DESSERT A-LA-CARTE (2009)

Friday, after lunch, I decide to take a long walk, something that is easy and delightful around Salies. I will be taking the conversation class later on and then plan to go to the movies so it’s good to get Salome’s and my exercise in early. I set off on a highway I haven’t walked before, the one leading off to the right after leaving my studio and heading towards Bellocq (ahhh, the “cq’s” delight me no end). It is an uphill climb and there are quite a few cars on the road so Salomé and I keep to the sidewalk as long as it lasts. When it runs out, the going gets a bit more difficult and I’m thinking about turning back when I see a road curving off to the right called Chemin de St. Joseph. I’m not a devotee or anything of the sort, but the narrow winding road looks attractive. ‘No doubt it will end in someone’s driveway shortly and I’ll have to turn back’ I think heading off down the narrow Chemin.

            To my surprise, the winding paved road soon becomes a gravel way that seems to lead to the fields afar. I doubt for a moment if I should continue; realizing that the walk back will be a long one with the distance covered already, but curiosity gets the better and I decide to continue just a little ways more. At this point, I turn Salomé lose from her leash to run as she pleases into the fields. We pass a garden with a chicken coop beside the fence. The hens are white and have a short erect “bush” of little feathers sticking out from their heads and longer feathers around the legs.  They have at least 15 chicks scrambling around them learning the hunt-and-peck routine. I show Salomé the hens for she has never seen a hen up close. She shows no interest and I have to wonder if they frighten her a bit. We continue on when suddenly I see something that, even from a distance, I can recognize: blackberries, dark, ripe, small wild blackberries.

            At closer range the bushes show themselves as a cornucopia of what look like ripe berries, alongside of others barely a raspberry-red and those still green. I reach out my hand, gently hold the berry between thumb and forefinger and give a gentle pull. It comes off immediately, confirming its ripeness. Without a doubt, I pop it into my mouth. The berry is honey sweet. I pick another one. This one I have to tug a bit harder and it is quite sour: lesson learned. The easy berries are the ripe ones. By exerting the exact light pressure with thumb and forefinger I can give the precise amount of tug for the ripe berries to come off in my hand and the not-so-ripe ones to stay on the vine for someone else’s delight. The four or five tiny berries I have harvested from the first stop, only whet my appetite and I continue on the gravel road looking for more desert a-la-carte. I am not long in finding a bush loaded with black ripened berries. Apparently, I am not the only one doing this furtive picking as the undergrowth near the bush of berries is crushed as if having been stood on for a long time and there are tiny dry stems belying the absence of ripe berries. I pick and eat to my heart’s content. I offer Salomé a berry. She sniffs it, turns it over on her tongue and spits it out: definitely not a dog’s fare.

            When I have eaten as many as I dare without risking a severe case of the trots, I continue on my way, feeling very well served by nature. The berries were delicious and the road, much to my delight continues still quite a way.

            After the next turn I spot a couple of men on either side of a gate, talking. Good. I will be able to ask them if by continuing along this walk I can once again come to Salies, with which I won’t have to turn back and take the long return to the highway. By the time I have reached the two men, one has left. The other smilingly tells me that surely, walking straight I’ll come right out in the town. He then says he has seen me today eating in La Terrasse and on Sunday, walking around downtown. Immediately we are neighbours. He opens his gate so the small Yorkie peering out from behind it can come out and greet Salomé. The male dog has more serious intentions than just greeting her, and is soon warned off by a menacing growl: Salomé will have none of that. My neighbour and I laugh. I thank him for his directions; he caresses Salomé’s ears and jokingly asks if I will give her to him as he lost his dog just six months ago. I make an exaggerated gesture of horror and laughing say: No! We say goodbye and I continue on my way, happy that now the road slopes downhill and the return to town has been assured by my new acquaintance.

            A bit further, the road once again turns into a paved way and houses with gardens replace the woods and fields where the berries grew.  At a cross ways (two paved roads meet) I spot a fig tree whose branches lean temptingly over into the street: it is loaded with figs. Then majority of them are green; the riper ones have already been partly eaten by birds and now lay prey to a march of small red ants, but there are three or four that look ripe and are close enough for me to pick. More dessert a-la-carte. I pick three. The first is very sweet, so delicious I even eat the skin thinking that I probably will be able to defend myself against any germs that have not been washed off by the recent rains. The other two, though not sour, are less tasty and I throw them away after taking one or two bites. After all, desert has been plentiful and free, and my walk is coming to an end.

            At the following cross roads there are two signs, one pointing to the left announces  the Saint Joseph Rest Home, and the smaller one, also pointing to the left and with the drawing of two pedestrians seemingly taking a walk, indicates Alley Verte or Green Alley. Following the indication, I come upon a stairs, made of horizontal logs, that descends through the thickness of the surrounding trees. I enter the alley and walk down the steps. Suddenly I see where it is leading: right to the second part of the “ancienne voie de ferré” that I discovered the other day. I am delighted, home is just around the bend, I take the leash off Salomé (I have put it on to walk along the road) and we trudge home, yes, home: my little studio, Salies and all its delights have become home to me now.

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