Stella, sometimes called Star, the most important person in my new story, is psychic. She sees dead people walking; she sometimes sees through time; she knows when she is in a very old place.
I have to admit that in some of these things Star is like me. In particular I also know when I am on an old pathway and sometimes I see travellers there from another time.
The Languedocian house where I am staying is very old, in a coastal town that existed before Christianity. From antiquity until the eighteenth century, Agde was the largest port in the Mediterranean. The house is an artfully contemporary cobbling together of fragments of pre-medieval, medieval and post-medieval buildings that were part of the domain of the medieval Counts of Agde. Part of it was once the Counts’ stables.
In the centre of the house is this large oven from a later date, when the space accommodated a boulangerie, making bread for the people living in the tiny winding streets in this old part of town. The oven door is massive, made of volcanic stone. The blackened stone on the wall above it, and the wall above that, were was once part of the city walls. Some of the house walls are wide as your arm is long and have arrow slits. The house is a place of stopped doors and half-arches that lead nowhere.
There is a space between the kitchen and the staircase where a modern joiner-made stairs supplement the medieval stone steps. In this space, where the stone oven sits and a medieval arch disappears into a built wall, I can see the shades of people walking, carrying packs. They are not in the boulangerie - they wouldn’t walk straight through it – but on a street. They are walking on a narrow alleyway between what is now the kitchen - where licked spoon is making divine chicken risotto, I am drinking pastis, and writing junkie is drinking wine - and the wall with the stone oven.
The air here today is filled with complex cooking smells, and wafting incense. The talk is of food – the making and writing of it - about living and cooking an authentic life, of politicians who let you down, about ways of saying things in French.
This latter because writing junkie and I have now met the man in the stationery shop. We were in the there buying notebooks – one needs so many – and found ourselves standing behind a smart elderly lady who was taking a long time over her purchases. She deviated into enquiring whether or not we were Dutch, then told us that her husband had been a professor of German, that her daughter was a professor of English working in Canada and her granddaughter worked in a prison. My ears perked up at this and I reflected again on the small world we live in.
The stationery man discovered we were English and were staying here for two months and announced that when we came back to his shop we should speak in French and he would speak in English and that was the way we would all learn. A fair challenge.
And now Star/Stella’s story is evolving by the minute. Coming here to come to terms with her madness was always her mission, but just how this will happen is a matter of my day to day perceptions and understandings.
Later - I am sitting on the roof, writing and looking across to the hills of the High Languedoc. On the table is a fragment of a Roman Aphorae, the storage jars in which the Romans transported just about everything. I can put my fingers in the ridges made by the fingers of the man who threw the pot thousands of years ago. Hundreds of these fragments have been harvested from the mouth of the River Herault, a few hundred yards away - part of the detritus of the thousands of years of trading before modern times.
I am almost breathless with inspiration…