We have ever been a keen walker and have spent many a holiday on foot. One of our finest walking tours began in Pézenas, famous for its ancient, russet-roofed buildings and for being the home town of Molière. We thought we might share it with you.
One fine day -- wearing cheap tennis shoes and carrying the wrong kind of pack, we aborted on ordinary hotel stay in Pézenas, surged through the open air market and strode out of town. We headed toward Roujan, ten kilometers or so away. The road was lined with tall plane trees just coming into leaf, the only things of height to be seen in the endless expanse of vineyards. The majority of the vines were extremely old, stumpy and gnarled, looking like armies of black mandrake roots clawing the air. They were planted in neat rows, with the odd field startling the symmetry by veering to the diagonal. The incessant rows brought to mind the Sacramento Valley, where there once were miles of fields planted in rows of cabbages or lettuce. There, one passes by in a car at sixty miles an hour or more, and the flashing rows seem kaleidoscopic; here, seen at a walking pace, the slowly shifting geometry, accented by the straight lines of trees and road, was hypnotic in a much calmer way.
Roujan was a dud, a tiny village that obviously turned to Pézenas for interest. All of its signs and billboards advertised businesses in Pézenas; and it had a dusty, unkempt look about it. We drank a glass of water and bought two apples, one of which was inedible mush, and followed the blue-jeaned postman (le facteur) to the edge of town. From Roujan, we headed north, in the direction of Clermont-l'Hérault. It was midday, sunny and the wind was blowing full strength. Except that it kept blowing us into the paths of cars, we were grateful for the wind's coolness; when it paused for a moment, the heat was unbearable. It was incredibly strong. A crow took off from a tree and the wind blew him backward instantly. He seemed a jet in reverse, sailing nobly backwards over earth of three distinct and soft colours: terra cotta, sandy brown, and a deep purple, sometimes in pure patches, sometimes all three mixed together. The flowers and grass along the road flapped frantically in the wind. The dandelions and angelica intertangled and waved wildly as a mass. Small, black-orange butterflies were flipped around crazily like bits of paper in a slum.
It was twenty-two kilometers to Clermont-l'Hérault, and for most of the way we saw not a soul, especially after the modern village of Nèffies. Built of what advertisements called "Mediterranean Style" houses, the town was shiney and cheap looking, with an empty, suburban feel -- all sidewalks and no life. From Nèffies, the land gave way to hills, and the road, now treeless, began a long series of sharp switchbacks. For the next ten kilometers, as we climbed, not a single vehicle of any type went by, and we began to wonder about the safety of our blissful solitude. There was nothing but an endlessness of vineyards, hills, scrub and an exquisite view of the valley of the Hérault River, spreading to the sea; and also some weirdly humming power lines. At the peak of our climb, the power lines buzzed and hummed like a spooky force from outer space. The eeriness came not only from the isolation of the hilltop, but from the fact that the humming actually sounded full of power. The sound of trees humming in the wind, or even that of the wind blowing between power lines is natural, but the buzzing of massive amounts of electricity through wires directly overhead can sound quite frightening, because it seems such an unnatural force.
©2011 Anne Morddel