These are strange days. I leave France a week earlier than anticipated and in so doing depart a grief-stricken country for a homeland that has changed beyond political recognition in a mere two weeks. It’s as if the world is so unstable that each day’s news merely functions to outdo the previous in terms of panic, fear, distress or all of the above. The only thing to be said about continuity is that it no longer occurs. Except from the air.
The mistral has blown a tiresome course for four days. Latterly, the wind has subsided comparatively but still we wobble our way upwards from the inconsequential airport in Avignon in something more than a breeze. And we never get so high that we can’t clearly see the topography below. There are no promenade-speeding lorries or coup d’états or exits up here. From my window, the South is still lush with vineyard , cypress and olive as the noisy little plane flies over the greenery of Chateau-neuf-du-Pape. I can name some of the grapes on the Route des Vins to my right as they sit, sun-soaked, in front of the bicycle-climbing, white-topped Ventoux. Rien ne change ici. Jamais.
We must be following the origin of the mistral as we fly north along the Rhone. In the distance, I see the jagged, snow-tipped peaks of the Alps (only tipped and not covered since global warming came into fashion). Below, is the waterside industrialisation of Valence and Lyon and other river boasting nuclear monstrosities: vast conglomerations whose names escape me. Cities that have developed on the bends of unknown rivers through eons of trade.
Later, I am minded of leaving France, this nation of many countries, eight years ago. At that time I was not alone but on another unplanned exit; then by road and in good company. Below, mile upon mile upon more miles of brown fields occasionally broken by tiny hamlets. I wonder whether these are the immense and endless wheat fields that Barbara and I drove through in another life.
And here are roads so straight and long that the linear Romans must have passed this way. And huge tracts of forest devoid of evidence of human habitation. What creatures lurk within a greenery never to be called verdant? And now rogue clouds pre-empt a sickly thick greyness that foretells of La Manche and the end of France. Well, geographically speaking.
And here are two grown-up children waiting to collect their mother at another tiny airport. All of which means that from the air and below the important things are constant.