Towards Nature -- Part One
And this is the last book I have to sign. It has been a long day, of the kind a successful author has to embark on from time to time, to please editors, publishers and fans. You have to be out there, making yourself visible and caressing your audience with a velvet voice and a secure hold on your own image. I get very excited at events like this.
I am famous now, more famous than I ever dreamt possible. You wouldn't believe it was quite different a year ago: I was living in a narrow, low-ceilinged garret in an infamous part of town. I could not even afford those slightly comfortable attics in the fashionable West End that writers of old could boast as the last privilege of their hard, unacknowledged profession. They were poor, but they lingered on in that part of town, breathing the same air as the local dandies and fops.
To me, even that meager privilege was denied. I stayed beyond the river, in a studio flat with no heating. You don't believe it, do you? Mr Jameson, the renown author of eco-fantasies, living in an inspiring garret?
Truth is I would pine away over a pile of rejected novels, trying to reshape and make them truer to life, but no matter how hard I tried, nothing worthwhile would ever come out of my efforts.
It was just a fading winter evening, when a friend called and asked me to write a travel piece about a location in France: "Lourdes in winter," he said.
The pay was all but alluring, yet it was better than starving on my rejected novels.
Since I had not paid the rent for two months, I accepted my friend's offer without further thought. Besides, the commissioning editor of the magazine offered an all inclusive package: I was to travel for free.
With the light-hearted attitude of somebody who has not much to lose, I packed my few winter jumpers and flew to France the morning after.
The journey was rather uneventful, but when I reached the village of Lourdes, nestled in the French Pyrenees, I felt strange and excited.
It was deep winter. Snow had been falling for hours and the mountains, which would have been green and lush in summer, were now completely white and diaphanous. Their peaks reached out towards the white sky.
The local bus dropped me in front of the Hotel ***, facing the frozen river. It was one of the few that stayed open all year round. In my modest French, I greeted the receptionist and checked-in.
My room was on the third floor and the lift was out of order.
My room was covered with orange striped wallpaper. Not exactly a fancy room, yet it had all the small comforts of a three-star hotel, including a TV, a radio and a fridge. I left my luggage beside my bed and went out almost immediately to get a first impression of the village.
There were no tourists in the high street and the souvenir shops around the Sanctuary of the famous Madonna were shut, although I could catch a glimpse of a few little statues with wide-open, staring eyes and other tacky objects.
It was a ghostly village, yet hushed and cosy in its silence.
TO BE CONTINUED...