Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Last Walk to La Guingette

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…


  1. Wendy this is a really beautiful evocation of our last evening walk along the banks of L'Herault; capturing the magic of this lush place and speaking of the long ago. It has something of the flavour of the new novel which I know from the time we have spent working together will be quite magical and very, very special indeed.

    A x

  2. What a lovely walk that was, among the wild figs and bay trees in the fading sunshine, a chilly bottle of rose awaiting us La Guingette. Dx

  3. A walk along the banks of a river is always a rewarding experience.
    Your descriptive skills of the ancient skills of the rovers make the reading of your post vey interesting and enjoyable.

  4. I've recently found my way to your delightful blog via Debora's, which was recommended to me by my oldest friend. (She and Debora are dog-walking companions in London.) And the oldest friend recently gave me a copy of The Self Revealed - truly inspirational and relevant to something I will be doing in the near future. (So, thank you!)

  5. Thank you as always Avril. It will be a time before we can walk along that amazing river again.

    Duta - thank you for calling by. I imagine you have walked along many rivers on your travels. I enjoyed looking at your blog.

    Dear 60/16 Thank you so much for calling by. I really like your 'best friend' on only brief acquaintance in the London Park (with dogs ...)
    For others here THE SELF REVEALED is a collection of writings by women I worked with at HMP Low Newton,edited by me and my friend Avril Joy who worked there at that time. We were inspired too.
    Some aspects of that experience are reflected in my short story collection KNIVES (Iron Press)
    I hope your new project goes with grace, 60/16 and especially appeals to your sixteen year old self.

    Loved the boot image on your blog!

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