On the Banks of the Dordogne 2005

birch1.jpgA baguette in Le Buisson and then we drive down to the bathing place at Sor, a bend in the river facing two great stretches of rock. The scene is protected by glittering poplars, leaves already harvest yellow. They capture the light and supply a corona of gold to the banks of the river and the odd cascade of fluttery leaves. The grass is white – the summer has baked the Dordogne. Fields are dun. Everywhere smells of hay, a dry, clean smell.
The length of the river valley is suffused in high summer incandescence. Fields of maze are dusted with light: it glitters off stroboscopic black poplars; stone houses soak it up; roof tiles take it in like oven bricks; and despite the cries of drought and the despair of farmers, this penetration of light bleaching everything, turning leaves, scorching verges, and drying out mud tracks, so that when a car pulls away a cloud of dust billows up and dangles in the air, every particle twinkling as the nebula lifts and wafts across the river where children splash in the shallows, casting up great arcs of spangling spray; despite the dryness, the Dordogne seems more opulent than ever, an Arcadian district, eternally sun-kissed and impregnably peaceful. There are tourist causeways and the odd traffic jam, and one or two of the towns seem a little hackneyed, but the people who live here are generally speaking in heaven, or rather in a landscape that seems not only to have inspired neo-classical visions of Arcady but, judging by the cave paintings in the area, to have been the original Arcadia. Cro-Magnon man had the same idea as Surrey man. This area would seem like the end to all nomadic quests.
Down on the grass under patchy shade, where poplar leaves curl on the ground, fresh-fallen and sun-crisped, groups of people are at ease on rugs – reading under a parasol, or smoking a cigarette whilst watching children in the water: lean men, tubby, high-bosomed French women on their backs or clumped like pyramids. The light gilds their backs and shoulders and the edges of thighs. Across the river an excited dog barks its welcome to a boat. Children's voices come clear in the water. There is the murmuring music of conversation, and the rumbling talk of men lying flat out and contemplating a granular blue sky.

From 'Travels and Trees' 2010