A Sunday adventure in June looking for dolmens and ancient paths
Simca in Bize-Minervois, South France. 1999.
Painting by Giles Denmark Mitchell
A warm June Sunday,
Bread cheese wine, swallowed and drunk
The faithful old Simca
Ready to romance the road
Maps strewn on car seat
A bottle of water, a few beers in the back
Off on a dolmen hunt go I !
Off to les Allees Couvertes de Jappaloup
Dolmen near Felines-Minervois
Ever since the broad stone
Flat against the sky
Reaching out the primal man
Bare breasted under thunder lightning
The broad capstone, above Minerve
Where Cathar priests threw themselves
Into the gorge, where river Cessiere slithers
Under natural bridges, tunnels big enough to drive under
The car grunts and groans, the fan belt whines
Winding the roads of the Minervois
With its rich red wines, and rock hard ground
Away from the Canal du Midi, to Felines
A path to be taken, this Sunday in June
The road steeply climbs, which path to take
Which scrub to beat aside, to find this dolmen
This obsession that brains the afternoon
It cannot be this, it cannot be that
The radiator begins to steam, falters
And off I go to slide by vines
Stand up in the breeze below hills
Where menhirs stand tall
The heat pays havoc with soul spirit mind
And up comes noise of Bronco Jeep, bikes, and more
Of mastiff and crowd. A sun burnt head, and francaise
And mine stiff and odd. The Family farm? No - The Dolmen -
Its hard to find - meet me at the Chateau, down there in the valley
I'll guide you there, its hard to find, an hour - d'accord - o.k.!
A brush of wind and they are off, and I an hour to kill
Drive my mule to Caunes-Minervois - with marble quarries
And an abbey, where I do penitence to pass the time
Looking at postcards, buy some pop. Time's up! The Chateau de Paulignan
a bunch of add-ons, built out from medieval tower, to barns,
And now bed and breakfast, with Germans diving from balustrades into a pool
A t-shirt printing business in the stables, doing very well in Paris
And a thin woman comes striding, friendly, informal - I tell the story -
You're waiting for Gilles - my husband - My namesake - inwardly reply.
Like to see the house? Wouldn't I. Walls painted by German Prisoners of War - First World War -we're fixing it up - holes in the ground, stone coffins moved, - the skeletons?
In the box in the corner - a guest bedroom perhaps?
Up the stone balustrade I want to go
But jeep and Gilles, stir dust at door
Yes - the Dolmen - we go now - pick up passenger
17 year old lovers - he tarzan she jane
the mastiff, jaws dripping, hovering over gear shift
and a lady interprets French to English, over my stumbling words
With a gruff, out the gates, down the dust, past guest cottage
And a wood where a giant of a snake lies deep and hiss
The tyres thud and jump, the dog jumping at branches
Pulling them from trees. I grow my own wine. Taste some when you leave.
We stop here, we walk, up that path, the dolmen difficult to find
The sun stuffy and hard. The brush dry and prickly. The path dust.
Here, through here, see the stones, the dolmen. The capstone broke.
Not much to see. A couple lived here and dug it asunder. The water. The sun
The grave of eyes long ago. The shards of rock digging earth. Reverent hands.
Up back. Dog frozen. A glade of trees. A silence. A parting. A private place.
A sense of hovering, in the grayness under the trees. Anyone been up here?
No I would know. A presence made of presences. Of a cut in the die.
I will return, lie to swallow the earth, to taste the leaves, to partake of the breath.
You want to see something interesting - Gilles speaks slow - the doorway begins to open
The party crosses the trail again, takes a path through scrub - down -across
Scratches to the skin. The dog bounding across holly. A stillness.
Oak trees. Twisted and old. Silence. Like a prayer is being said.
An ancient caretaker looks after, one of the ancient ones- he said
The growing, the placing of leaves against the seasons
And then at the center, an oak with long low boughs that grow out
Away, and back into themselves. The dog woof Tarzan Jane run
The head of a small deer disappear disappear and the wind blows
The first deer for many a year. He has a man who stops hunting on the land.
And the land comes back to the land, and the hills speak gently of their babe
Back to the trail - something interesting - Gilles again
A drop in temperature - a hundred men women children standing in a circle
Enclose us as we walk. Three hills set in a triangle surround.
And three hills more sit across adjacent the valley floor.
The sun peeks through them, showing their bare legs, the skins around their loins
But we are alone. Alone in the brush against the sky.
Climbing up the steeper of the hills - I ask - how much of this land is yours?
He replies to there - where the horizon dips into haze - I call him a french John Wayne
Like a cattleman proud of his ranch and the land that holds his past
How long has your family had the land - eight hundred years maybe more
Except for two days, when grandfather gambled it away at Montecarlo
The family bought it back. Down the incline we walk, he points to a house
With roman mosaic around a well, then turning picks up rocks, see this fossil
See this too, see the roman irrigation channels, now he's Jacques Cousteau
Loving it - caught in it - the passing of land through body to body - the eyes
cheering the ions on. The wine of life singing.
Disappointed the Bronco sits close. We slow ready to return -
something else interesting - Gilles with a smile -
a large rock, with steps cut into it, and marks, circles, lines.
The rock huge, pushing up over brush, like flesh open to the sun first time
And round on the hills round, seats cut, stalls cut, for the people to sit stand
And a man lying straddling the earth, segmenting with the sky
Almost slipping on its curve this rock, this appendage, body skin on earth skin
And a pounding a trembling of dust swirling, and a shadow cast
The sun beating a straight line, a silence and a trickling of liquid
A spring foaming on the surface, a moment to feed the year
A man tethered in his agony, let loose by the rock and the sky
Proud bumps the 4 wheel drive, the dog biting every branch that swings
The dust covering like a shawl, and the chateau come to view
Off we jump, bid adieu. Thank you for the afternoon. Gilles strides back to house
And I to Simca, carrying a full sack, hungry but empty, nothing to say
But the path has rattled the bones. This is my land. This is my soul.