Hoorah! In this, the final card I’m sending from France, you’ll be pleased to learn that we’re finally off to the seaside. It was a close run thing: first he wanted to go, then he didn’t, but now he wants to see the Camargue so, Saints Marie de la Mer, here we come. Of course, there’s some academic, rambling, preambling debate regarding the positioning of the apostrophe on the word ‘Maries’ to get out of the way before proceedings can commence. I point out that it’s the ‘saintes’ that are plural and not the ‘maries’; something I’m happy to do since he recently observed that I put the question mark in the wrong place in my literary attempts. What fun we two share.
There’s also another minor contretemps when, even before we’ve left Arles, – yes, we’re there again – the navigator is so busy talking, probably about the differences between English English and what he dares to call American English, that he fails to direct me to the relevant turn-off and we’re trapped on the auto-route to Nimes. He’s desperate to visit Nimes but I know his game and I find a hasty exit towards the swampland that is the Camargue.
I’ve already warned him about the mosquitoes and the fact that we’ll be safe as long as we’re out of the place before five o clock. Before then, there are flamingos and bulls and white horses to look for. Once, under some considerable pressure, I went horse riding in the Camargue with Barbara. Actually, the full Trowbridge contingent was present, along with my son and a pal of his. In the event, people kept dropping out, preferring, for some inexplicable reason, to sit in the bar at the stables. I asked for a horse that was on tranquilisers and some old nag was dragged out of the abattoir for me to sit on to the huge amusement of everyone, including the cowboys. How they roared. Well, if I can make someone happy … it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I ask Russell if he fancies a spot of pony trekking. He looks as if he’s going to be ill and doesn’t even bother to answer me.
To my knowledge, there are no cloisters and no Roman ruins in Saintes Marie de la Mer. There is, however, a church and as we enter the town, I remark on the people on the church roof. What’s happening there then, I demand. He seems a bit perturbed but there’s no time to worry about it as I’ve spotted that it’s Market Day. We’re going to the market, I state with some force. He capitulates and I wander around happily examining the fridge magnets of the Maries. He’s covered the ground in about ten seconds and is heading for the church. I don’t mind going to this church. For a start, I’ve never been before. Further, this is the church built to commemorate the arrival of the Maries, and allegedly seventy others belonging to the entourage of Jesus, on the shores of Provence. However, before we can get inside, there’s an altercation.
Now, I don’t think Russell will be offended if I mention men’s jobs. Mostly, I like to think of myself as gender neutral when it comes to taking one’s turn. Nonetheless, on this holiday, there have been a few occasions when I’ve informed him he’ll have to deal with something or other because ‘it’s a man’s job’. In my lexicon, this refers to the repair of something that’s broken that I can’t be arsed to deal with. The first time it happened – probably a broken corkscrew – he said he’d never undertaken a ‘man’s job’ in his life. Well, you’re sixty now and you’re travelling with me; get over it. Anyway, outside the church, I was accosted by a particularly vicious looking gypsy who pinned a brooch of St Sarah on my dress which seemed immovable. Try as I might, I couldn’t remove the bloody thing. Russell moved forward, exhibiting a surprising display of macho threat, and she immediately tore off the emblem and scurried away. I don’t know which of us was the most embarrassed.
The church was fabulous. Wait, did I just say that? Icons to the left, icons to the right. A fantastic display of paintings that folk had presented over the centuries with the Maries in a floating boat saving the day. And downstairs, a full-sized model of St Sarah who’s the patron saint of gypsies. I loved it all so much that I was happy to accompany him up to the roof.
Pardon? I don’t know how this happened. One minute I’d parted with three euro, the next, I was overlooking the sea and the town. I took a snap of him and he took a snap of me. I sat down and watched as he slithered over the tiles. Then, he cleared off and I realised that I had to crawl the length of the roof alone in order to get back down again. I think this was the most upset I’d been with him on the whole holiday. I was rewarded with an absolutely superb lunch of seafood and pasta – possibly the best meal I ate in the whole two weeks. We were the only tourists in the joint which was full of French workmen. Even the chef came out to see whether we’d enjoyed our food. Russell – you’re forgiven.
On the way back, there was an opportunity to visit a nature reserve. I sort of wanted to and kind of didn’t: I was so hot and, yet again, full of molluscs. It was an absolute treat – flamingos and storks and egrets and, the best thing ever,
the ragondin. By the end of this day, we weren’t in the best of spirits having experienced way too much sun. But a dip in the pool and yet another bottle of the pink stuff, and all is well with the world.
I’m not doing any more of these postcards. But if you think our holiday was not what it might have been, I’d like to put you right. We are the original ‘odd couple’ but we had fun. We danced around each other a bit but I never wanted to be alone, nor wished for alternate company. It was a joy. (He doesn’t smile much).