A week in rural France with an old friend in a new home
Story and photos by Garrett Palm
We rushed to get to the waterfall before the sun completely set. We had intended to get there much earlier, but our day in the rural Midi-Pyrénées region of France had been more enjoyable than efficient. The last few minutes of dusk and the dense forest around the little village of La Terrisse already made it hard to see. I stumbled on wet stones as the trail and the creek occasionally converged.
The trail passed through a small hut partly hanging over the creek, where I stopped for a second to admire the carvings in the untreated wood and benches above the water. It looked like a nice place to spend some time, but the dog and two kittens that joined us on our hike played in the creek upstream as they waited for us to catch up. The little patches of sky visible through the trees grew darker.
The pets lived with my host’s friends, Gwladys and Fred, a name combination I sometimes feel I made up, and their two young daughters, Tchenrezie and Isis, 4 and 2 years old, respectively. This whole family lives in a mud structure they built themselves in a clearing on a nearby hillside.
Next to the house grows an organic garden. An outhouse and, due to French tax laws, an outdoor kitchen, stands along the edge of the forest in a row with the home. On top of the hill a 300-year-old stone chateau overlooks the surrounding land and the Gouzou River. In the colder months the family, the chateau’s owner, and whomever happens to be staying at the chateau at the time sit around the dinner table for hours a night, eating stew and drinking red wine with a homemade-looking label. One of them told me he realized, “Eating and drinking so much every night is not healthy. We should eat like the Japanese, but we are French and in France, s0 …” and he shrugged and lit his cigarette.
I had always wanted to see the French countryside, having had only a taste of it from train windows on various trips to and from Paris. After a month at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe earlier this past summer, I had a week to myself before a run of our show in London’s West End. I considered wandering the Scottish Highlands, staying and enjoying Edinburgh in the peace and quiet, and a trip to further explore Paris. I e-mailed my friend, Lina, to ask if she still lived in Paris and if she had time to catch up and show me around.
I met Lina in 2006, in wha,t at the time, was the only hostel in Sarajevo, Bosnia. She accompanied my friend and me to Mostar. We kept in touch after that, even hanging out in New York once while she worked as an au pair elsewhere on the East Coast. She grew up in a strict French-Algerian household. Her Muslim father kicked her out at the age of 19 because she wanted freedom and adventure. I always thought of her as a street-smart city girl. My favorite picture of Lina from Bosnia is her threatening me with her travel knife to get me to put the camera down and enjoy the scenic moment. It is the last photo in a large set of us having a picnic by the river. I wanted to see her side of Paris.
She e-mailed me back later that day. She no longer lived in Paris. She made it clear that I needed to stay with her and her boyfriend, Stephane, in their new home in the 160-resident village of La Terrisse in the Midi-Pyrénées region near the border with Spain. The region is home to small farms raising tan, long-horned Aubrac cattle for milk and beef on the foothills of the Pyrénées. The specialties of the region include several types of cheese, including Laguiole; aligot, mashed potatoes that are almost more cheese than potatoes; and soup du fromage. It is cheese heaven.
I spent a week with them exploring their new home. Lina practiced for her driving test on winding roads to centuries-old villas, waterfalls on farms, and bakeries. That weekend the village had a cheese-soup party. I love those last three words on their own and never realized, together they are only stronger. After the soup du fromage, which consists of cheese and bread in an onion broth, everyone danced traditional dances. My host and some local 20-somethings taught me the group numbers. I was eager to work off the cheese.
We reached the little waterfall at seemingly the last second of light. It was a beautiful little straight drop 3 feet into a clear pool of water. I tried to take a photo of the scenery, but the darkness made it pointless. So I put my camera down and enjoyed the moment.
Garrett Palm is a photographer, writer, producer and improv actor currently living in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow his travels and photos at www.lifeisaslowharold.com and find out more about him at www.garrettpalm.com.
More from Garrett Palm:
- Roads: Crossing the Himalaya
- Travel: Saying goodbye to the Festival Fringe
- Travel: Books and bagpipes in Edinburgh
- Travel: Coffee and rain at the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh
- Travel: Trimming the ‘fringe’ in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh – to tram, or not to tram, that is the question
- Travel: Notes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
- Morning photo: Explore the Brooklyn ‘backcountry’
- Travel: Volunteering in Ladakh
- Morning photo: Bhangra Bridge