October twelfth, anniversary of the discovery of America, day of Hispanic World for us Spaniards, much to the displeasure of our American cousins, who are always ashamed of their great-grandparents.
Breakfast at L’Hirondelle du Lac is a bit thrifty, yet of great quality: homemade sponge cake, blackberries from the backyard, honey from local hives, homemade bread and, of course, a superb croissant (as always in France). The only thing I don’t like is the ‘served until’ time: only to 9:30, a drama for my insomnia. But that’s how it works here; and still I managed to negotiate with my host an extra half hour, so I shouldn’t complain.
Once I’m done, I check the weather forecast to plan my day: it’ll be rainy in the afternoon – they say – for the roads I have to ride, which makes up my mind for staying a second day in this lovely hotel. I’ll need to ask for a small heater tonight, though, because the room felt a bit cool this morning.
After the past two months on northern and central Europe, which were typically cold autumnal, here it still feels like summer: it’s 27 ºC today and I’m on shorts and a T-shirt. Despite the forecast, the threatening clouds all over the horizon and the distant thunder, it’s sunny above my head and I have the feeling we’re not going to get a drop of water here, after all. But I’m glad not hitting road anyway, because I was needing a longer stop, and I can’t think of a better place than this. I’ll use the rest of my day for updating these notes and rambling around the countryside.
I never get tired of saying my preference for hilly regions over flatter ones because I find that people in the highlands, and in less inhabited areas like this one, are usually nicer and friendlier than the others. However, stupidity is universal and has no borders; therefore you will find everywhere one or two or twenty bastards who just love making noise. I’m saying this now because I’m hearing, since quite a while, a few dirt bikes – like a swarm of blowflies – that must be doing off-road somewhere behind one of these hills around me, disrupting the otherwise idyllic peace of this place. Why the industry requirements, I wonder, are so strict for acoustic levels in vehicles if afterwards nobody takes care of enforcing the law or keeping on a leash these ball-touchers, so they don’t ride around bikes whose sole reason for existing is to produce noise? Dammit!
Bastards aside, I’ve just found a con about Peyrat-le-Château: it can become a food trap for whomever stays here a Sunday (i.e. today), since everything is closed: bar, restaurant, hotel and two small groceries. All shut down. There is no place where to buy a little something to eat. So, today I’m punished with no lunch. The hotel opens up in the evening; I’ll have to wait till then.
And so the day goes by and the dark storm clouds that overcast the sky for a few hours, and the threatening darkness and the intimidating thunder I’ve been hearing for the whole length of my long stroll, ended up in nothing. The cumulonimbus have cleared and there shines again a brilliant sun.
The guy running the hotel Le Bellerive turns out to be a Brit, and therefore his accent is hardly intelligible; yet we speak in English because my French is rather poor, and his isn’t much better. When I ask him why has he opened a business in this froggy’s land, he says that, tired of paying taxes in the UK, he came to pay them here; which is surprising to me, because I thought the economy was doing better in England than in the continent (as they call it). Actually, his is the first case that I know of, of someone who emigrates from there to make a living here, instead of the opposite. He explains to me that, having both countries a similar population (around sixty five million), France is almost three times bigger, therefore one could expect to find more jobs here. But I don’t find this very convincing, because unemployment rates are not necessarily connected with population densities.
And how is it going for you now? I keep asking. Well, he complains – like everybody in his trade – that in this village the clientele is limited and irregular: some summer days turn out very productive: they close down at midnight and make a lot of cash; whereas during winter the weeks go by without barely any customers dropping in. But such is the hotel trade – he says – and, as long as the earnings pay the bills, they don’t need more; after all this is an awesomely beautiful place to live in. Which is absolutely true. Another complaint is the taxes, which are higher in France – he says. This piece of information turns upside down my decades-long belief that taxing rates in this country were rather low. Another certitude that dies. Anyway, I can’t help thinking that his prices are a bit too high for the place, and that perhaps lowering them a bit he might get more clients. For instance he charges sixty a single room, while I’m paying forty five for a lovely one in L’Hirondelle around the corner. Or a beer on tap, at € 2’40, sounds a bit high for a 400-people village. But I’ve never run a bar and I can’t give him advice. He must know what he’s doing.
Back in my room, after talking with someone who knows who and where from he is, I can’t help asking myself – as I so often do lately, where do I belong? The immediate answer, the easiest and most intuitive, first coming to my mind is: ‘I am from M., my home village’; but on a better thought I doubt it’s the most correct, because I thus ponder: that hamlet I say I belong to, that little village of my infancy, does it still exist?, is it the same it used to be then? Probably not. The houses and streets are still there, of course, but is it really the same village where I was born?, the village I did belong to half a century ago? Every time I’ve returned there, thinking it’s my place, I stop being sure of anything; worse yet: I can’t help feeling that I don’t belong there any more; that I disown those people and their nowadays habits. Their values and customs have changed while mine, as the man in Return from the stars (that unforgettable novel by Lem), have remained at a standstill in a nonexistent time. Society evolved here on Earth while I was travelling other planets, and that train in my infancy where I begun the journey of life, I’ve lost it forever. I feel as an orphan, without country or land. And precisely here lies the drama implicit in that question, that echoes inside my chest as in a hollow space: where do I belong? And when I try to look at to where the answer comes from, to that invisible voice that replies: ‘you’re from your village’, I only see an intangible ghost; the ghost of a memory.