|Wheatfield with Crows--Vinent Van Gogh, from the Van Gogh Museum.|
Her daughter's breathy kiss lingered in the air, aflutter, like a corvid beating its way through the evening breeze, migrating to places she'd not considered in a long while. Places saturated in deep alluvial and poseidon hues, where prismatic skies swirl and lime-coated mountains plummet madly into ravines. The cold winds that sweep through these places sweep through the heart, loosening it from its chamber like a tin can from a toppled refuse bin, clanking through the empty streets.
The Rhone Valley was like this, and her heart was open to it, to being lost to its craggy mountaintop villages and billowing vineyards, to chaparral covered plateaus, to the warm springs and high cliffs of the Vaucluse, to the artery and veins of the river, to the very mouth of the Rhone. But not to its empty streets.
Mon nom et Lucien, she thought she heard him say as he stepped into his toe clips and cruised easily along the gravel path, out to the main road. Lucien.
The streets were busy with traffic and she pushed hard on her pedals to keep close behind him. Several riders, changing gears, passed them as they climbed a hill. His calves, chiseled into the shape of an upside down heart, hardened as he clamped down on his pedals, accelerating up the hill, and she sensed she'd lose sight of him beyond the crest--he would take a left or right somewhere along the decline and she wouldn't know which way to turn--but he slowed when he noticed her fall behind. She downshifted twice and hurried up the steep incline to catch up with him. The gap between them narrowed at the hill's crest, and she nearly clipped his back tire with her front, having turned too hard to the right as she drew near him. She had lost sight of what lay ahead, preoccupied with the why and the where to which she was going, she hadn't asked the destination, and she tried to divert her racing thoughts to those of Van Gogh, and the green and beige squares of farmland and scattered olive groves that rose with her to the road's crescendo. She was thankful he hadn't turned to see her approach. She wondered if he'd even heard her, certainly he'd heard the grinding of her gears. As he fell below the horizon she saw ahead of him the road dipping gently into a long, thin, grey ribbon unwinding into the valley and the river beyond.
The road through Saint-Étienne-du-Grès, where she had expected Lucien to stop, took them past washed lime morter stone villas, windows adorned with periwinkle shutters, and roofs of arched terra cotta tiles. Everything looked peachy, and she wanted to stop and linger, she wanted to know where they were headed, and was growing impatient with her own naibut she could tell that Lucien, still ahead of her, had reached a cadence that obviated slowing, and she dared not suggest a break. They wheeled swiftly through the town's center and out along pea green fields, continuing west along Av. D'Arles, until they reached the roundabout where they circled north up Route D'Arles, across Boulevard Victor Hugo, and into Tarascon on the Rhone.
She'd been to many villages in Provence, but never to Tarascon. They glided along a stretch of road that led directly to the village's Place du Marché, where they found the outdoor market stands buzzing with noontime shoppers looking for fresh cheese, fruits and olives. Lucien dismounted from his bike, swinging his right leg up and over the back wheel with his left foot still on the pedal. She slowed behind him, placing both feet carefully on the gritty road, straddling her Raleigh, scanning the circular perimeter of the town. He grabbed his bike by the stem and marched authoritatively to her with an enthusiastic smile, pointing at the vendors and a massive, stone block of an ancient castle sitting at the banks of the Rhone, You see! Worth the ride, non?
Yes, it's quite lovely, she said, breathing deeply from her diaphram, squeezing water from her plastic bottle onto the tip of her tongue. The sight of a castle did not surprise her, there were Romanesque ruins and medieval castles scattered all over Provence. She looked at his glistening yellow shirt as the knight in shining armor cliche passed through her head.
She smiled slightly, You like castles? Your not planning on climbing to the top of that thing, are you?
Oh, tu est fatigué, mon cher?
No, a little winded, but I'm fine.
There is a moat.
A moat? You don't think I've seen moats? she laughed.
Je pense, eh, I think there is much you haven't seen, he replied, grinning. Come, I'll give you a tour. From the top you can see Beaucaire, across the river. It's where the great plague came in from Syria. Greedy merchants didn't care if the ship's captain was sick. It killed almost all of Marseille.
He coaxed her off her Raleigh, and they tied their bikes together against a cypress tree. The air was thick with the scent of lavender and lemon and olive oil, and she followed him, reticently, toward the castle.
* * *
Madison Violet, a/k/a Mad Violet, is Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. The duo have been playing together for more than than a decade, but serious acclaim has come to them only within the last couple of years, after releasing No Fool for Trying (2009).
Their latest release, The Good in Goodbye, is a beautiful expression of their friendship, the essence of their relationship preserved in silky harmonies. You can read more about Madison Violet here.
(The first part of Fair Gale can be found here.)