For me. a journey always begins with a book. Unlike some friends, I'm simply not able to polish off one a day so it has to be good. Chosing it however, isn't always that simple. Hesitating between classics like Hery James' Portrait of a Lady, volumes of short stories by Scott Fitzgerald and Katherine Mansfield, thrillers with Brunetti or Wallender, I was paralysed by the fear of taking something too short which I would finish in a matter of days or something too long which I wouldn't like. Late on a Saturday evening, I pushed open the door to Dussmann's English bookshop to find a group of young students talking excitedly about literature with an Irishman leading the discussion from Martin Amis to Cormac McCarthy. Patiently I strolled along the shelves, opening books and letting my eyes run over sentences at random before I spotted the perfect holiday book, Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, a memoir about the five years he spent on Corfu and his discovery of the wildlife there. I had his descriptions of the arrival one morning on the Greek island still in my mind as our train pulled into Avignon station where the heat hits you as soon as you open the door and your eyes struggle to focus on a landscape bathed in sunshine. Travelling South means cyprus trees which stand tall like stiff paintbrushes and a sky so blue it can only be a reflection of the sea. It means running your fingers along the twisted trunks of olive trees which have been there for longer than you can imagine, being jostled in French towns on market days among stalls selling garlic, honey and nougat, being swept away by the mistral with the sounds of doors creaking and lavendar shutters banging. On days of wind and rain, there are the churches to shelter in, sometimes of the simplest stone with only a single window and the flickering of candles for light, sometimes elaborate baroque. It means wandering the through the streets of Avignon until you know them like the back of your hand, pausing in the evening to hear someone practising the guitar or catching the snippets of conversation through the open windows. It means eating galettes in a leafy square and stopping at a patisserie for large pistachio macaroons, even if the ones in Arles close to the Place du Forum were still the best. On the last evening, an old man was sitting alone in the shadows as I made my way to the bakery on the boulevard Raspail which sold tarte tatin and the most delicious cake with pistachios and cherries. I thought of how I would miss the light, the colours, the streets so quiet as darkness falls where I could imagine living.
Thanks to all of you for your kind comments for my last post. Reading them made me realise how I much I'd miss you if I didn't continue this blog and I apologise for any confusion caused by the title or content. I'll be back with more photos from Provence in a few days.