I followed the point-by-point instructions in Let’s Go: France, but wasn’t sure I’d taken the correct bus – much less gotten off at the right stop – until the museum appeared ahead of me. After a half day of vague directions and multiple bus transfers, it wasn’t far now. Shifting the backpack on my shoulders so it wouldn’t rub the sore patch along my collarbone, I sped up, buoyed by relief that I hadn’t gotten hopelessly lost. Again.
Sweat dribbled down my temples. I recalled the Provence of cinema, perpetually sunny and pleasant. Today, I sweated through my clothes, same as yesterday, and every other day I spent walking on solo day trips from town to town. At least part of this walk meandered through a copse of scrub-looking trees, which while not diminishing the temperature, sheltered me from the sun.
When I rounded a wide corner and emerged from the trees, I halted. Sweat and blisters forgotten, my breath swelled up until it expanded my entire being. I traveled two thousand years back in time as I exhaled.
The massive Pont du Gard aqueduct spanned the gorge over the Gardon River, sturdily knitting the hillside together. Reflexively pulling out my camera, I unsuccessfully tried to capture the Roman monument in my lens, all the while unable to tear my eyes away. It pulled me toward it like a celestial body, and I walked on.
Reaching the place where the structure met the hillside, and I gingerly stepped out onto it. After a few cautious steps on the unyielding stone, I understood its permanence and glided confidently to the center. As the guidebook promised, families with floaties and rafts played in the water below, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Though I had worn my bathing suit under my clothes, I wasn’t about to hop in the river if I was the only one. Despite my desire to free myself from the heat, I perched on the edge, absorbed in the profundity of standing on a structure that predated Christ. My previous life and all its confusion slipped away.
Eventually I walked back across and picked my way down the hillside to the sounds of laughing and splashing, squealing and talking. French, still a beautiful mystery to me at this point, only became comprehensible when enunciated slowly and carefully. Right now, it served as background music punctuated by the staccato of occasional German and other unidentified Nordic languages. As I set my pack on a boulder, the tittering of friends bantering, of families chatting, of teenagers flirting reminded me that I hadn’t spoken to a single person all day. I suddenly felt freer than I had in my entire life.
I removed my shoes and sticky socks, peeled off the tank top that had fused to my torso. Stepping into the blissfully cool water felt akin to baptism. I merged with the river, floating to the center and taking in the new view. Though nearly half a day’s journey back to my little garret in Avignon awaited me, I lingered, lazily floating and listening to the sounds of life around me. The ancient aqueduct assured me I had all the time in the world. This time, I would have no trouble finding my way.
All photos my own
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