15 August: When I consider the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – which I do more often than you might imagine – I always reflect on the wonderful candlelit service and procession at Frigolet. I forget about the practicalities of this religious day on which this increasingly secular country insists on shutting its doors.
I first learned a potentially salutary lesson in 2007 when, abandoned and alone in Portes-les-Valence, I awoke from a deep siesta and went in search of cigarettes. It seemed that whilst I’d been snoozing contentedly, the four horsemen of the apocalypse had ridden into town and closed the place down. A solitary survivor, I wandered the streets, anxious and distraught, to discover that the only place open was the funeral parlour. This seemed appropriate if everyone else was dead and I silently applauded the owner’s foresight.
In those distant days, I’d never heard of the Assumption, let alone realised its impact on the economic welfare of France. I’d only just come to terms with lunchtime closing, Sunday closing and Monday morning closing. These days, you can find shops open on a Sunday or a Monday morning but Assumption? No hope.
When the Virgin Mary was done with an earthly life, her body and soul were assumed into heaven. This is not the same as the Ascension when Jesus went up under his own steam: assumption means that Mary was taken up. Interestingly, or so the fundamentalists remind us, there is no mention of the Assumption in the bible or early teachings and the notion was only declared as part of official Catholic dogma in 1950. I hope I’m not upsetting my reader – I have no view either way; I just can’t find anything that tells me WHY? I’ve been reading, which is how I know that St Epiphanius mentioned that as there was no account of her death, no-one knew if she had even died. And if you’re still following this, that surely means that we don’t know whether she was dead or alive when she was assumed. Some people think Mary died in Ephesus and others think she was in Jerusalem. She had a tomb in Jerusalem which might be a clue. On the other hand, when the tomb was opened, it was empty.
This morning, I woke to find myself in the house of the almost-walking wounded. An unknown and unseen insect has attacked one of Karil’s ears. The ear in question has taken on the colour and size of a tomato sufficient to feed a family of five on a saint’s day. This glowing orb has dispatched tentacles into Karil’s left cheek which she is reliably informed is three degrees hotter than the right one. Infusions, diffusions, anti-this, contra-that must be administered. Karil anxiously reads the accompanying literature to determine whether alcohol must be avoided. She can find no mention of this and, greatly relieved, returns to bed. Peter, meanwhile, has had another bad night. He puts his headphones on and goes to sleep.
I have no car today so I take a walk to Noves. It’s about two miles there. I still haven’t learned the lesson of the Assumption and refuse to believe the place won’t re-open after 3pm. On the way, I notice that the apples are finally being harvested and I take this industrious scene as an indication of the entertaining delights that await me in Noves.
Wrong: Noves is shut with one important exception: the scruffy little bar on the roundabout is open and I enjoy a refreshing Coca Cola prior to the two mile return journey back to my billet.
Here’s a photo of the now derelict train track that was once used to transport the harvested fruit. I feel it typifies France on 15 August 🙂