Enter Salomé. Salomé is a story in and of herself and in Salies she is my introduction to almost everyone who talks to me; she is the excuse, the reason, the attraction. And it is true, I too find her so adorable that if she weren’t mine I would want to pet her; she is mine and I want to pet her all the time and do so, much to her pleasure I believe. But the French seem to love dogs and passers by stop to pet her, to ask what kind of dog she is, to comment (“c’est très sage”) on her good behaviour or just to smile, so my “social” life grows. I seldom learn anyone’s name as people who stop on the street to pet your dog and then ask where you come from or what her name is, seldom introduce themselves, but they do become familiar faces that smile knowingly and say “bonjour” each time they pass you on the street or in the park. It makes Salies seemfriendlier every day .
But Salomé has been even more than that. She was the introduction to my two solid friends here. When I was here last August, we walked past a Café near the studio, and she darted under the table to sniff (dog-greet) a Yorkshire terrier; they immediately leapt at each other in playful fashion and before I knew it had their leashes all entangled. There were three people seated at the table: two men and a woman. I said “pardon, pardon” in my worst French to the man holding the leash and proceeded to untangle the playful dogs. While I was so engaged, he turned to his friend at the table and said “Es un schnauzer” in perfect Spanish, even though I had heard him speak French a moment earlier.
“¿Usted habla español?” I asked, using the double question mark as is the custom, “¿de dónde es?” (Do you speak Spanish? Where are you from?)
Once more in perfect Spanish, he said he had lived 20 years in Mexico and –of course- I immediately identified myself as a Mexican now living in Spain and visiting Salies… and that was an invitation to sit and share a cup of coffee. Charles, or Carlos as he prefers to be called, is a Swiss-Frenchman who has lived in Baja for many years and now lives in Navarrenx, a nearby medieval town. The couple sitting with him came from Barcelona, he a native and his wife a Canadian. I was later informed that Pepe, the Catalán, owns a restaurant.
“We must get our dogs together” Carlos declared in perfect English and thus we proceeded to make a play-date for Salomé and Mickey, the Yorkie, for the following Saturday. On Friday before the appointment, Carlos called me and suggested that we make it lunch while the dogs played, as his Mother , Ettie,–with whom he was living- was feeling well and Pepe –the Catalán restaurant owner- would be making the meal. I was delighted and thus made my first friends in Salies. Over the last year I have not contacted Carlos, but have exchanged e-mails with Dolores, the Canadian woman who lives with Pepe in Sitges near Barcelona. It was through her that I heard of Carlos’ cancer and operation, and was kept up to date more or less on his health. With such news I did not expect to find him in the excellent condition that I did when I first visited this year, but it seems that his giving up smoking and drinking (which he did with absolute abandonment last year) has greatly improved his physical well being even though the cancer persists and he is receiving chemotherapy treatments. (Update: 2010, Carlos died shortly after my visit last year. His mother died six months later.)
Salomé, however is not always able to establish such lasting encounters and usually they are just brief interludes that lead to nothing if not just beginning to feel at home and comfortable in a town where the faces become every day more familiar and smiley.
Salomé is not, of course, my only source of introduction to the townsfolk (and the passing tourists, and here a slight digression: I do not consider myself a “tourist” for I settle here during a whole month and am not just a passer by, peering at the sights and the town’s idiosyncrasies without integrating), the other source being –naturally- human needs. I have come to the conclusion that all social life stems from the identification of needs that others can satisfy, including the need of distraction and human contact: we don’t socialize because we like other people, but we do begin to “like” people with whom we socialize when they satisfy our needs and do this in a kind and fair way. Need creates social contact and this, no doubt, is a very large oxymoron, but a very noticeable one during my stay in Salies. I need bread and the baker needs clients. If this exchange is done in a friendly, kind and fair way, I begin to experience pleasure on ‘visiting’ the bakery and, I presume, the baker experiences some pleasure on seeing me each morning. Our initial “bonjours” and “bonne journées” sometimes lead to questions of where I come from, or if he is a native of the town, or even to gentle jokes as with my friend René at the Café René where I have my morning coffee. These relationships must be cultivated over a long period of time –it might take me two or three more years to finally ask René what has happened to his voice (never louder than a whisper even when he seems to be yelling)- but they too, like the smiles from nameless acquaintances in passing on the street, make Salies every day more a place I identify as mine.
So, petit à petit I make a life for myself in this small town, so much so that as my time here draws to a close, I feel my heart a bit heavy and am already thinking of putting aside the studio for next August, or even taking it for a month and a half. Who knows? The future is nonexistent and I can but think that today that will be my choice.
In the meantime, as a farmer plows his field, sows his seeds and harvests his crop laying the land fallow for the following season, so I go about Salies, leaving seeds of smiles, harvesting the acquaintances that have grown this year and preparing the terrain for the next season.