SOUTH

A few days in the South of France is good for what ails you, you know. When planning my trip I had a few days to spare between Pairs and London, and reached out to an old friend from Adelaide who is a winemaker and has been living in France for the last four years. She and her hubby have a place just outside a town called Cahors, in the south west, in a small village by the river. They're renovating a charming old farmhouse and sleeping in an old shed while they're at it, brave souls. So I was set to stay with their neighbour, an elderly woman called Cecile who had no English, but a lovely spare room with a cast iron bed off an old stone courtyard with wooden shutters. Finding myself in Paris, a city I know well enough and a language I can get by in was a real dream after feeling so useless in Germany, Sweden and Denmark. I know my pronouns, my conjugations, a pretty hefty vocabulary and while I sometimes get my tenses a little off, I'd say I'm fairly proficient. Or it serves me well when ordering wine, buying train tickets and such, maybe not political discourse but it's a holiday so who's to mind.

Boarding the train in Paris the carriage wasn't so much stuffy as hot. Unbearably so. The lights and the air conditioning were off and it felt like the whole thing had been baking under the arches of Gare de l'Austerlitz all afternoon. The day had been warm, but I didn't think too hot. It was hot now in the train, like an Adelaide afternoon in late January. In the carriage people squinted to see seat numbers in the dim light, and the grey-blue upholstery felt scratchy and dense under my jeans. My feet, in their dirty white Converse felt like they were on fire, heavy and swollen. It felt like all the heat of my body was welling there, radiating through the lino floor and would, at any moment, melt away.

I remembered then that it was Friday, my days being off with all the coming and going, and 6 PM. I was getting the weekend train out of Paris in early summer, it all made sense. And so within twenty minutes of leaving Paris we were almost all asleep. The heat, the day, the evening sun, neatly dressed Frenchmen on their commute half-snoring.

It was about five hours to Cahors, and as the evening went on, the carriage slowly emptied with each stop, and I found myself with a few seats alone, somewhere past Limoges but before Brive la Galliard. The temperature had cooled as we headed south, and it had started to rain in parts. As we came through small towns and hills I could see the rosy clouds and sunset stretching out, and soft mist clinging to the trees. It got darker still and instead of the pink, it was just the last of the light, grey and dimming. I had to squint to catch glimpses of fences or barns, as the light from the carriage became too strong in the reflection of the window, till it was just dark, a mirror with occasional track signals and street lights in the distance.

It was just after 11 PM when we pulled into Cahors  and I got out onto the empty platform, dark and still warm from a long day, worried I had the wrong stop and hoping to see my friend. But Lauren has a kind of glowing smile, and before I knew it I found her and we were laughing in the car driving back to hers, drinking delicious champagne around her old table and telling stories about our old boss while crying / laughing. There's something amazing about arriving somewhere at dark and waking up to see the glory of where you landed, taking it in as a kind of gift in the morning light. I couldn't believe the old stonework, everywhere, and the immensity of the work they'd been doing to their place. We ate apricots from their neighbours garden while I explored the rubble of their one-day spare bedroom, then drove into town for the weekly market in the village square. Under the shade of the cathedral we bought goats cheese and walnut pastries, and lots of cherries. Lauren said it had rained on Wednesday, so they might not be as sweet as last week. I just loved that she knew it rained and she knew the cherries were grown nearby and she knew how they'd taste. We bought provisions for the day and drove through towns and villages, along the river, exploring and eventually picnicking with some organic local malbec, fois gras, a baguette, brie, more goat's cheese, heirloom tomatoes and the cherries in the shade. Oh, and a pear and custard pastry that I of course had to get too.

The rest of the weekend was much the same, a nap in the shade of one of the old stone bridges listening to older couples argue over their petanq game, a mad storm rolling in from the lookout above the town, glasses of rose at the bar and a long dinner and pots of herbal tea.

It was some kind of heaven.