There are those days when it seems the world just lets itself in, just under the skin– it becomes part of you with its impression. The past few hours fell into one of those rare and wonderful times. I threw on my shoes, looking for not much more than a long walk to gather my thoughts and enjoy the slow expiration of daylight on this balmy summer night in Pau.
As I made my way to the center of town, I passed a magnificent, old racquetball/tennis club–Jeu de Paume, established in 1827. It was still very active and populated. I had to smile when just next door, in the hardened sandpits, a group of older men who looked like they fancied the local foie gras on a daily basis, puffed their cigars and played a leisurely game of boche ball in the boulodrome. They laughed away at God knows what, probably feeling about 30 years younger for an hour or two. It was touching to observe while just across the road was a young toddler focusing with all its might to carry a large ball and walk at the same time. The duet was a sweet, melodic contrast that somehow left me feeling nothing but pure life. The simple things.
I pressed on to the center and wandered into one of my favorite French clothing shops: Cotelac. I am certain the poor woman was in a slight panic, seeing me with my running attire shuffling and petting near every fabric in the store. I even dared so much as to try some on, knowing full well I wasn’t in the market for a 200 euro blouse. Still, I could care less. I flaunted my very best (and still so awful) cavewoman French, exclaimed my adoration for her shop and proudly left with same amount of money in my checking account.
Dusk was starting to settle on the swinging signs along the cobbled streets, as I continued to the famed Chateau de Pau, birthplace of Henry IV in 1553– the ‘Good’ King, as he was called. This regal piece of architecture was once a fortress in the Middle Ages turned royal palace in the later Renaissance. It still wears a rather omnipotent outfit– a kind of stronghold centerpiece to this old capitol of Pyrenees-Atlantique/Bearn. The English influence resonates in this city, no doubt. As though a magnetic force to the void on the outlying edges of this elevated part of town, one can’t help but find oneself walking along the Avenue Gaston-Lacoste on the contours of town looking over a picturesque landscape beneath.
It was here, on the Avenue Gaston-Lacoste, when I finally let the local trickle in. An older couple sat on a park bench staring in the distance and speaking in hushed tones. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I sensed they were long time partners. In the backdrop, these whispers were accented by a group of young women, maybe college, huddled around a table on their balcony, laughing so hard and pouring what seemed to be Txocolina from the basque country a few feet above their stemless wine glasses. They seemed to be taunting and flirting with the only boy in the group. Still, he seemed to be mopping it up just fine. I actually missed my nearest girlfriends for a brief second, wishing I could share all of this with them. I don’t often waste any time pining for home when I am on vacation, but I do get a little sad I can’t take it all back with me as a real life souvenir. Just then, a pretty determined and local pup– a Pomeranian– marched past me with its owner tied behind him. He seemed pretty focused and certain of where he wanted to go. Across the street, an elderly Scottish Terrier was slowly putting one foot in front of the other, using every excuse to smell every square centimeter along the way, rather annoyed his owner was pushing him along.
It was such a balmy, summer night. A lazy, wonderful night. I went along the Parc Beaumont to get back to my hotel, and a concert was playing in the gazebo. A few people were on blankets, some out on their balconies. There were small children and tough guys on motorcycles alike. Families, lovers, friends and singles… just taking it all in as well. Waxy leaves of the magnolia trees lined my path. The bugs were out, but I didn’t mind. What sentence of true summer was complete without a bite?