In Saint Antonin Noble Val the Fall has fallen. Leaves are everywhere, crunching underfoot like they do in some mythic childhood, the fog hangs low over the morning valley, children have reluctantly returned to school. In France la rentrée signals the time when it’s all work and no play, everyone heads back from vacation at the same time, and life gets serious again after the summer’s respite. It’s the time of the return, the return to life as we knew it before the careless summer swept us off our feet.
The last of the walnuts are ripening on the trees
and the chestnuts are falling freely, sometimes into unexpected shapes. This is a spontaneous chestnut heart we happened upon, a kind of I Love Fall installation that says “eat me” and “love me” all at once.
The chestnut is, in fact, an excellent metaphor for life and love and autumn, at once prickly and sweet, in free fall yet ephemeral. It’s the staff of life in the countryside, a gourmet treat in the city. Living in Saint Antonin made us think a lot about the differences between the country and the city, made me decide that I’m neither a country mouse nor a city mouse. Henceforth, I’m proud to declare myself to be a village mouse. I love the village life, a thing that I don’t think exists in America. I didn’t want to leave Saint Antonin, and I’m already thinking about going back. That village captured my heart, in only a few short weeks.
Zazou almost finished growing up there, turning from a scrawny kitten when we picked her up from kitty camp into a wild and crazy young lady cat a short five weeks later. We met her in the street one day when we were out for a walk, racing through Saint Antonin like she owned it, and who’s to say she didn’t.
Beppo too was reluctant to give up his favorite spot for watching the sunset. A village cat has a lot of freedom, in amongst the little streets where there are no cars to run from and everyone has time to say “minou, minou” to a passing cat.
Living with stones that were cut six or eight hundred years ago does give one a sense of the passing of time, of how short our lives are. The hands that cut those stones have been long forgotten by those they touched. I try to remember them all, although I don’t know who they were. I want to remember them, because someone must, and because I want someone to remember me, after I too return to that place where even a village mouse is long forgotten.