15th of July
I woke up in a miraculously real non-reality. The rising sun peeped through the window, filling the house with its golden glitter. We ate our breakfast in excellent moods. Julia told us about a dream she had, and Robert, while peeling an orange, told us that he had been allergic to oranges at one point but the symptoms had somehow retreated after just eating one.
Working at the vineyard proved to be harder than we initially expected but after a couple of days we got used to the scorching sun, and after a full week he knew how to prune and cultivate the grapes. I enjoyed the fact that my work enabled me to indirectly influence the taste of the wine produced at the vineyard. Baptiste taught us that nature was not only beautiful, but also merciless – we would cut off the smaller and weaker bunches of grapes in order to let the bigger ones grow further and draw more sap. The small bunches fertilized the soil, and the stones lying around the grapevines were used to construct houses. In the vineyard, nothing was wasted.
One afternoon, Baptiste invited us over for some pastis. We talked a bit about the vineyard. I learnt it had been owned by his family for generations and that some of trees remembered the medieval times. I noticed also that I understood more French than before.
Baptiste lent us three bicycles, encouraging us to cycle to the beach.
“The sea is beautiful. I have always wanted to set out to the sea,” he said and patted my shoulder since I stood within his arm’s reach. Quite contrary to him, I had always been afraid of the sea – its enormity, its mightiness, its boundlessness, and our tininess in the presence of its potency.
We jumped on the bicycles. They must have remained stationary for quite a while because their mechanical parts moved heavily. Nevertheless, the road went downhill so we managed to keep our vehicles in motion. We cycled past a gardener taking care of flowers, who greeted us with a short “Bonjour”. He was rather bony, which made him appear to be as light as a feather. He was wearing all white, except a beige hat on his head, and there naturally was an inseparable attribute of a gardener – a robust wheelbarrow.
Then, we turned left and we could forget about pedaling. We let the road take us down the hill and dashed along rows of olive trees, gathering more and more speed.
We reached the seashore in Vieux Port, where people dressed in swimming suits hurried to their boats. Next, we headed for Les Lecques, entering a tourist center of the town. I pretended to be autochthonous but most people considered me to be Spanish or Italian, although I wasn’t that suntanned yet.
We reached the uphill section of the road, and the man in a light-colored shirt and a funny cap cheered on, clapping his hands rhythmically. It was tough – the road sloped upwards at a steep angle, and my mind was boggled by the cyclists we had seen earlier, who had been conquering consecutive hills with such keenness; moreover, there had been so many of them that it had been difficult for drivers to overtake such groups. Personally, I found the stop we made at the Reading Girl statue in La Madrague a real rescue and jumped from the bicycle, being almost unable to catch a breath.
Julia immediately lay down on a bench while Robert sat down near the Reading Girl, smiling and not showing a single sign of fatigue.
“How nice,” he said as if he had just stopped in a forest on a Sunday walk.
When I regained some strength, I admitted that he was right. We were facing the beach, which seemed to have been carved in the steep slope by the sea. A dwarf pine was growing on
a sharp-edged brown rock, and behind the tree, in the distance, we could see people walking on the boardwalk. Water in the small inlet was completely transparent, and I was almost certain that I could see fishes swimming in the water, despite the distance.
By straining my eyes, I could notice a line of small colorful sail boats following a motorboat like ducklings behind their mother. Standing out against the background formed by the massif in La Ciotat, they were sailing into the open sea, being a little affrightened but determined. On that day, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky while the sea – balancing between darker and lighter shades – merged with the sky on the horizon. The azure of the sea and the sky’s blue became one.
It was a real pleasure to cycle down the hill to the Office du Tourisme, where we left our bicycles. We had a short walk on the boardwalk and bought some churros, a scrumptious fried snack originating from Spain. Munching them slowly, we sat down on a bench and observed the people lying on the beach. According to Baptiste, we would be able to take delight in the calm sea for a few more days only since the time for the mistral was coming. This cold and strong northwesterly wind was so pernicious that even the crimes committed during the mistral had been judged more leniently in the past.
Rays of sunlight were gorgeously sparkling on the surface of the sea.
“We were lucky to end up here. I like it. It’s almost heaven-like,” said Julia.
“I like it, too,” I agreed with her.
“Maybe it was all supposed to be like that,” Robert produced his traditional set of words that I found acceptable on that occasion but yet, he would get on my nerves one day with that saying of his. “The sea is beautiful,” he added.
“Really? I don’t like the sea.”
“It’s too vast. And too deep. I could drown in it. Can you even imagine what would happen if I drowned?”
“You don’t need to worry. I would rescue you,” Julia chipped in.
“Fat chance… I was expecting you to say that you would join me in the act of drowning.”
She thought for a while.
“I would like to drown with you.”
“Yep, that’s way better,” I smiled at her.
We all began to observe an old man who was sitting on a bench and was feeding pigeons. His wife was standing behind him, holding a device which helped him breathe. After a week,
I realized they had been coming to that place every day, at the exact same time.
“I think they’re good people,” I said in an attempt to break the silence.
“I’d like to be good as well,” Julia shrugged.
“Are you not?”
“You haven’t said that about me,” she made a sad face, pretending to be miffed.
Robert laughed quietly.
“You know what? As I’m sitting here, I’m thinking that life is great. People do all kinds of trifle and ridiculous things but I’d like to really enjoy life before it’s too late… Do you know what I mean?”
“Sure, we do. So, fancy another portion of churros?” I suggested.
“Wouldn’t it be better to leave it for tomorrow?”
“And what if tomorrow never comes?”
Julia looked at me, shaking her head in a way so characteristic for her and releasing air out of her mouth.
“Charles, you squanderer!”
We remained there until evening in order to moon about the boardwalk like ghosts and observe the two lights – one red and the other one green – which were blinking to each other from the opposite ends of the port. The crowd of unfamiliar faces was flowing along the boardwalk, fueling my imagination for short moments. In the brightly lit restaurants, tourists from the colder regions of France were savoring the clams and French fries. The beach was also crowded with people spreading blankets and unfolding small portable tables to have dinner and switch to the “warm and never-ending night” mode. Then, out of a sudden, a couple of people jumped to their feet to help the man who had been calling his daughter for several minutes to no avail. Luckily, it didn’t take them long to find her playing with other children.
I redirected my thoughts back to the Reading Girl, who kept uninterruptedly looking afar, day and night, leaned against an open book, and watching people coming to the beach and leaving it. I returned to the boats sailing out into the sea, to the rocky inlet, to the seaplane making circles over the area – its repeated landings and take-offs… I knew that each of these things had already been forgotten and it would never come back although it kept spinning and transforming, being born again within its death.
We cycled back to the vineyard, being stupefied, or rather intoxicated, by reality. Soon, we fell asleep. And so the wheels kept rolling – how come, nobody knew – while the girl was still leaning against the book and continuously looking afar, at the azure of the sea, at sunrises and sunsets…
To be continued
The whole book can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00W63AV26?*Version*=1&*entries*=0