Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August journal

Hiding in the hills
I did my time - three years camping in Cornwall with four teenagers every summer. It was fun, but wet. This year I needed sun, preferably non-stop for two weeks. I was granted my wish. There was just one morning of rain from the moment I left Brighton on August 5 and returned on August 19. The mistral was blowing when the TGV pulled into Marseille, but it helped acclimatise me and Giya to southern French summer. In fact, it blew on and off throughout our stay. 
We both loved Marseille, pitching up with our rucksacks and gradually finding our way further and further from the tourist routes around the Vielle Port. A day kayaking gave us our first sense of the calanques and this was where we were headed next - the wild maquis west of Marseille, stretching to Cassis, distinguished by precipices, turquoise bays and absence of water. 
It was the place to hide, recharge, rediscover why I love France, the language, walking and wilderness and how could I have imagined six days was enough? Of course it wasn't, but there was another booking to adhere to, a train to catch. 
Last night, sweaty with a cold whose only benefit is today in bed, catching up on all I've been meaning to do since arriving home, everything in my feverish dream was yellow. Not lemon, but a deep sunflower yellow- the colour of the place that hid me and Giya in the hills for six nights. Walls that barely show until you're up close to them on a dry, stony path. Walls that shelter aloes, pomegranates and figs, views of fireworks and double rainbows distorted into columns by storm clouds. 
Returning to Marseille after the calanques could have set me against the city. The youth hostel seemed noisier, not such good value, lunch became a tussle with the voice that muttered 'rip off' constantly. It was easier to spend the day walking through the maquis, sitting on a pebble beach, staring at climbers, boys jumping off rocks. Easier to be satisfied with a ripe nectarine, yesterday's bread, because it was so far to walk to a shop.
Waiting for the cathedral to open in Aix 
to see the Burning Bush triptych of 
Nicolas Froment
But Marseille did acquit itself, of course - the stalls of honeyed pastries we came across one evening, covered in wasps, great wedges out of the baking pans....the Egyptian-run takeaway that had been recommended to us and was indeed where we'd been told, selling flat breads with chicken and a vegetable sauce that we ate on a pavement outside Monoprix....the mix of skin colours and languages, the wait for sunset because of Ramadan, the bag of over-ripe apricots we bought in Noailles that cost less than a euro because it was the end of the day, the tall buildings off the waterfront being done up, the balcony after balcony that set me dreaming and everywhere, reliefs of women jutting out of the stone like figureheads of ships.  
And between walking, wandering, occasional moments of frustration, tiredness, being disturbed by strangers in the dormitory, I managed one or two ideas for a sequence I'm writing. It's been surprisingly hard to get back into the collaboration - the first two days work felt like Jane and I were starting again. But on the third day we had a breakthrough and are now working towards an installation that takes words off the page in ways that should provoke some thought. 
Next summer I must have a month in those hills.