Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mountains,RLS, and Blogging

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a note about this book to a friend. This so very much applies to my feeling about posting blogs here that I could not resist quoting him.
Every book – for me blog post.w. -  is, in the intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him (she) who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them at every corner…Yet though the letter is addressed to all, yet we have an old and friendly custom of addressing it on the outside to one. Of what shall a man be proud of not proud of his friends?
I count all who drop by Life Twice Tasted with any regularity as a friend and RLS’s words really apply to me.

And now to Travels with a Donkey

Trying to cling onto the magical effect of my time in Marseillan I have been reading again Robert  Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. To remind you - the Cevennes is (are?) the range covering the precipitous southern section of the mountainous massif central where cold air from the Atlantic coast does battle with the warm air blowing in from the Mediterranean, causing heavy rainfall in Autumn – the season in 1878 when the 29 year old Robert chose to make his famous twelve-day hike through the Cevennes, assisted and sometimes obstructed by the stubborn, vengeful and characterful donkey Modestine.
I had forgotten what a great storyteller RLS was - how transparent how emotional, how direct, how well observed is his writing:
The road smoked in the twilight with children driving home cattle from the fields; and a pair of stride-legged women, hat and cap and all dashed past me at a hammering trot from the canton where they had been to church and market. I asked one of the children where I was. ‘At Bouchet St Nicolas,’ he told me.
I loved reading it again but I’d forgotten the religious focus our perceptive Scottish Protestant brought to this long travel essay. He was travelling through the country of the Camisards. Unlike other protestant Huguenots, the Camisards of this regions did not flee the pursecution if Lousi X1V. They survived and stayed protected by the hard terrain of the Cevennes and their own self reliant culture. But their survival was not without cost:
… when Julien had finished his famous work, the devastation of the High Cevennes which lasted all through October and November 1703, and during which four hundred and sixty villages and hamlet were, with fire and pickaxe, utterly subverted … a man standing on this eminence would have looked forth upon a silent, smokeless and dispeopled land.
And then, in the same paragraph RLS brings us back on this same eminence in his own day, on his own journey, to
…perhaps the wildest view of all my journey. Peak upon peak, chan upon chainof hills ran surging southward, channelled and sculptured by the winter streams, feathered fro head to foot with chestnuts, and here and there breaking into a coronel of cliffs. The sun, which was still far from setting, sent a drift of misty gold across the hill-tops , but the valleys were already plunged in a profound and quiet shadow…
I read an edition of Travels With a Donkey which incorporates a highly informative and helpful section by travel writer Laurence Phillips. This is his detailed guide as to how the modern traveller - on foot, bike, by car or even donkey - may follow Stevenson’s precipitous route through the Cevennes.
I am tempted.
I would, dear friends, highly recommend it. wx

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