The courtyard is in shadow but the sky above is bright blue. My problem is that the wonderful Agde sun waited to come out out until the day my friend Pat caught her plane home. I’ve spent the week telling her that usually it’s warm and very bright here in June: protesting in defence of my favourite French town.
At least on the morning of her departure as the sun started to show its face and we made it to the picturesque Pezenas market. We sat drinking coffee and pastis watching ladies try on hats at the hat stall. We decided that it would be rather nice if we renewed the custom of wearing hats every day . It would get rid of the problem of bad hair days but I suppose would present the challenge of wearing hats with jeans.
The rain and glowering sky had not prevented us - on - Tuesday from visiting the exceptional Museum of the Ephebe, close by in Cap d’Agde.
The Ephebe is a stunning near life-size bronze of a post-adolescent boy which was plucked out of the River Herault in 1964 by submarine archaeologists.
On the wall in my study at home I have a giant poster of the Ephebe, brought back from my first visit here.That first time I was fascinated not just by this exquisite bronze treasure but the moving portrait of this beautiful young man who who was alive thousands of years ago. At that time there was no information about who this elegant, thoughtful person might have been. But I do have my own thoughtful, intelligent boy and my poster always reminds me of A, the boy who likes chocolate, He is alas, not staying here this year.
My poster came into my mind on later visits here when I became fascinated by St Thibery, another young man emerging from Agde (his father was the Roman Governor of Agde) early in the fourth century AD. Thibery was a gifted boy, a healer of the insane who cured people in the name of Jesus Christ. He and his beloved tutor Modeste were martyred and executed in the small Village of Cessaro close to Agde.
Renamed St Thibery, this village became a place of pilgrimage throughout the middle ages, for those seeking a cure for insanity.
These events inspired my new novel Starr Bright*** which considers madness and serious depression in the present day. In the novel we see a troubled woman in the present day who experiences the joys and ultimate sorrows of intimate contact with Thibery and his charismatic tutor Modeste.
So it is that this whole novel started with my fascination with the Ephebe those years ago. In the years since archaeological scholars have concluded that this formerly anonymous figure is in fact a portrait of a young Alexander the Great. How wonderful.
This habit of diving for treasure is an old one here. This town has been a port for more than two thousand years – at one time a crucial Greek and then a Roman port - for exporting and importing all kinds of goods between Gaul and the countries around the Mediterranean basin.
There were battles , pirates, great storms and flooding – here called les inondations. In the last century archaeological treasure seekers started to dive for all kinds of treasure – treasure with both intrinsic value and historical fascination - from swords to nails, from intricate tripods to cooking pots and votive treasures. And there are so many amphorae – terra cotta jars of every size which carried everything from wheat to wine, from oil to cloth. (Pat says they are like the cardboard boxes and packing cases of their times.)
Whatever their size, amphorae were usually pointed at the bottom so they could lie snugly together in the hold of the great sailing ships, like piglets snuggling in rows. And there are glasses and bottles - whole and in fragments – alongside bowls and cooking pots demonstrating a thousand years of the potters’ craft.
All this treasure was hauled from the river by twentieth and twenty first century adventuring submarine archaeologists who are named and described with pride on the walls of the museum. They are an essential part of the whole story.
Another part of the story are the citizen-beach-combers who, on a rare very low tide on the estuary, harvest their own collections of finds and fragments which reflect this same history. This house where I am writing is sprinkled with a number of these objets trouvé which make me feel I am living in history - as does Estella in my new novel Starr Bright.
As a footnote my fried Avril, says these glass and pot fragments remind her of ‘boody’ which I mentioned once on my Bishop Blog. Perhaps that’s our country’s archaeology although so far the the River Wear had never offered up our own Ephebe.
I suppose, really, writing novels is a kind if diving for treasure…
So what about…
……You might find it strange that through all this mad time I still did my astrology columns, recycling old stuff, free-basing new stuff, making new money to prove I was alive, adding it to the stash that came from my dear mother’s foresight. I worked through the night and slept through the day, only rarely catching sight of a perplexed Philip. I cut down on my antidepressants because there was the possibility that the numbness might make me renege on my deadlines. And I realised that they were giving me suicidal inspiration and I wanted to stay alive to see Siri again.
On many nights I would cast and recast Siri’s chart for the time then and the time now - for the day of the murder and for this same date - one, two, three years later. And again and again I would stare in the mirror and wonder why, why on that day I should have told her, ‘Yes love. You go and get some fresh air!’ What I should have done is shackle her to the fridge, the bed, the washing machine. Anything.’
I looked at her constellation Virgo in the night sky and willed it to bring her through to me from whatever fog she was in, so I could see her. These days, angry at the man called Ludovic who started it all, |I no longer sought out The Great Bear in the night sky,
Even worse, I was perpetually seething with anger at Philip for just being normal. This anger and my nocturnal habits drove an ever widening wedge between us. Where there had been kindness there was now rancour. Where there had been tolerance there was blame and disbelief. He saw me as crazy and incomprehensible. I saw him as hard and unfeeling….