Several years ago during my trip to Europe, I had the good fortune to visit Roussillon, a small town located in the south of France. It stands above a valley perpetually drenched in warm sunlight, its stone buildings and cobbled streets an authentic remnant of its past. Picture yourself atop a vista point, looking out. The French countryside sweeps before you in a broad emerald swath, rolling hills rising and falling to the horizon. Slopes dotted with the darker swabs of trees and scrub decline to the valley’s lush floor. The warm stone wall pumps heat up through your hands, which are tanned brown in the golden midday sun. A cacophony of smells wafts through the air, only several of them recognizable. The slight metallic tinge of stone. The faintest scent of herbs. Around you hums the idle conversation of tourists, undercut by the deeper, inaudible tone of serenity.
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Your friend calls to you, and you peel your hands from the stone and trail behind him as you wind your way through the town. Cobbled streets twist and twine between stores, their stones worn into smooth mounds. Garish hues of green and blue explode from storefronts, fabric flapping in the breeze. Candy stores are numerous, their inviting interiors stacked with row upon row of meticulously arranged sweets- and these aren’t the pre-packaged, mass-produced kinds like back in the States. You see sugared fruits, hand-made macaroons, artisan chocolates. These saccharine paradises beckon to you with promises of sticky fingers and satisfaction, and you enter one of them. It’s like stepping back ten years; the warm scent of wood and sweets cradles you. The sugar plums look delicious, so you buy one. The outer layer crunches beneath your teeth as you bite into its violet skin. The familiar, comforting taste of fruit fills your mouth, summoning memories of summer days spent in the leafy shade under a tree’s outstretched branches.
Your stomach’s growling, so you make your way further down the street and scan the restaurants. You and your friend have great fun examining each and every menu for regional dishes such as bouillabaisse and tapenade. You choose a small restaurant overlooking the pastoral countryside, a carpet of green dotted with terracotta roofs. You order a leg of lamb drizzled in a buttery sauce, your friend a salad. When the food arrives, the waiter’s face is ruddy and beaming at the joy of providing others with the joy that a good meal brings. You clink a toast to your friend, cut into the lamb, and dig in.
After dinner, you buy an ice cream cone from a street vendor and stroll along a path at the edge of town. You can see how Samuel Beckett found inspiration here, and how countless others found peace. Elderly painters stand calmly, placidly by the vista, transcribing the world into broad strokes of green and red and blue. Cliffs of clay jut out from the hill to your right. Entwined in their stony faces are threads of ochre, colors ranging from vibrant yellow to autumnal orange to a deep crimson that wends its way into your mind’s eye and stays there. Rusty sunlight filters through the smallish trees to lay in patches across your feet. You hear the faint trills of birdsong in the distance, and, weary from a long day of sightseeing, you settle down into the curved comfort of a wooden bench. As the last echoes of daylight fade away, you feel your worries and fears draining with them, leaving nothing behind but a cleansed state of utter tranquility. All is still.
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