I am searching for a path. I have markers, a conversation at dinner when John, a photographer said, “You take the road before the bridge. You’ll see some steps. Take the steps, then keep going up the hill.” Then, nodding to Robert, a craftsman who works with metal, seated at the end of table, John said, “When the two cooling towers of the nuclear plant line up, you’re at chez Robert. Then, you keep turning left.”
But there is a fork, two dirt roads, one marked by a caution sign, warning that the road is subject to flash flooding which I assume has something to do with those cooling towers that I try to ignore and the Garonne River which flows past. I choose the road without the sign. On my right fields with dried up corn, on a my left a fig tree. The tree is laden with purple figs ripe to the touch. I linger. But I see a house in the distance, and reluctantly, I walk, following a track made by vehicles. This farm land, land where people have planted gardens. Tomatoes grow in abundance, along with squash. There are trellises with grapes and another fig tree where I have reached a dead end. White figs this time. The fig is perfect, warmed by the sun with pale white flesh. I split it open then pop half into my mouth. No one can see me. I pick again, then follow the path back to the first fig tree. No resistance this time.
At the caution sign I follow a path to an athletic field, and there on the other side, I see the steps that John mentioned. At the top of the steps a main road and across the way, a narrow road that climbs. Undulating fields roll away from the road; They climb hillsides. Fields lie fallow; others are filled with blooming sunflowers. I am alone. Time meanders, and I meander along with it, stopping to look or to take a photograph. At the top of a hill dogs bark at my approach. There is a barn, a tractor, fields and across the road a farm house. Could this be where Robert lives? But the cooling towers don’t line up. “Bonjour Madame,” someone calls.
There on a terrace, I see two men. “Bonjour,” I call back.
Climbing again and cresting another hill, I watch the cooling towers line up. I see a long drive. A distant house. Perhaps chez Robert. Is this his view from a terrace, two funnels spewing white smoke? John lives here for five months out of the year. He doesn’t notice the cooling towers. Although I try not to, I notice. Soon they disappear from view, and I realize I’ve been walking a long, long time with no sign of Auvillar, my destination. Should I continue on? Turn around? I want to meet another walker, to say, “Pardon. Est que je vais a Auvillar?” Am I going to Auvillar? Not great French, but the best I can do.
Then, I see her, the woman and her dog that John had spoken of at dinner, Madame D. and Texas, her dog lumbering behind. It’s a big dog, tri-colored, part collie, part setter and probably part Doberman with those colors, and although the dog is slow it’s a strange dog, and it’s slogging toward me. “Madame.” I call. Then again and louder. She turns, calls to the dog, then speaks to me in rapid French.
“Je ne parle pas Francis. Seul un peu,” I say. I don’t speak French. Only a little. “Est que le…” Is this the…. I point to the road. “Auvillar.
“Ah, oui.” She is a woman of a certain age, and her smile crinkles her face. She wears her gray hair cropped close. “You come with me,” she says.
And I do.
Madame D. tells me the story of how Texas got his name. One day a young couple, students, staying at the git or inn that Madame D. and her husband run, found a puppy. They were thrilled. But when it came time for them to return home. “Well,” Madame says, “what would they do with this….”
“Puppy,” I say.
“Pupeee,” she says. “Well, I do not know. My husband…” Her voice falls off and she gestures. “But he? She?” she asks looking at Texas.
“He,” I say.
“Is beautiful,” she says. “So we keep the dog. Then how to call him. They are from Texas, the young couple, so voila: Texas.”
“He is very kind dog,” Madame says. “Everyday I walk with him. They all know me.” She pauses. “And Texas.”
And everyone in my neighborhood in the town where I live on the coast of Maine knows me as the woman who walks with her two standard poodles. But not today. Today I am far from home, following a different path, down hidden steps that Madame D. says is her short cut before we step onto a road, Madame D. Texas and I, all strolling into Auvillar.