Odile, who stays in my gite at the bottom of the terraces, kindly went elsewhere for a month, so the family could use it. She has now come back and we are resuming the pleasant interchanges, usually her popping up to my house for what she calls another of our ‘bla-blas’.
She’s absolutely delightful, a bit younger than me, with interests more artistic than political (she comes from a family of writers and artists). She speaks Farsi – a leftover from a youth when, after driving with a friend in a 2cv to Afghanistan where she had many adventures, she returned to Paris to learn Farsi. This means that she is the only person in le Vigan who can communicate with many of the Afghan asylum seekers, and is much caught up in helping with their daily practical problems.
Most have been good about learning French and a trade – the only one offered here being sadly building work. One, whom she had done much to help has remained resolutely idle and we are all trying to persuade her to abandon helping him. Another newcomer has just arrived from Germany, where he says the refugees are treated very badly. He is wanting to stay and I rather suspect that his status in France is at present illegal.
Odile has also befriended a really nice young Eritrean, trying to help him not fall into depression. He has come here a couple of times and was delighted to discover that I had travelled through what is now Eritrea, and indeed taken the same route as he had across the desert to the Sudan. I don’t know whether he is a political or economic refugee, but he has no desire to return to Eritrea, which he says is a mess. Interestingly his dream is to find work in Addis Ababa.
But today Odile and I talked not about refugees, but about the challenges of living alone and travelling alone. I said that however lonely after so many years with Chris, I would not want to share my house again – other for much wished for visits from friends and family. I value my selfish freedom to do and be what I want. However, what is needed – apart from visits – is friends close by, with whom to do things.
Even finding a travelling companion is problematic, said Odile. I have been fortunate to have had two special ones – Wenol, with whom I travelled through Africa in 1967, and Claire the young New Zealander whom I joined up with in India in 2007. On the whole, I said, I prefer to travel alone: one can selfishly do whatever one wants, and it is easier to strike up unexpected conversations with strangers. My one reservation is mealtimes: sitting alone in a restaurant or bar can feel lonely.
Odile agreed with all this. But I wonder if one of these days she will find solitude too much and either return to her husband or – more likely – find someone else. We will see, and meanwhile I enjoy having an entertaining neighbour.