THE DORTOIR WAS comfortable, ditto the mattress; and dinner had been convivial, but I slept badly, troubled by dreams of detailed discussions of Feminism and politics. At one point, for example, I was explaining to the man from Antwerp:
Politics is the art and process of establishing and maintaining social institutions, structures, and services for the guarantee and provision of the basic civil necessities to fulfill the innate rights of the citizenry.
That sort of thing. Then he would counter with something, relevant or not, and I would have to expound further, and so on. Occasionally I'd wake up, and think about what we'd been saying in the dream, and dream and wakefulness would blur. I had been talking to Johann, the man from Antwerp, about Geert Mak's book Reizen zonder John, and shown him some of my notes on it, was the immediate source of all this, I suppose. And since I've been reading and writing less than usual this last month, I suppose it isn't surprising that my sleeping self would begin to compensate.
But the result was that I woke up a little tired, for the first time on this walk, and it didn't help morale that everything outside my backpack — shoes, hiking clothes, guidebook, pocket things, bandanas — was very damp at best, still quite wet at worst. The fire had burned down and out without drying my boots. The clothes I'd hung on various available hooks and knobs hadn't dried out at all.
And at seven, though the Danes, the couple from Antwerp, and we had asked for breakfast at seven, and were sitting impatiently at the table waiting for it, it hadn't yet arrived. The goodnatured tousled whitehaired mussieu in charge was not to be seen, nor the girl. After a time we heard what we took to be an approaching cowbell, and then there he was, and baskets of sliced bread, a big pot of coffee, thermoses of hot milk, and pitchers of steaming water for the Antwerpers' tea were set out.
By then sunlight began to touch the soaking wet picnic tables outside, and I spread my hiking shirt and pants out, and the bandanas, and yesterday's shorts, and various socks. The shoes were hopeless, but I knew my feet would dry them before too long. In twenty minutes or so things were dry enough to put on, though a bit clammy, and I stuffed my sleeping sheet and a few other dry things into the backpack, and tied all the still wet things onto the outside, and we got under way, finally, about twenty minutes to nine, long after the Danes and the Antwerpers.
It was a fine morning, not a cloud in the sky, but I was thinking about the ten hours plus this stage took to walk five years ago, and the likelihood of another storm this afternoon. The path descends at first, often very precipitously, through open forest only goats could work, as indeed they were doing. Then the path joins an old forest road descending gently on a long traverse.
In the forest we'd already overtaken the Danes, a boy in his twenties and his younger sister. We walked together for ten minutes or so, he and I in front, talking about Denmark and Greenland — his English quite fluent: You needn't speak French to me, he'd observed. Then he suddenly said Oh i had better wait for my sister, she's a little afraid of the path, and he stopped, and Stefan caught up with me, and we went on.
Suddenly we saw Johann ahead, without his hat, or his backpack, or his wife Manon. From a distance he seemed a little distraught, but it turned out the'd only taken a wrong fork, and climbed a fair distance before realizing they'd seen no balissage, and he'd returned to the fork to check out the other alternative — which we, in fact, were just about to follow. We pointed out its balissage, painted on the side of a chalet not far down the road, and he smiled a little ruefully at himself, and said e'd have to go fetch Manon, perhaps we'd meet down the road.
Our next stop would be the picturesque and surprising " hanging village" of Roure, nearly three hours from our start. Here we broke for a cup of tea, tired — at least I was — by the very steep descent we'd been making, on a narrow, stony path, relieved by occasional glimpses of the deep valley, and by a couple of opportune cherry trees.
From Roure it was another hour and a half, always descending steeply on loose terrain, before arriving at St.-Sauveur at about one o'clock. I was tired and hungry, and remembered a nice lunch we'd had here five years ago. Then there was the question: did I want to make the steep climb out of town, then the long walk through not very interesting terrain, on to St-Dalmas Valdeblore, where we have reservations tonight?
I asked the waitress if there were rooms: Oui, mussieu, demandez-vous du patron. So I booked a room, and cancelled St-Dalmas, asking if we might stay there tomorrow night instead. The couple from Lille turned up after a bit — theyr'e staying in their tent, in the municipal campground. They joined us for dinner at our hotel and we reminisced about yesterday's storm, by now not much more than an enjoyable memory.