Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ochre-colored paradise

Throughout all my couchsurfing experience I've never written personal requests for tomorrow and never to so many people living in places in a close proximity to each other. This first time turns out to be one of the best experience ever.

My host Thierry immediately offers to take me to see the hill in a nearby village. The hill turns out to be Gordes, a charming village nestled into a hillside that you can perfectly see from the road leading there. Striking is the fact how much the architecture differs from what I saw in the Alpes - no more wood, here only used material is stone, with terracotta roof tiles. From the roadside you can barely see any street going through the village, you have a feeling that there are no connections between houses spread across the rocky outcrop.


We make a short stop in Roussillon and admire the yellow, orange and red rocks, cliffs and houses. I know I'll be back in a day or two, but I'd never expect visiting the village again would be so easy. We drive to Thierry's brother, Éric, who lives 3 km east from the village. Two kids of another brother are staying with him for the holidays -Marie and Benoît are playing in the garden all the time, helping their uncle a little with redecorationg the house. It's a medium-sized property that is almost entirely refurbished, intended to be rented for the summer. I tell Éric about the painting jobs I had but he unfortunately tells me the painting is done. It's also the task he dislikes the most.

It's lunch time, so Éric prepares somes grilled meat and potatoes. I can only eat the latter one, it's a modest dinner but passed with big-hearted people who are always ready to receive new visitor. Not an hour passes when their parents Vivien and Roger come. They understand English, but can't speak, so I talk to them in English and Thierry translates their answers.



Both Thierry and Éric share the same values as me, so finding a common language is not a problem. Neither of them does a job that is connected with their education path. Thierry started in the army, but ended as a social worker in a hospital for disabled people, mainly providing human and compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable diseases. He talks a lot about his job, which he treats more like a privilege than obligation. It's not the easiest one, but what he values most about it is the very sincere relationship between patient and counsellor. In spite of knowing that some of his patients are about to die soon, it doesn't stop him from making friends with them, creating a bond that brings mutual gains. He says that many of his incurably sick patients have given him the most valuable life lessons he'd ever received. I listen to his stories and hardly suppress from tears. Other people are important for me, it's the greatest joy when I can help them, make them happy for a while. But there are some situations I'm too sensitive for and working with people who can't be fully helped seems to be one of them. Weak people need others' help, but how could you help another person if you're weak yourself? You have to be strong, otherwise you both are going to fall down.

Thierry has just returned from Southeast Asia, so he shares his impressions about Thailand and Cambodia and I try to find, if some of my favorite books about these places written by Polish authors are also available in English.

Éric has a wanderer soul. At an early age he got piloting license but he never wanted to be an airline pilot who only sees airports and nothing beyond it. So he left for South Africa at an early age and only flew in small planes, which gave him the opportunity to see a lot of the country. He spent there 7 years and really misses it, especially the freedom and lack of rush in whatever people do. He spent some time recently sailing a boat, another form of slow travel he cherishes so much. We talk about life choices, striving to happiness, following your own path and prividing others that you CAN.He can't stay too much time motionless, he likes the freededom that his job gives him, but he can't wait until he can sail a boat again. Just in two months, direction Corsica.

The other day Thierry takes me and Marie on a trip to the Mediterranean coast. We go to a tiny fishing village Méjean, around 25 km from Marseilles. Among many villages of that kind on the Côte Bleue, this one kept his primary character, the fishermen kept their land, on the contrary to other villages where they were compelled to sell it. Thanks to this fact it escaped hoards of tourists and I must say that's what makes you feel cozy here and forget that you're at the Mediterrranean Coast, so close to one of its most famous cities.


This place used to be Thierry's favorite during his university days - when he had a break, he took his sleeping bag, climbed to the top of a rock and stayed there overnight, having the astonishing view of the calanque, yachts entering it, still emerald and dark blue water, the yellow houses and the far horizon. I decide I have to check it when I'm back in France someday.


I also want to discover the surroundings on my own, so I head to Roussillon, just 3 km from my present home. The road is leading through wineyards and cherry tree orchards. Green color dominates, there's not as many ochre-colored houses as there will be when I get to Roussillon. Provencal countryisde never fails to amaze me, every tiny chemin leads me to another marvel.


Roussilon has the image I've associated with Colorado before - same hues of orange and red, spectacular cliffs and sun, sun, sun. I climb and descend, explore every secret spot, look at details, color my skin with ochre, touch thick cacti, pet friendly cats lying in the sweltering sun, try orange marmelade with lavender, smell the air that smells like strawberries and cheese, try to speak French to some road workers, find a place where I can be alone and read my book, speak in German with some visitors, try to find my house from the top of the hill and imagine how the big red spot surrounded by green fields and forests looks from above.









I learn something new! We talk about driving and Thierry asks me if I've ever driven a car. I've never done that, never needed or wanted to. But if I have a chance to try, why not? Thierry gives me lessons every day and I realize that it's not as difficult as I imagined. No problems changing gears, no problems using the pedals, only problems with turning. I'm moving like a snake, but Thierry praises my improvement in such a short time and is happy that a short practice convinced me to take the driving exam. So now I'm thinking where to take it. For sure it won't be the country where for every 100 accidents there's 11 deadly victims and good roads are as sparse as bad roads in France.


It was an exceptional experience to pass time with such welcoming people, feel like being a part of a family, help them with prettifying the garden, repair the curtain for the kids' room, cook for them and with them, see their smiles, communicate non-verbally with their friends who didn't speak French. Next time when I come, because I come for sure, I'll understand them more. Next mission - to learn French!

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