trout, we followed the street to its end, just past Eve's gallery, and walked on along a winding path that soon faded away into a rocky trail.

I looked back at the high battlements of a castle from Charlemagne's time. I noticed a low electric fence around a small field of bright green grass. It was explained to me that the fence was to keep out the sangliers, or wild boars; that little field was famous for its truffles. There was plenty of further evidence of wild boars as we climbed rocky slopes and splashed through cold mountain streams - piles of poop, marks of digging and scraping.

As we walked on, the mountains around us seemed to lean in closer. Eve pointed up to where a hermit lives on a high ledge. There was wild beauty in the scene, but also a sense of something dark, from the past, that I found more and more oppressive. We came at last to the hollow between the mountains where the trail ends. The place is known in the langue d'Oc as Infernet, Little Hell.

Sitting on a ledge, at the base of a mountain, I found myself drawn into a drama of the Middle Ages, involving the passion and death of a man in iron who was lured to this place, and killed by people who resembled wild boars, or wild boars that resembled people. Walking back ahead of the group in the fading light, with the great black dog bounding before me, I heard the jangle of chainmail and felt immersed in this medieval story.

I stood sentinel beside the first house in the town, waiting for the others to catch up in the dark. "Qui vive?" I challenged. "Are you living or dead? Few of the living return from that place." To prove she was alive, one of our party raised a howl that startled a smartly-dressed woman coming out of the house.

Interesting what can flow from the synchronistic union of green olives and red wine.

"Voyage" by Eve Fouquet. Used with permission. Visit the artist's website


Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Hmmm ... Eve, with a bottle of wine, ushers a promenade past a magician's cave to the end of the world. The symbolism in that packs a whallop, no?

Robert Moss said...

Barbara - Oh yes, everything proceeded that day at a terrific wallop, symbolically and otherwise. ("Wallop", I'm reminded comes from the Frankish walalaupan "to run well")

Worldbridger said...

You sure it wasn't an apple she gave you?

DavidInSeattle said...

Welcome to Seattle!

Irène said...

Just a note on sycronicity. Eve sent me an email on December 3rd (day of this post) to inform me that my "toille" (painting) was finished. As we were walking back from the end of the world, I had remembered a dream in which I ordered a painting from Eve. So caught up in the magic of the day, as we stumbled over rock and through water to get back to the village before dark (to avoid the wild boars!) I spun around, stuck a 50€ bill (a sign of engagement) in Eve's hand, looked her in the eyes and said "Paint my new life. I want to see it and I need you to do this for me." She looked right back at me and replied, "I see."

So I will go back to this village on Sunday, this weekend to see what my new life looks like. (I'll send you a photo, Robert). :-)

Robert Moss said...

Irene - What a fabulous assignment for a visionary artist: "Paint my new life". What a grand assignment for all of us to undertake, for ourselves, through the creative power of our own imaginations! Can't wait to see Eve's version of your new life.