Monday, August 12, 2013

Séchilienne

So this is where I live now, for the month of August anyway, tucked into one of the many valleys at the base of the steep slopes and folds of the mountains in this region of the Alps. As I got closer to Grenoble, the train went up from the wide plains and low agricultural hills to the west and started skirting the southwest side of a valley that got progressively narrower the further east and south that we went, deeper into the bones of the range, with the flat layers of ancient rock tilted up at impossible angles, sharp ridges above green trees. Geologist Mom will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe these are thrust faults. Or caused by them. Or something like that. Sometimes the angle is so steep that the layers are vertical instead of horizontal, and they form a series of narrow sideways canyons full of shadows and leaves, or weather away into a dragon spine undulating across the top of a high ridge. Lower down, where the town and its scattering of outlying houses and farms is situated, it's much less wild. Laetitia says that there are wolves in the higher woods here, and wild boar.

Since I took my walk down into the center of town from the four-house cluster called Les Gavets for purposes of identification and postal delivery closer to noon than midnight, I didn't expect to see any wolves. I tend to spend the mornings working in the cheeseroom - I've helped with the milking, but it's more efficient to have one person doing each job, plus this way Laetitia gets to spend time with "les filles" - and then the afternoons doing computer work or odd jobs that I didn't get to in the morning. On Sunday, Laetitia was down at the main village square selling her cheeses, and I walked down to meet her and to do a little sightseeing on the way. There are hiking trails all over here, and so instead of following the long and winding road I cut off to the south and directly down - steeply down - towards town.

I'd seen a sign saying "this way to the château" but thought it might be just a large home, since this is a pretty out-of-the-way corner of the world, but discovered the ruins of a true château dating back to the 15th century instead, one that belonged to the Alleman family, including a landed knight named Jean and his son Siboud, who was the prince-évêque (which I am translating as "Lord Bishop") of Grenoble, a role that several other Allemans filled over the centuries.

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

It's a small town, with a bakery and a combination newspaper/cigarette shop/lottery/grocery store facing each other just off the central square on the main road where most of the houses are. There was a restaurant once, I was told, but the owners divorced and no one ever got the business going again. There's a primary school and day care, but the older children have to take the bus to Vizille. The church is well outside the center of town, which is unusual, and I think it used to be a hospital or convent, as it's a large blocky building with a more formal church-steepled front end. I plan on walking there some time, just to see what's there to see. The weather's turned hot again, and since my exploring time is post-cheeseroom jobs and therefore in the hottest part of the day, I'm not in a rush to check out the church, or follow any of the small side roads to see if they lead to walking paths. There's not much evidence, looking at the thick woods on the steep slopes right outside my window, that there are easy hikes within reach. This area seems to be a "on the way to" place, whether that's heading up to go skiing in the winter or hiking in the alpages with the cows in the summer, or visiting the Réserve naturelle nationale du lac Luitel, the first national protected nature reserve in France. The Romanche river runs down the middle of the valley, green-grey and glacial, to where it joins the Drac and then the Isère at Grenoble.

It's quiet here, and dark at night. I'm going to try to stay awake for meteor-watching tonight, since I didn't see any last night when I stuck my head out of the window at about 2am. Jean said that he saw two right after sunset, as he was smoking his last cigarette of the evening outside on the patio. I'll try that, without the cigarette. I'm not quite that French, yet.

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