• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 03
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The moon and river

Blue and white and so peaceful; that’s how I imagined it. I came to France with such expectations. That’s always the way, isn’t it: however hard you try to picture the way something will be, it will always be completely different. And yet we keep imagining, and we keep thinking we’ll be right, however old and wise we get.

I heard the words “Rhone”, “mountains” and “autumn” and of course I thought blue. I thought it would be a blue world, shiny and cool, the sky a stretch of aquamarine, the water soft. I imagined everything would revolve around the river, that you would be able to see it, or smell or hear it, in every corner of the town, in every sweet shop or bakery or church. Something that big, that impressive – something that showed up on maps, a thin blue cut – must be the centre of work and leisure, must be where lovers walked and kids played and fish swam and birds swooped.

But as the taxi carried me from the airport to the centre, through flowery streets and past old walls – I saw no water. I was parched and aching. It was hot, hotter than an autumn had a right to be. Hotter even than the summer I spent in a different part of France, where lizards and caterpillars crowded the baking roads. This should be different, I thought. We are further north, and it is September. But the ground was bone dry and burnt my fingertips when I crouched and touched it. I straightened up. This time would be different. The world was older and wiser. Things would be calm.


The moon and river

The first few days I wove through the narrow streets admiring fluffy dogs in doorways, lollipops, a rainbow of soaps. There were no palm trees. That was the only real difference from before. There were still lizards. I tried to love them.

The day came, of course, when I drifted through the right combination of alleys and arches to emerge into the open. Before me was the river, turquoise, swollen with heat; to my right was the old bridge, the famous one. I looked to it for inspiration. Then I looked back at the river. I never stopped looking.

I would scurry down there after lectures, or at night when little creatures would dig around in the dark, capybaras maybe – or rats, or dogs, who knows. I remember the night of the big moon. I had forgotten about it, had my camera by chance. I tried to photograph it, all yellow and fat and bright, sitting ahead of the lanes of traffic. I stood on the river bank, fighting the awe that threatened to engulf me from being surrounded by such wonder.

Winter was coming. My hands on the camera were cold. It was hard getting a good picture. I felt small and insignificant. I felt anchored. The night was black and yellow and peaceful, just like I imagined those months ago.