Since leaving Lyon we’ve been south, come north and in a few days slowly make our way east. I’ve been caught having to up and leave in the middle of writing, hence a couple of recent premature postings, my apologies.
My second cousin once removed met us at the Aix en provence station. He’d sent an image of himself to streamline our welcome and this flashed across the crowd settling on a short wide figure whose smile immediately merged with the photo. It was 20 years since the last and still the clarity of a face interacting fluently with the world in front of it.
I’ve chosen to develop this visit here as it provides the pull of situation, people, place and a past that meets the physical, perhaps three dimensional needs of a screenplay.
Lunch the next day was organized by his daughter in the village nearby. She and her husband are our hosts.
The long table is laid and the bread repeated down the cloth.
Our hosts at one corner access the kitchen. Across the table width sits the father of one host and down the opposite end same host’s mother. Separated by a length and a corner the other host’s father across from his sister, and at opposite ends that host crossed with her mother. From another view two mothers sit together silhouetted by the window, food and family scattered down the table before them.
Upstairs at my younger cousin’s studio her paintings of skulls demand attention. With their annotations they look like pages of an anatomy atlas washed up from a flood and carefully restored. This is a prelude to lunch, family taste is at odds with the subject but it’s craft isn’t in question.
A retired concrete engineer, her father of the photographic smile tells the story of the grand hotel his father built in Chad with minimal means after the civil war. Mud mixed with grass was the local material but his father’s design had a second storey, his son told him it required steel to tension it.
During his time in Africa his dad sold clothes from Chad across to Cameroon traversing and surviving a vast area of shifting ethnic and colonial interests. At war’s end one of his sons acting as defence counsel for the outgoing President was murdered. Tourism wouldn’t have been booming, but low markets attract business cunning, the two storey grand hotel still stands; steel petrol drums cut open and flattened into sheets underpin the adobe dining room floor.
After lunch we descend two flights of spiral stairs down to a high ceilinged garage. Some flaky white letters painted onto the cement render just readable are the only remnants marking a wartime resistance headquarters, there’s a protection order by the village Mairie on this wall.