Vaison-la-Romaine, where I spent the last night, puts an end to the lowlands I’ve had to cross: the easternmost side of the Roussilion. Thence, and heading to the rising sun, the ground gets slowly higher in altitude, starts rippling again in hills, and the landscape becomes once more interesting. We’re in the region French call the High Alps.
And what a young mountain chain this is!, the Alps. It tells in the pronounced V of the valleys and the no less pronounced A of the peaks, both forming sheer slopes (as you can see in this below photograph).
But not only there; it also shows in the rapid erosion, which is presently in full process of filing off the drops and levelling the inclines, the mercyless elements removing the ground off the forest for dumping it onto the rushing creeks. For instance, no further than one or two more decades (a geological blink) will longer live the trees in this picture, when they won’t have ground where to put their roots.
In the Alps the traveler’s eyes don’t get tired of intently watching around. The body may be fatigued and the mind -or perhaps the spirit- lost in existential gloom, but the sight is always awaken, attentive, insatiably swallowing the landscapes.
The evening has come and the atmosphere gets cooler. Down below I left the heat of the Rhône; here the air is fresh and cold, and even some chimeney is still smoking, despite being at the very gate of summer. The border with Itally is nigh, but I want to sleep tonight in France yet, leaving the surprises -good or bad- for the morrow, with my senses fully awaken.
So, I need to look for accomodation; but -being so fond of by-roads- I’m not sure if I’ll find any lodgings along this lost detour I’ve taken to Briançon. Wait!, yes: almost after I’ve gone by the tiny village of Arvieux I realize I’ve seen a notice to my right, Chambres d’hôte. I jam on the brakes and turn around. “Do you have rooms?” Yes, they have. They’re actually dormitories, but there’s no one else today. The landlady, very nice, asks me what time do I want my dinner? We set it at seven and, meanwhile, I take a long walk in the mountain. From above I look back and see the village at my feet, barely a fistful of houses.
When I come back they’re already waiting for me, she and her husband. The fellow is a big, strong and ugly guy, as men ought to be. He smiles at me and stretches his large hand. He’ll be cooking dinner because she’s leaving for home. In a few minutes the last sunrays will die that hit onto the terrace’s tables, yet I choose to have dinner outside, with my jacket on. He’s not a good cook, this cheerful and attentive big boy, but he manages to bake a delicious dessert for me, a kind of blackberry cake in a hot clay cup.
We talk a little. “Do you get many customers around here?”, I ask. He says not this time of the day. So, when I finish eating he closes down and leaves the place. I’m totally alone in the house. Darkness takes yet a long while in falling on me -as we’re in the longest days of the year- but silence is already complete in this lost village of the French Alps.