And yet


This essay was a creative-writing assignment in the first week of ENGL S247: Travel Writing.

The riverfront street Esplanade du Port is where Auvillar begins. Pilgrims pass after crossing the Garonne; after the miles and miles bearing down their feet, they scarcely notice the little brick houses lining their way. The hum of cars’ smooth glide on concrete, en route to Valence or Agen or Toulouse, sounds from the distance. It recedes until it quiets down completely; almost never do the cars become so doughty as to climb the precipice to Auvillar. Even then, the pilgrims and the locals and the occasional car share Rue Sainte Catherine, all groups going about their business, undisturbed. Few ever go to Esplanade du Port.

But sometimes, the locals will wander out from their homes to sit on one of the benches and look on the milky-green Garonne. This is one of the few times when they would rather you hadn’t interrupted them with a ‘bonjour’: although the strip of nature at the riverfront is narrow, it is remarkably concentrated, and they prefer to lose themselves in it.

How can I even talk about nature, though? The houses are separated from the shore by a concrete wall so old that in parts the moss has grown into rust. Nearer to the bridge, a line of shrubs seem organic, until you come closer and realize they are all planted on top of a transplanted soil held in place by rope and plastic, the soil presumably replenished whenever the rain washes it away. And in the middle there is a stage, fleetingly filled by the local troupe once a week, but an empty contraption of steel and blue plastic the rest of the time. Behind it, the few local teenagers play soccer sometimes, taking care to avoid dunking the ball in the green river.

And yet.

And yet the grass grows freely around the benches, inviting you to lie down and follow the clouds’ journey across the bright blue sky. And yet the shrivelled brown leaves litter the ground beautifully, foreshadowing the autumn I can only imagine. And yet, unnatural as it is, the river’s hue complements the lush linden trees with grey bark better than were it lucid and fast-flowing.

Because the artificiality is made up for by the transience, a saliency of mortality. For the notice near the bridge says: “Power plant / dam nearby: danger of sudden flooding, even on bright days”. More than most of Auvillar, this carefully preserved strip could disappear at any moment. And I imagine the benches and the rose shrubs and the children being washed away.