I’ve been waiting for the temperature to drop sufficiently for a spot of canal walking. After all, the reason I bought the aforementioned maps in the first place was so I could locate the canals. It dropped to 27C this morning so I thought I’d risk it.
Are there a lot of canals in these parts? This is Karil who’s lived here for about eight years, does a lot of walking and even once took me along the canal that runs conveniently close to that most excellent boulangerie at Eyragues. Why is she asking me this I wonder? My maps are positively soaked in canals. The problem, which I’m just beginning to be aware of, is that it’s tricky to ascertain whether they are mere irrigation channels bounded by private agricultural land, or whether they have accessible footpaths. YouTube has videos galore of the Canal des Alpines which is the one I’m especially interested in. In particular, since I started seriously interacting with my maps – hot, sleepless nights passed researching things which, just last week, I never knew existed – I want to walk the canal from St Remy. And being even more specific, the part of the Canal des Alpines that mysteriously evolves into the St Gabriel branch.
We had a bad day with the mosquitoes yesterday. Up until 2012, there were no mosquitoes in this part of Provence. When I contemplated spending six months in Rognonas during the annee sabbatique, I asked only two questions of my potential landlords: 1) is there internet access? 2) are there mosquitoes? Answers: yes and no. Like everyone else who’s ever been there, I’d had a bad experience in the Camargue and wasn’t about to sign up to half a year of debilitating itching. But, due to global warming I suppose (yawn), the bloody things have arrived. Hence, at 3am I found myself wide awake – a combination of heat, the whir of the fan, the rain that had brought the dreaded mossies and the trying-not-to-scratch business. Which is when, studying my beloved map at close quarters, I noticed the St Gabriel branch. My reader knows I’m extremely well read on St Gabriel’s connections to Provence. But what’s that strange symbol that looks like half a sun? There are a few of them dotted about on one map but none on the other. Odd. I look at the key – nothing. There must be some explanation. Then I notice the symbol all alone on the other side of the map. They are waypoints on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. What!
I visit the tourist information office in St Remy armed with my darling map that is opening up new worlds. I want to know where to join the canal. The St Gabriel branch. The lady behind the counter sports a badge with the French, Italian and Union flag. I hazard a logical guess that this means she speaks in several tongues. I make the mistake of beginning our conversation in French and because I’m not too bad, she refuses to consider any other linguistic deviation. When, at one point, I politely say I don’t understand her response she tells me that she doesn’t understand why I would want to walk along a canal. I just don’t have the language to deal with these philosophical demands so I give in and take up her suggestion of another route. These are the photos I took and you might notice that, yet again, I’m ambushed by another weeping dog who wants to play.
There are other unexpected sights like this beautiful canal-side garden that looks like Narnia after the snow has melted
And in these days of suburban sprawl, what a treat to find this view of St Remy. Try to imagine it without the tree. Now pretend it’s the blackest of nights. Then light up the sky with huge stars and whirls of yellow. Now you might be looking at possibly the most famous painting in the world.
So, although I don’t reach the St Gabriel branch (yet) I still see parts of St Remy that I imagine most other travellers miss. It’s difficult to continue though – the temperature is back on the increase and I decide to drive back into town for lunch. Nothing too expensive and certainly no alcohol in this heat. At the Bar-Tabac des Alpilles, which, of course, plays a reasonably integral part in Chez Martin, Monsieur is apparently delighted to see me. He moves me into the shade, feeds me the duck with the dauphinoise potatoes, a delicious salad that is devoid of dangerous tomatoe seeds and offers me coffee or dessert on the house. Which is when I discover I have no money. When you walk along a canal in temperatures exceeding normal, a decision has to be made regarding what’s essential to carry. I emptied my tiny bag of everything apart from notebook, pencil, camera and phone – this last for emergencies, but who should I call? I confess all to Monsieur – I’ve lost my purse. Monsieur thinks this is a bigger problem for me than him: come back when you’ve got some dosh he says. How can you not love the French