The sky is blue, Gascony nearly green. The multi-coloured passengers in tanned back and canvas trousers drag their suitcases towards lymphatic coaches. The water of the canal is yellow, the bricks of the city are pink. It is very warm. The asphalt does not melt, the posters do not come loose, La Belle de Cadiz occupies the façade of the Grand-Théâtre, the city does not budge : it is very warm
At fourteen hours zero four, from platform number five, the engine “BB 800 something”, as numbered by uncle Etienne posted at the station of Foix, jerks into movement towards the chief town of this border-département which manufactures civil servants as the Vaucluse produces melons and tomatoes. The railway line, single track, lurches along as far as Andorra past dry stone walls where lizards are lazing and between which vineyards slumber before it tackles, puffing, the slopes to which the rhododendrons cling. The Ariège, the local river, which Riquet nearly diverted in support of his rigole water conduit by leading her to the stones of Naurouze in order to join up the aquitanic ocean with the sea of Narbonne, runs down the slopes of her glaciated valley but does not carry any more the gold nuggets which earned her, in the past, her renown. Small towns display their proud links with history on their ramparts or on their bell-towers, just as isolated trees form colonies of rooks : Saverdun and its baker-Pope, Pamiers, inquisitional capital, Foix and its rebellious castle-stronghold, Ax-les-Thermes and its natural boiling waters which treated the lepers of Saint-Louis (alias “Louis the Ninth torturing the ends of a red-hot iron”) before helping, nowadays, to peal the pigs and to cure the water-curists in need of sulphur. Ax-les-Thermes, that is already the great luxury : casino, swimming pool, tennis courts, exclusive films, ski with cable-car and post office where one hears the lisped parisian accent, between two outbursts of catalan sonorities.
Foix, the local capital, does not display all this chic and finery. In the Katmandu way of local under-developed populations, one still sees there, on market days, sacks of grain lined up on the central avenue at the side of the antiques of the local scrap metal dealer, while on the days of national dignity, Civil Servants in uniform and stiff Members of Parliament stand still, advance, bow, perform the laying of the wreath, move back to the sound of the drums delegated by the neighbouring barracks. In Foix are carried out the administrative transactions, are taken the ultimate decisions of the enlargement of bends ; there the last feelings of pride rear up against the central Power which, because it has made the Counts of the town listen to reason, would, in addition, impose its ukases concerning the stocking with alevins of the trout torrents or the uniformity of colour of the roofs of the huts at the bottom of the garden.
In Foix, the Ecole Normale d’Instituteurs and the state Lycée reproduce the indispensable grey matter which will fill the alveoles of the bureaucratic machine. A discreet hospital receives there the secret pains ; and, should the case present a problem, an ambulance transports the afflicted, his hand held by some family member, as far as Tolosa.
The soul of the town, whoever wants to hear it, one finds it in the columns of the regional page of the local daily, entitled : “In three words”. There, one learns that grass has chosen to grow on the edge of the Pont-Vieux following numerous days of rain followed by a sudden bout of heat which, in turn, worries the owners of small gardens, now reduced to watering, at dawn, a soil become unproductive again. In this column, one also finds, whoever takes the time to read, an advertisement of this kind : “Offers invited : for sale, commune XXX, a unique Lot : a small rural mountain property, with a house and land parcels in diverse places in the nature of heath, wood, meadow and field, all dependant in part on the vacant successions of the Misses X and Y ...” and so, offers should be addressed in a double envelope to the Central Inspector of Registration, the Administration, however, reserving entire freedom of assessment and refusing to motivate any decisions of rejection.
Claude d’Esplas (Le Parcellaire)
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Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)