from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 15 August 2011


From the old chateau ruins with their long spear of a yew tree and ripe figs just out of reach we watch a pair of swallowtail butterflies chasing each other at boy-racer speeds, twisting and turning in swift parries and jinks.

The church beside the site of the castle is a hotchpotch of styles and ages, from what would be the Dark Ages here in the UK but is described in France as the high middle ages (between C5th and C10th) to a much later render over the ochre limestone. The tower's apparently dramatically shorter than it once was, and inside the stonework is stitched with narrow red regional bricks. The Romanesque doorway is striking.

Later, heading towards the river, we're walking in wild boar trotter-prints. Down here there's a big old house standing in maize fields for sale, along with its huge and beautiful barn in old oak and stonework (all the barns and woodstores are built like this, topped with the pan-tiles), with a village-sized bread oven attached to what might have been a small mill, its foundations in the moat-come-millpond. Next door to the barn is a big pigeonnier – a huge tower-dovecot (many of the bigger village houses kept pigeons to eat), big enough to make into a two- or three-level studio.

The wide slow Lot, when we reach it, by the bridge, is warm and inviting. We step in, on little white cockle-shells. The old church clock in the adjoining village chimes tinnily and crazily, apparently at random.

Around our feet are dozens and dozens of tiny fish, and other larger fish, stippled like trout, jump. 

Something skip-jumps repeatedly across the surface, and then another – later we realise they're little frogs.

Now, back on the terrace, a few swifts have come down low to join the martins – maybe the promised storm.

Eloise is cooking a mushroom stroganoff with the rest of the ceps. In the same mushroom market in Villefranche we watched an elderly man tramp in with a handful of clearly handmade rugged and delightfully asymmetrical baskets, maybe five of them; plonk them down, stand around for ten minutes and then rather sulkily stomp off again after no sales to the villagers and visitors haggling over boxes of wild-gathered mushrooms. I followed him as he flung the baskets into the back of his old Peugeot and bought one for such a small price I thought I'd misread the label. They're all made, he told me, from local chestnut and willow, with a little extra handle-binding of old clematis lianas. He's 85, a farmer and forager, and has been making baskets 'toute ma vie'.

Down on the southwestern side of Cahors my friend Johnny is building what he calls a 'hut' down in his orchard by the stream, for friends and visitors. We dropped in en passant before coming up here. The 'hut' turns out to be a little house, built sturdily of reclaimed old oak beams, with a decking balcony, a mezzanine sleeping platform and solar panels. Oh and wild boar – I've spent many evenings watching for them with him among the wild orchids – snorting around the meadow at night.

Now, here at Calvignac, thunder rolls around the valley, and the river, earlier ruffled, looks menacingly still. A flock of about twenty snow-white geese or maybe even swan head south along the course of the Lot.

First lightning away to the south. The martins have suddenly gone out.

For about five or six hours the storm rattles on, a continuous exchange of fire and its sound-shadow thunder, circling the hills in sheets and spikes of light. Then at about two in the morning the sky gives in and throws down a little shower, before closing its mouth on a last clap of thunder.

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