July 31st: For some reason, I’ve never been to Beaucaire before. I can’t imagine I’ll be going back; especially in a car that sports an orange light I’ve only just noticed indicating that I’m running on good will. I’ll worry about that later
From Tarascon, I cross the wide expanse of the Rhone and one of its siblings and swerve off to the right in the direction of who knows what. Ah: the-all-things-nautical base, outside which I abandon the car and set off to explore the town.
There’s something strange about this place. Where is everyone? I check my watch to see how early it is. It isn’t. It’s 11 o clock but there aren’t any church bells going about their business to remind me. Occasionally, the odd person stumbles around. And I mean ‘stumbles’: each wears a slightly glazed look, most struggle to walk in a straight line and no-one says ‘bonjour’. It’s a bit like Shaun of the Dead.
I have no idea where I’m going as the place is a veritable labyrinth of old, twisted streets and alleys. In one sense, Beaucaire, it seems, is very beautiful and exceptionally ancient – at least these back ways are. But it’s difficult to get a grip on things – no bars, no shops, no ateliers – just bend after empty bend until, around a corner, I come across an old blind man, sitting on the ground, playing his accordion. I take his picture but with cash in hand. He might not really be blind. That’s what Beaucaire does: it turns a disorientated tourist into a sceptical and untrusting being. As I walk over to place my money in the accordion player’s pot, I notice a pharmacy up a small incline into which I venture in search of more waterproof dressings for the wound which is now, like the old man of Aran, knitting nicely. It’s almost impossible to get into the pharmacy as it’s full to the brim with missing people. Perhaps they have Black Death here? The place is certainly old enough.
I wander back down past the possibly blind accordion player, round another corner and find, quite extraordinarily, that it’s market day. In every other French town and village that I’ve ever been to on market day it’s been impossible to park, let alone fight a path through the throngs. Market day is an EVENT, though not here. I’m sorry Beaucaire, but yours was the most awful market I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing this is a town with no money. Around yet another corner, I found this little port on a canal. Who owns all these boats? Certainly nobody at the market. I decide to explore a few more of those back streets which are far more interesting.
In Sandy Lane, which is not in Beaucaire, there is a man of indeterminable years with learning difficulties. On dry days, his aged parents put an old bath mat on the front wall. They place their son on the old bath mat and he sits there for hours watching the passing traffic. There’s one of these men in Beaucaire but the difference is that he doesn’t sit still in one place. I know this because he followed me round the corners for a while. Every time I turned to look at him, he immediately sat down on a handy wall. However, he must have a limited radius because, by the time I’d arrived at the old hotel in this picture, I’d lost him.
I did, however, pick up another. The new man was wandering down the road armed with a small boy and a baguette. When he saw me looking at the old hotel, he asked whether I’d like to come in and proceeded to unlock the door. My friend, Barbara, says I’m not afraid of anything. That’s not strictly true but I don’t like to turn away an opportunity. But still…
The new man could see I was wavering. He told me I would like what I saw and showed me how to let myself out of the building so I went in. He was right. Here’s the courtyard.
A few streets and corners later, I found this little alley. It looked slightly different to all the others and I’d walked so far, I thought I might as well have a look. It was a very steep climb and, as with the rest of the place, wholly unpopulated.
It was worth it though because I could see across the rooftops of Beaucaire and for miles in the distance. I forgot to mention that the temperature at ground level today was 33C so, by this time, I was very tired and about to give up. One more corner, I thought. And guess what I found?
A Castle. And you won’t be surprised to learn that it was closed to the public and that I took this photo through yet another fence. Time to find some petrol.