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Coming Home to France

collioure by matisse

“Coming Home” is a winning entry in The Good Life France 2014 Writing Competition from Scottish artist Kirsten Macintosh. The judges chose this for its rich narrative and wonderfully descriptive prose…

Airport arrivals.  The sliding doors part, offering brief glimpses of anticipant faces, before colliding again like graceless dancers. Snapshots of faces: the stoic, the distracted, and the frantic. I want to know them. I want to know their histories. I want to know if their lives will shift as a result of these imminent unions. I like a story. But I’m tired. Air travel with two small children is trying. I search for my face. His face. He leans coolly against a pillar, a crumpled broadsheet stuffed under his arm. He looks how I expect him to look, how he looks when my mind reaches for him. Glancing up his features spike in recognition. Young hands break free from mine and they charge towards him with heroic assault. He holds them fast, like he thought he might not again. I feel the same when I’m not with them; as if a rogue current has set me apart from the Gulf Stream. I turn to him and relish the familiarity. From within the concourse I can already feel the fervid heat of the Mediterranean sun. It is such stark contrast to the jolting, purifying climes from which we’ve travelled. I want to go. The road lies ahead and we’re not yet home.

I’ve made this journey many times; it’s as familiar to me as a morning routine. I like to think that if I close my eyes my mind would recreate the landscape faithfully. It’s early evening but still the sun shows no signs of retiring and the road ahead ripples and refracts in the calescent air. To my left, the fractured peaks of the Pyrenees still bear the remains of a bleak winter. Majestic and imposing their weight gives a sense of anchorage and direction. By the roadsides I can see the splintered, blackened stumps of trees that have perished in forest fires. There are thousands of them. It’s unsettling. In contrast to the static resilience of the mountains, it reminds me of Nature’s equal propensity for frailty. I turn to look at my babies, snoozing rhythmically in the back seat of the car. I wonder if this journey already holds some inherence for them too. I wonder if their sensory receptors are already conditioned to anticipate each bend and turn in the road. I wonder if they’ll feel like the landscape is of their own design. I wonder if they know how lucky they are.

The sun has begun its descent now. The contours of the Roussillon emit that familiar muted red glow. I like this time of year. The first struggles of spring are a mere memory but the full exposure of summer is yet to be endured. As far as the eye can see there are grapevines. Row upon row of them, their ordered placement is soothing to my eye. They have shrugged off the severity of their winter pruning and the first buds and leaves have sprung forth. I like vines. They thrive amongst hostility, emerging triumphantly from beds of schistes and rock. They brave perilous inclines and inconsistent rainfall. They withstand the battle and the end product is all the more sweet for it. Plus wine. Let’s not forget they make wine.

The sea looms into view and I know we are almost home. Soon the rising ground will become gentler, the air a little sweeter. Soon Collioure will emerge, alive and lambent and I will see it as if it’s the first time. My breath will catch and I’ll know nothing other than I want to be there. Collioure. Its fauvist blood courses through the hearts of those who find it. It’s been my home for the last seven years. Where my babies took their first steps. Where my own feet stopped running. Where my future lies.

I think of the vines. We too will struggle and thrive. From time to time we’ll be parted. We’ll be faces in the crowd with stories to tell. We’ll find our place in the heart and rhythm of this town.

But for the last few moments I want to savour the transience of the journey. My journey. I press my face against the glass of the window, gaze out, and wait for my breath to catch.

Kirsten is an artist from Scotland who now lives in Collioure.

Read more award winning stories from The Good Life France

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