We were lucky to have a place to stay when visiting Avignon. Our Avignonnais friends flee the theatre festival crowds every year, and this year, lent us their city-center apartment. After a couple of days of non-stop crowds, M. Cheesemonger and I were ready to leave the foule behind and spend a day in the countryside. These friends (and brothers), Bru and Nico, are old college buddies of M. Cheesemonger. They had rented a cottage out in the countryside with their families, and when they said they were escaping the crowds, they meant it.
We woke early, before the heat became too unbearable, and headed off in our borrowed car. We wound our way through tiny villages and vineyards on dirt roads for an hour before seeing the hand-painted sign of their cottage in some nameless village.
All 10 of us spent the afternoon at a local river. There were already a few people bathing when we arrived. One dog stood stock still next to its sleeping owner, up to its furry ankles in water, and watched us pass by as we navigated the stony banks.
As we settled in a shady area, M. Cheesemonger laid out drinks in a protected part of the river to keep them cold. Then everyone just stripped to their bathing suits and jumped right in. Whoa! Wait! No! It was way too cold for me to just jump right in. It took me a bit of time (about 2 hours), but I finally did make it into the chilly, liquid depths of the river. Enormous cliffs seemed to curve in a permanent stony wave over my head, shielding out some of the sun and distant sound of zooming cars. Other people came and brought their dogs and children. I watched one water-loving dog and its owner play “fetch” with stones. Owner would throw a stone, which would sink. Dog swam toward the stone, then back toward Owner. Owner would shrug, and the dog would search near the bank for a stone to dive for and “return” to Owner. The cycle repeated. Dog clearly enjoyed himself. Likewise with one of Bru’s infant daughters. She would find a thing to play with just beyond her grasp, reach for it, fall over, cry sometimes, right herself, find some new object, and then do it again.
On our drive back to the city, we stopped by to see some more family friends, this time a retired couple. They treated us to tea in their lush garden, complete with a view of the papal palace and homemade fig-apricot tart made with their own figs and apricots. We got caught up on family news as the sun drifted lazily overhead, until it finally hid behind a group of tall cypress trees.
With that, we said our goodbyes and returned to the chaos within the walls of the city.