In a rustic hamlet nestled into the French Alps at Queyras, we drank café-au-lait from gigantic ceramic bowls, slathered homemade confiture de mûres over thick slices of buttered bread, and talked about what a good night's sleep we had just had. The French were fibbing, weren't they? I know I was—I had sore and tired limbs to prove it!
I looked over at the haute-couture horseback riders who shared our room of creaky bunkbeds. I had not bet on the elegant equestrians adapting, let alone bragging about how well-rested they felt. I watched as they gathered their fancy gear and bid us fellow lodgers bonne continuation! We'll weren't they the perky ones!
"Come on, let's head out," Jean-Marc followed the perky ones' lead, summoning Max, Jackie, and me. We would be taking the same path as the riders, he informed us, only on foot. And we needed to get a move on in order to make it to the next lodge by lunchtime. I reluctanly left the inn's cozy kitchen, where another cup of coffee and a good book was my idea of an adventure.
The two-hour hike turned out to be a cake walk as we followed scent and sediment... (the horses had scattered their version of Hansel and Gretel crumbs). Sidestepping les crottes, I watched as the slope gave way to a valley; in the distance, our next rest stop, where we would camp for the night.
"C'est un vrai refuge!" Jean-Marc informed us.
"Ah, oui?," I challenged, through clenched teeth.
As we approached the hostel, the outhouse came into view. I scanned the environs, but the haute-couture horseback riders were nowhere to be found; this only confirmed my suspicion that they were fibbing about last night's comfortable accomodation! I became convinced that the savvy travelers had found feather beds at a nearby chalet, and were happily dining on fondue... where we would soon be eating beans.
Jean-Marc checked in, while I wandered over to the barn where we would bunk for the night, like so many bundles of hay... talk about close quarters! The room was even sparser than last night's dortoir. And there were no creaky beds; instead a long line of mats covered the floor of a wooden loft. We would be sleeping nose-to-nose with strangers!
That night I quickly staked my bed, making Jean-Marc take the mattress which butted the the stranger's beside us, where the ladder dropped to the floor below. Only, this trick backfired on me when in the middle of the night I woke up needing to use the toilet!
Not only was my husband blocking me from the exit, but I could not see the way to the ladder.
I now understood why so many of the lodgers were wearing those funny headbands with the flashlights embedded in them! But why didn't we have any fancy headgear?!
I elbowed my husband. "Pssst! I need to go!"
"Vas-y!" came the groggy answer.
"But I can't see!"
I felt my husband shuffle and a light went off... it was coming from his telephone. Jean-Marc shined the bright screen to my bed, then his, then over to the ladder, effectively lighting the first few steps along the path to the outdoor potty.
I was not sold on the idea of using an iPod to navigate my way outside (it was pitch dark out there! and a long way to the toilets! and what about bears?)
Vas-y! Jean-Marc nudged me.
Why was I the only one who had to wake up with the bathroom call in the middle of the night? I thought about all of the hikers who dozed peacefully. Back in the dining hall, I had watched them down pitcher after pitcher of wine, not a care in the world (personally, I had been tormented with the idea of a full-bladder for night) before scrambling up the loft's stairs to sleep, and so peacefully! Why couldn't I be that simple?
Perhaps simplicity was as simple as following the illuminated path before me, this, thanks to my husband's MP3. I tied on my hiking boots and held on tightly to the lightsource. The journey from the crowded loft to the outhouse didn't have to be a complicated venture, it could simply be an adventure.
la confiture de mûres (f) = blackberry jam
la haute couture (f) = high fashion
bonne continuation! = all the best!, good luck for the future
le sentier = path
la crotte = droppings
c'est un refuge = it's a refuge
ah, oui? = you don't say
vas-y = go on
une allumette = a match
une allumeuse = a tease (a flirt)
allumer le feu = to light the fire
Citation du Jour:
L'absence est à l'amour ce qu'est au feu le vent; il éteint le petit, il allume le grand. Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small and kindles the great. --Roger de Bussy-Rabutin
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety