I got very, very lost.
I had no GPS (still don’t) and this was before cell phones were popular (popular with me, anyway) and it turns out that the South of France is a big, big place.
JP and I had taken off from my MIL’s home near the Belgian border in two tiny, rented cars. He had the twins and Sev with him, while I had Tya and most of the baggage. The idea was that we’d stay together on the road and I’d follow JP to the small vacation cabin of his friends, just outside Montpellier , near a tiny village whose name I could never remember (this latter fact becomes important later in the story).
It all went well until we turned off the autoroute and hit the smaller side roads. To be perfectly fair, I don’t know if it was JP or me that lost the plot. While he does tend to have that whole completely oblivious, absent-minded-professor thing going, I can get distracted by my enthusiasm for a new landscape. And this was definitely new and fascinating.
The first thing to notice was that nearly all the vegetation is a silvery, pale green color or dark, dark green. And the grass wasn't green at all. Not in summer, anyway.
Welcome to the Garrigue: a sort of scrub land full of wild lavender, thyme, rosemary, jasmine, sage, fennel. Just opening the car window smells like a trip to a well-stocked kitchen/perfume shop.
Next, you notice that the houses and buildings all look alike. In a nice way. In fact, they all look rather like they were built by a moderately wealthy Roman family back in about 130 BC. They’re invariably pale rectangles topped by a shallow roof of peach colored tiles. The roof alone tells you that you’re Somewhere Else. In the Haute Savoie, where we live now, the roofs have to be steeply sloped, so that you and your family aren’t crushed in a tragic incident when the beams of your house collapse due to the weight of the winter’s snow. And the wooden sides of the charming chalets here are stained a dark brown-nearly black, in order to soak up all the sunlight they can. Not pretty, really, but it works.
In Provence, however, they’ve got more sun than they know what to do with.
There were also amazing medieval ruins to gawk at. In the distance, I saw the huge arches of an aquaduct rising up over the trees. What archaeologist could resist?
I drove on for a bit, trying to figure out where to go. JP was nowhere along the road, waiting for me to catch up. He was long gone. He’d probably been happily listening to a fascinating program on Radio France Culture and hadn’t even noticed he’d left me and Tya behind.
I had no map, no directions and a phone number for JP’s friend’s appartment in Montpellier- where there was no one because they were all at the extremely isolated vacation cabin in the Garrigue, waiting for us.
I stopped in a village and asked around at a few local businesses…but no one had ever heard of «Les Cabanes», which was pretty predictable. It’s not even the name of a hamlet- it’s just what the friends (JC and F) call the little group of cabins that they built out in the middle of nowhere about 30 years ago. Most people don’t even know they are there.
It was getting late. The cicadas were creaking loudly from their comfortable (to them, anyway) beds high in the olive trees and stone pines.
But us? Poor little Tya and I had no bed and no way to find one, unless I got very creative…