The last treat of my two month stay in the Languedoc is - for the second time - to take the mile long walk along the banks of the River Herault to La Guingette, the bohemian music cafe evoked so well by Avril on her post.
As I weave my way with Debora along the narrow mud footpath overhung by trees and encroached by wildly blooming undergrowth, the silver glitter of evening light filtering through the trees reinvents the notion of chiaroscuro. My eye is caught by a cobweb caught in a bush shot through by the late sun. A white butterfly darts around blackberries which are beginning to plump up in the tangled undergrowth. The soaring elderflowers have been transformed to fruit, half green, half red, nearly ready for harvesting. In the distance the we can hear the hum of the train on its way south or north to more sophisticated places than this small town.
And here is the book’s portion! Let me explain. Every good experience that has happened to me here in this place seems by some magic to have relevance to the novel. Tonight’s book’s portion is the slap of oars on the river: the sound of an oarsman as he dips his oar in the river and drives his small skiff forward, slip-slop, plip- plop, in and out of the glassy water, creating ripples that surge right to the edge of the wide river.
It occurs to me that this, more than anything, must have been the sound here on the river in those early years about 290AD, when part of my novel is set. In those times the strong arms of men combined with the winds of heaven were the motor in times when travel, commerce and war all depended on the beat of an oar - or two oars or three oars, or triple decks of oars on triremes, quinquerimes all driving boats to carry, boats, to deliver, boats to batter.
I'm interested that this ancient skill is reflected in the present-day sport - right across this region - of the Joute, a kind of water-jousting where two teams of rowers in painted boats do battle with each other. Their champion, balancing on the high-thrusting bow of the boat, armed with a heavy lance and defended by an stout shield, attacks the opposing champion head on. It is a very brave, fierce sport with local leagues and teams and keen supporters.
The skill here is the speed and the manoevrability of the boats in the hands of the rowers. It’s not hard at all to imagine such ancient skills being put to daily use – in commerce, trade and war - at the time of my novel, in this place whose name, translated from the Greek Agathe Tyche, means Good Fortune.
A bit like a frontier trading post in the Old West of America, perhaps…