Familiar places

Apr 26th, 2012 | By | Category: International

The road is potholed. The council, quick enough to receive money from those who use the road, seems not to have a budget for tarmac. Graffiti covers a car park wall; faded, it shows signs of having defaced the view for some time. It would not have taken much effort to have repainted the wall, perhaps the lack of tarmac budget extends to a lack of money to buy paint; times being what they are and the economy being the way it is.

The sea is a dark grey; a westerly wind breaks the crest of the swell. Where the waves hit rocks, great sheets of spray are thrown into the air, showering those walking down the steps to the beach. The receding water sounds like a deep intake of breath as it retreats across the pebble and shale.

Buildings stand abandoned. Once brisk business, that brought the structures into existence, seems now to have disappeared. Fading paint advertises the water sporting activities once run from a white wooden shed; its doors long since closed.

One wonders how those who invested thought a small inaccessible stretch of coastline could have sustained the enterprises that emerged. A footpath passes land that was once a campsite; lamp posts stand as alien intruders in the long grass. The arch that marked the entrance has lost all trace of colour. In centuries to come, archaeologists will ponder the artefacts of a place already being reclaimed by nature. Who were the settlers who attempted to live in such density in this narrow river valley?

Small pockets of cultivated land cling to the rugged landscape. The gradients are so severe that it is difficult to imagine how a tractor might negotiate such slopes. Perhaps labouring to make a living amidst the rocks is so much a way of life that it would be difficult to imagine doing anything else.
The verges are unkempt; a profusion of vegetation thrives in the mild climate. The pink and white and yellow colours of wild flowers stand out from the long green grass. Shrubs and briars are more common than trees, which struggle to make progress in the thin soil and sea winds.

Walking along a narrow lane that dips into a valley, there is a moment when the view towards the sea is scrub and rock; a landscape without sign of habitation or human imprint.

In the westerly wind, the sound of the rough sea, the plants along the cliff tops, the unkempt appearance, there is a sense of the familiar.

This could be the West of Ireland in the 1980s, before the Tidy Towns committees set about transforming the country, except it is not. It is the western Mediterranean coast of France; a place less like popular images of the Mediterranean, it would be hard to imagine.

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