There is a startling frankness, a raw brutality that is engendered in human nature when one’s personal space is threatened. Possibly no better a place to observe this phenomenon than Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris. Here, like trout frantically moving upstream to spawn, we fight to get past one another, oblivious of age, ability or size– limbs, eyes and bags get clipped with little to no remorse. It’s primal… a need to get where one needs to be, even if it relatively wouldn’t make much difference to do so in a more civilized way, perhaps giving up one spot in line in the process. I watched a 3 year old get stepped on today like an ant, an elderly woman in a wheelchair get flipped off (for slowly strolling along and continuously chirping ‘excusez-moi’) and I can personally attest to some couscous all over the ground after getting smacked around mid-bite. Even so, I cleared my throat and adapted. Darwin would approve. Harkening back to my days living in New York, I slipped into that old familiar battle stance, threw on a little elbow grease and began to get to where I needed to be. And if they couldn’t hear my meager excusez-moi, they would feel it.
Finally touching down in Pau, I was happy at first to learn I was staying outside the city in a small village called Tarbes–a new spot I was unfamiliar with to this point. Perhaps not just outside, though… 45 minutes and 130 euro later, I chided myself for being such poor planning. But the journey was a great entrance into the Pyrenees countryside. The driver had the whispy evidence of Catalan on his native French tongue. Rolling hills and a patchwork quilt of greens and browns painted the landscape, corn growing high and sunflowers humbly bowing their heads as we passed them.
Upon arrival in this village, the quaint fuzzy feeling wore off. A short walk around the square, and I was pining for Pau. A few sad restaurants seemed to wear the regret of the night before. Conversations seemed forced or nonexistent. The streets were eerily quiet, excepting a few stray dogs who needed to relieve themselves. And I was searching for… something. A sliver of aesthetic relief. A sweet kid babbling in French, a vignette of young lovers, a young thoughtful man perhaps writing by the fountain. (I know, I’m pathetic. It’s no wonder my bubble burst here. Can we say unrealistic expectations?)
In short, it felt lacking. Still, I am determined to find its appeal in the next couple days. There’s a subterraneous layer to this town. Today is Sunday. We must forgive them for having a little crust beneath their eyelids. I went back to my hotel, which is quite nice actually: The Rex Hotel, and I devised a little plan. I did a little research on restaurants, site seeing, architecture, classic walks and the history of this town. Set where it is, not far from the Atlantic and a haven for trade items, it was fought over and upon so many times– the Romans, barbarians and Vikings on down to being a hostile site during the War of the Religions in the 1500s. The 1700s saw reconstruction and a dedication to establishing an identity with its local merchants, artisans, craftsman and industry. It is a town that has persevered. And it is that aspect I wish to find. I am hoping to write of realized potential over the next post on this little town in the Midi-Pyrenees within Gascogne.
Forgive me, but I rarely have the luxury anymore to write! I feel like I have been given my first meal in days (though really months), and so I cannot help myself. Words taste so good when you’ve gone so long.
And so, hang in there. I will get to the food and wine, once I actually get to the food and wine. And thank you for humoring me.