SALIES ON SATURDAY

Saturday is a slow day in Salies, slow in the good sense of relaxed, unhurried; a nothing-else-to-do day all for me. I love Saturday mornings, awaking and knowing I can laze in bed all I want. Salomé is curled up beside me; by her deep breaths I can tell she is asleep. I feel cozy and warm. If I turn sideways I can curl around her little body and then we become one. The room is chilly because I turn the radiator off at night and open the window. Winter is finally creeping in, temperatures dropping down to 8º or 5º in the early morn and barely reaching 10º or 12º by ten o’clock when I leave for our morning walk and coffee with Kiwi-san.

By 8:15 I’m out of bed. I turn the radiator on and close the window. Next stop: the kitchen. I don the reading glasses I’ve left on the counter and check the indoor window sill for gnats. My house has been a war zone for over a week and every time I think I have won, three or four little critters appear on the sill, sometimes still alive. Today there are four; one is moving. I take a Kleenex and crush it and then sweep the rest into the garbage. The war isn’t over. Although they have stopped pirouetting between the computer screen and my nose, they are still being born somewhere.  Roselyn, who does my cleaning, has suggested ground pepper on the plants (seeing as the vinegar was an absolute failure, not attracting even one). Obediently I grind pepper into each pot: it smells better than the vinegar; I wonder if the gnats will begin sneezing and then instead of seeing them I will hear them. Today, before leaving for coffee I will spray the sills once more. I know: shame on me… but this is war and I intend to win rather than having to eliminate my beloved plants.

Salomé gets up a while later and waits patiently while I finish my morning routine of bathing, dressing and making-up. While dressing, I gaze out the window with the view to the West and catch the sun just as it peeps up over the hill on the eastern side of the building and lights the turning trees in the distance. I run for my camera and catch the moment. My computer is full of these constantly changing works of art like some timeless museum collecting infinite landscapes.

By 9:45 the smoothie has been made and consumed, the bed has been rapidly tossed together (no formal making), I am fully clothed, washed and painted, and Salomé who has seen this moment coming sits waiting at the front door.

The morning air is still quite cold so I slip my hands into a new pair of gloves bought last Saturday in San Sebastian.  The walk to the Café des Thèrmes is short, no more than half a kilometer, but I take my time, stopping here and again to view the shifting sunlight on roofs, a doorway I hadn’t noticed before, to say hello to a neighbor or, sometimes, a complete stranger that has stopped to caress Salomé.

As we cross the bridge over The Saley’s river, the sound of running water reaches my ears. Last week’s rain replenished the water way and eliminated a slight stagnancy which could have become unpleasant. The river is not overflowing the canal that takes it through town, but precisely at this bridge it spills out again into its natural causeway and seems to delight in announcing it in gurgles and splashes.

At the café, all the faces are now familiar and I am obliged to say bon jour many times over. Upon entering, I see the table to the left is already filled with its usual gay crowd that includes the “Elegant Lady of Salies” who, by the way, has turned out to be Spanish from Alicante but living here as of twenty years ago. I stop to kiss everyone on both cheeks. Today they are celebrating Rose’s birthday; I don’t ask her age thinking she must be around my age perhaps a bit older, but as it turns out they tell me: she has just turned 89! I am hard set to believe it looking at her and tell her so:

“It must be the living in Salies! May it do that for all of us,” I manage to say in French. Everyone laughs and nods their head.

Kiwi-san is already sitting at our usual table and Salomé is straining on the leash to reach him. He has won her heart –or should I say “stomach”- by sharing his daily croissant with her every morning. Kiwi already has his steaming Grande Crème and I’ve barely sat down when Madame Ça-Marche brings over my usual café allongé. The café is bustling this morning. There are more people than usual at the Elegant Lady’s table due to the celebration and they are raising a ruckus. Kiwi-san has news about the state of the economy in Spain (all the youth are fleeing to find work in other countries, 45% unemployment of the below 25 age group) where tomorrow elections will be held.

“The euro is teetering” he informs me. “Haven’t they realized that the US has ten times more debt than Europe?” I shrug. I have no idea what “they” might have realized or not. I have a more than difficult time figuring out why telephone companies find it impossible to understand the simple directions: “Cancel my contract”! Are they so terribly busy they don’t have time or is it outright robbery? I say a quick prayer for the euro (May it survive the storm) and concentrate on enjoying my coffee.

Upon leaving the café I accompany Kiwi-san back to where he has parked his car in the Place Bayaa (the main square in Salies, where the original source of the salt water lies, now under pavement and duly piped directly to the nearby factory).  There, after a few more moments of conversation, we part until tomorrow same time, same place. If a husband is someone you have coffee with every morning, then Kiwi-san and I are married.

I notice the Saturday market under the arches of the Town Hall and decide to browse a bit. There is nothing I really need but maybe something will catch my fancy for lunch. If not I will stop by the small supermarket on the way home and buy mixings for salad. Salomé loves to browse. Apart from all the smells there is the added delight of morsels of cheese or ham that might have fallen to the ground. Suddenly her interest is attracted by a medium sized black and white dog held on a leash by a thin, middle-aged man with a graying mustache. I hold her back while ascertaining that the other is friendly. The man smiles:

“¡Qué guapa! Uhhhh, c’est jolie” he adds correcting himself for having spoken in Spanish.

“Ah, usted habla español” I query, delighted to hear the familiar accent. Yes, he is from San Sebastian just across the border in Spain. He, his family and some friends are touring the Southwestern towns in France, something they love to do. Salies, it turns out, is one of their favorites. In five minutes, his family has gathered to see who he is talking to and we are all engaged in a lively conversation as we share details of how we happen to be in this marvelous little town. They are looking for a house to spend Christmas here as they find San Sebastian gloomy and unmerry. They want a small house with a kitchen and a fireplace. I suggest several possibilities for their search. Our conversation –about dogs, Spain, travels and Salies- lasts for more than half an hour. As I say goodbye and head off for home, it occurs to me how delightful it is to live in three languages at once, although French I must admit, is slow in coming and what a gift life has given me in making me unafraid of speaking to anyone, anywhere in any of the three. When we part, we have become as friends, exchanged telephone numbers and promised to get in touch. What joy!

The rest of the day is spent with my friend and computer whiz, Christophe, while he installs the new Orange equipment and I put the old SFR equipment in a box to return. One company is the same as another, I fear, but at least Orange is the mother company here in France and owns all the phone lines. I insist on paying Christophe although he would not charge me if I didn’t, but that way I can abuse his kindness and call him for each little problem. There are, of course, glitches in the new as there were in the old, but I have decided to be patient. The worst that could happen is that I would have to go back to SFR, but then I have all the equipment anyway.

At dusk I decide to take a long walk with Salomé. We go up the hill behind my building, to the steep road that passes a sort of junk yard belonging to my Hawaiian friend, whom I will call Hulala. I call her property a junk yard because it has three broken down trailers, a jalopy, over two hundred old tires, cans, bottles, bags and trash of every sort strewn around. There used to be a nanny goat there that I would visit occasionally because I felt so sorry for her. She was lonely and I often complained to Hulala that she should do something about her. The other day, my friend gave me the good news that the goat had a new home where she was with a companion. I was glad. Today the two cats, a black one and a white-black-and-brown kitten I immediately named “Sesame” come out to greet me. In spite of the presence of Salomé, who stands off at a safe distance, they come right up and curl around my legs mewing. I presume they are also hungry both for food and company. I pet them a while and then take my leave. Salomé rushes ahead, glad to be free of cat territory. Much to my surprise, Sesame begins to follow us, dashing to and fro so as to keep a safe distance from Salomé who is also keeping a safe distance from her.  She follows us all the way up the hill. When I sit to take a rest, she comes right up and climbs into my lap and mews enticingly. She is a lovely soul, but then aren’t all animals?

On the way down, Sesame trots behind as if she now belongs to me, continuing the back-and-forthing game with Salomé. I’m sure she will cut off when we pass her lot where the black cat (probably her mother) awaits her. But, no: she continues down the hill running ahead if Salomé draws near, dropping behind when Salomé advances. When we reach the bottom of the hill I begin to feel nervous. She has apparently adopted me and is set on following us home. What would I do with a kitten? She is adorable, my heart absolutely melts faced with her trust and her unquestioned decision to become part of our family. I play with the idea of taking her home and then I look at Salomé. How would she act? Would she be terribly jealous? Would she bark and snap at Sesame as she did with Kiwi-san’s cat the day I went to use his computer and the cat insisted on coming into our space? Would she be awfully unhappy and begin to throw-up her meals as when she is stressed out. No, I decide: it is not a good idea. So I am relieved when Sesame gets distracted by some people coming out of a gateway and falls behind. I notice one of the young women picking her up and think: “Good! She has found a home!” There is a sense of relief but also of loss. Perhaps if I weren’t a couple of weeks away from an extended trip to Mexico I might have dared give it a try.

Before I know it night is falling and I am treated with a beautiful sunset from the same window that gave me the morning sun reflected. Salomé and I have our evening supper and then whittle away the remaining nighttime hours, she dumping all her toys from the basket where I keep them onto the floor in an invitation to play, and I watching a film in French, more to practice the language than for the theme which is uninteresting. At eleven, we take our last trip out so Salomé can pee before going to bed. The kitten comes to mind once more as I wonder if she found a new home in the adjoining house or found her way back to the junk yard alone in the dark after we left. As we walk I look for signs of her and listen for mewing. There is none and I feel my heart saying a little prayer that Sesame, or whatever her name may eventually be, is safe and warm somewhere. As soon as Salomé is finished, we start home and it is then that I see her huddled on the window-sill of the inn on the corner; on the other side of the glass, in the warmth of the bar, sits the large black cat belonging to the owner. My kitten did not make it home or find a new one: she is lost and getting as close as possible to the only thing that looks familiar.

I pick her up. She is frightened at first but then seems to recognize me and relax. Salomé is standing against my leg looking at the intruder with not so friendly eyes and making strange noises in her throat as if something were caught there. I know I am not brave enough to keep the kitten. Together, the three of us –Salomé in the passenger seat, me in the driver’s seat and the kitten on my lap- climb into Madame Potiron and drive back up the hill. I am sad to see Sesame go. She lingers a moment watching me drive off and then rushes into the familiar territory.

My day is done. On the way home I catch a sight of the moon hanging low over the old church steeple: the perfect image to close the day. What more could one ask of a Saturday in Salies? Life here turns into a work of art, telephone companies and stray kittens notwithstanding.

Epilogue: A week later, Hulala informs me that Sesame returned to the inn the following day and was adopted by one of the clients. She has found a home; I am pleased.

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