One Year Later, But Will She Care?

13th August 2023

I am in south central France, close to the rising of the Loire.

Across the valley, the great river’s first castle, Chateau de Beaufort, keeps watch from its granite promontory.

The old girl has retained a solid constitution, with broad and graceful shoulders. Alas, her beautiful 14th century visage, once ornamented with turrets, towers and tenants, is a tad dishevelled. Though my map describes her as a ruin, I fancy she has nighttime callers still.

To the south stretch the pine forests of the upper Cévennes, an area of gentle hills which, in silhouetted light, take the form of the slumbering lost youth of Olympia. Behind each elongated body in repose, lies another and then another.

If the pointy, militant Alps deliver a slap to the face, the Cévennes offer the kindest massage.

At the base of the valley, the hamlet of Goudet spreads along the river. The population in these parts is yearly whittled, and only 60 people are now resident here. Two centuries ago, it was ten times that number. The result is a housing stock of outsized meterage for the needs of its inhabitants. In Goudet, everyone can throw a ball, though one’s dance-card may seem anaemic.

The watchful Chateau de Beaufort sees it all, these things I describe, with her granite, bedraggled eyes.

It is the golden hour as I watch her from my perch, a humble horse-breeder’s sideline gite, with an imperious view that is surely wasted on his 24 geldings. Farm animals cat-call across the valley, and birds quieten to a hunting hush.

I stare at the castle, staring back towards me. This is her watchtower work of some 700 years. Does the old girl ever tire of the repetition?

The theme of repetition has been in my mind, as I make my way beyond Monastier sur Gazeille, starting a simple walk through these air-fresh uplands, alongside a donkey.

The same donkey. For the second time in two summers, I am accompanying Kaïcha.

I am a man who does not truck with surprises, it would seem. I have become my parents.

In their early retirement, they began holidaying in Lanzarote. One morning, I noticed mother in the act of booking the same apartment for the third year in a row. But why, I exclaimed. There are so many apartments; so many islands. So many places under the sun. Why return to the same place thrice?

In truth, it takes time to appreciate the pleasure of repetition, and the nature of an intentional repeat.

Books gave me my first inkling, though I likely considered my desire to re-read an embarrassing fetish. So many tomes to read, and here I am, chewing the literary cud.

It was music that revealed the wisdom of repetition to me. I learnt through music that beauty demands attention, and re-attention. It takes persistence to arrive to music’s soul. Which of us has not discovered something glorious in an old beloved tune, hiding in the long grass for a lover’s swoop?

She looked well, when I finally caught sight of her.

A year has clicked by since I have seen her, and much has changed. Yet her sinewy ears, her Pyrenean twinkle-toe feet, and the glisten of her silken coat seem just as I remember.

I had been distracted in greeting Christophe, my donkey whisperer of merit, and as we chatted and rounded the corner, there she was. I made a big fuss, of course, and got not much in return.

He busied himself with maps and directions for the trip,  and I bent down to sort my own stuff,  paces away from where Kaïcha was tethered with a long rope. And when I looked up, there she was, towering above me. I felt her breathing on my neck.

That moment made me happy. Perhaps she does recognise me after all. Perhaps it’s not just me who can be more at ease, but her also.

There is, I decide, value is loyalty. Value in returning, and in nurturing the desire to do a good thing over, and over. For it is only when we know the plot that we feel the feelings. And it is only because we live in glory, that we earn right to become a ruin.

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