We continued down the other side of the peak, along more twists and turns. It was hot and the climb had tired us. As we walked on, we began to catch glimpses of the next village, Cabrières, its stone houses, with their tile roofs, sitting gently in the hills like an orange cat in a deep, green pillow. But for one framing peak behind, the hills surrounding it seemed small and not overwhelming, seemingly as if they were tilted up by the weight of the village, and had it, like a cat, up and walked away, the hills would settle flatly into the earth.
The main road of Cabrières was roughly one hundred meters long, with only one shop, which was closed. We were relieved to find that the only bar was open, and we fell into the dark, cool room, blessing it. The grey-haired proprietress wore shimmering pink, exceedingly form-fitting trousers; she gave us a glass of mineral water. We were the only customer and drank a second glass while she danced alone to the music she selected on the juke box. Had there been a hotel, we would have rested in Cabrières, for we were very tired, but there was none.
For the next eight kilometers, we were too tired for observation of nature's glories. Occasionally, a car passed, but for the most part we were alone, tramping, no longer thinking or singing, simply walking. At the outskirts of Clermont-l'Hérault were the usual petrol stations and mechanics' garages that go with a big town. In our exhaustion and isolation we were a little dazed by the racket of laughing mothers, shouting teenagers, motorcycles, televisions. We found a room in an icy, disinfected tourist hotel near the train station, and collapsed into the bath. Our feet were blistered, our back ached, and we had a cramp in our left leg, but oh! we were euphoric.
The next day, another sunny one, we explored the town. Our hotel was a short walk from the medieval centre, an antique world surround by ordinary modernity of the tackier sort. Unlike pretty, protected Pézenas, the old quarter of Clermont-l'Hérault was battered and very lived in, with skinny, winding streets, buildings of chipped stone and plaster, shutters askew, laundry hanging out of every window. The littered, cobbled streets reeked of human history; not the big events, but hundreds of years of babies, lovers' quarrels, old people, petty feuds between neighbours and relatives. Coming from a country that can cough up such a short span of that, we are still impressed to see houses that have been lived in without a break for five hundred years. One could feel the human roots reaching deep into the land. Every inch of the town and surrounding countryside was completely tamed and had been thoroughly tramped by people for centuries. Not a centimeter was unknown. Where we come from, in the Sierra Nevadas, most houses are less than fifty years old; bears used to walk down our street at dawn in the springtime, taking swipes at garbage cans; whole tracts of land remained unmapped, even by the native Washoe Indians. There was no sense of humanity to that land. It was wild and free but without human history.
©2011 Anne Morddel