Saturday 30 July 2022

Travels in the South of France

DC and I have just returned from a holiday in the South of France. We had tried to rearrange this once it became apparent that we'd be in the middle of a heat wave (now accepted as the reality of climate change) but it proved not possible to do so. In practice our accommodation was able to keep the temperatures reasonable by airing in the morning and closing up the windows and shutters through the hottest part of the day. Transport (by trains and hire car) was air conditioned and we gradually adapted to the heat by staying in the cooler indoor spaces during the hottest parts of the day and giving our bodies a chance to acclimatise. Travel was affected by various delays and we ended up spending an unplanned night in Paris travelling both Southwards and back North again.

In the Ardeche we stayed first with our friends at their place near Le Teil then at The Lotus Tree a gay guesthouse we'd last visited almost twenty years ago. It was delightful to see our friends Nick and Kalyani again and to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the place they've worked hard to create. Nick is one of a limited number of people I know who I feel understands me deeply and I miss having him geographically close. DC and I participated in a tea ceremony with some other guests held by Nick and as ever he brough the practice to life and for me at least dharma shone through as the water was heated, tea and bowls were prepared, placed, turned and offered. Wisps and turns of vapour rose from the kettle spout and vanished in the air. The beautiful shape, colour and fine matt texture of the bows and kettles evoked in me that indescribable glimpse of I know not what yet know it deeply... the tea preparation and pouring bringing them to life and illuminating the space in which they and I existed as the ever present moment. I love the aesthetics of the paraphernalia of tea ceremony and would take the environs of any retreat venue off in that direction but I know it's not for everyone and Nick and Kalyani have their own tastes and need keep an eye on that to which a broad spectrum of guests are drawn; I let the attraction arise and pass in me, recalled at some point Nick's comment years ago that I was looking for something very pure and inhaled the aroma of the tea. Outside it was hot. There were other opportunities to share time with Nick and I noticed that I didn't have a whole lot of words to share but rather just needed to 'land'. Time for that process can't be rushed and so in practice turned out to be short. Hopefully we can all connect more by Zoom or WhatsApp in future.

Nick and Kalyani have a young dog. He's a trained truffle hunting dog and will work in the season to find the precious fungi and I'm sure he will love that. He was full of play and as he looked at me and I at him I thought he had a dragon face and so I would play with him and call him dragon face. He teased me as much as I teased him when we played at throwing and fetching. Bless him. He's a kindly dragon me thinks. How wonderous this seeing each other even though we're not the same species. Those comments made years ago in conversation when Nick referred to the search for something very pure were made in response to comments of my own about an engaged 'spirituality' out in the world and as authentic as possible. But it isn't so much a search as just putting one foot in front of the other as the clouds pass. Attraction to or interest in something - that deeper 'helpful' aspect of desire provides a 'natural' steer.

Our relocation for the last three nights in the Ardeche to The Lotus Tree - named not after any allusions to any kind of spirituality but rather and quite simply after the two Lotus trees at the entrance to the property brought a change in culture. When we last visited times were different and so were we. Whereas in the past it felt important to have gay venues such as this it now seemed not only far less important but slightly isolating to me. It did however, illuminate the way in which I'd felt at home in our previous location. As ever moving between cultures revealed our made-ness and DC indicated he felt the same - his gentle warmth as ever imparting a positive appreciation of the extents of our travels in more ways than one.

As we'd visited the Ardeche before we'd 'done' the 'must go see' and felt at liberty to stay put. In the heat this was in any event the only sensible approach. However, we did get out to visit a couple of caves whilst staying at each venue. We knew they were cool and thus a perfect outing. We were both impressed by these and felt the sublime in the size and timescales of their formation. Geology, if you stop and really take it in shows how tiny our everyday lives are. BUT, our seeing this is something truly vast. In all the billions of stars in the vast vast universe there is the Sun and in its orbit is Earth and on Earth in a tiny moment of what we have come to call time has arisen LIFE! And yet there is more! Humans are part of this life and they have the capacity to reflect upon and appreciate that which they see, that which they are. Like the cosmos, geology evokes wonder in us. Exploring the earth or exploring the sky we come face to face with the sublime and our capacity to appreciate it. And we are not separate from this and so we are moved. And so it was that in the second cave we visited I stood contemplating the vast timescale of the making of the vista before me (huge stalagmites which take thousands of years to grow millimetres, in caverns which took thousands of years to form as seas formed and dried...) and my own arising to be there taking this in and was moved not only by the beauty of the vista but also by the awakening of stardust in conscious human life. One can only blink in amazement at that. I stood and let it sit in me, me in it... drips of water landed on the top of a stalagmite and exploded into myriad smaller droplets and were gone. The cave as patient as the air that held the wisps of water vapour from the tea kettle. I knew it again deeply although it eluded me. Photos below from the two caves. Click on them and look closely and note the majesty.

In the above photo an urn can be seen - this holds the ashes of the cave explorer who first ventured into this network of caves.

A manakin suspended to indicate the first people who descended into the cave.

Our return journey was delayed such that we had time to spend late afternoon and evening in Paris. We decided to visit Notre-Dame and I was struck by the efforts to build and now after the fire rebuild it once more. Again I found myself moved, in part by the sublime but more by the very best in what we humans can be, in our ingenuity and capacity to care, to love. Once more little Ox footprints...

A crane and scaffold erected - springing up out of our determination to create.

Storyboard showing workers inside the fire damaged cathedral - they wear breathing apparatus to protect themselves from the lead. The restoration will be so complex...

Moments in our trip seemed  to hold out for me those glimpses of our deeper nature, our 'spiritual' roots but maybe I was simply 'wearing those goggles' time to time.