These days I’m finding it hard to remember the names of places. I can remember the names of famous people just like that, I can remember what places looked like, but don’t ask me what they were called. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked my husband to remind me what somewhere was called; his frustration is becoming increasingly apparent…
I don’t know whether my brain has just fallen into a state of of disuse, or whether (more terrifying) it’s another unwelcome gift from the MS monster. Still, even if it takes me a few wrong hits to say ‘L’Abbaye de St. Guilhem le Desert’, here’s what I do remember: a take-your-breath away heat when you get out of the car, a dusty, gravelly car park with no trees for shade, a merciful, air-conditioned bus ride more than half-way up the steep hill, the narrow-streets of an ancient village with its yellow, orange and brown-toned houses tucked close together against the hillside, the occasional wooden bench in full sun which offered no respite from the heat, and the busy, noisy square at the top.
I sat on a different bench there, this time in the shade, and waited for my family to get back from the little wooden toy shop on the opposite side of the courtyard. I watched the cafe staff hurrying back and forth between the kitchen and the tables and marvelled at their agility and fitness. The air was filled with the sounds of clicking cicada in the trees, crying toddlers and admonishing adults. It smelled of paninis, herbs and hot bodies.
But above all, I remember the abbey itself. I stepped away from the clamour and into a cool, dark space where silence fell like a blessing. I sat down in one of the pews, and the tears rose. It was like I had been holding my breath for a long time, pushing everything down that I didn’t have time to feel. I could have sat in that dusky place all day – not really praying, just sitting in the midst of prayers that had been uttered there for centuries. They were enough for me.
The name of that place does not easily spring to mind, but the things I can recall are worth so much more.