Resister (Re-edited the day after)
Today, I returned to a town between Montpellier and Nimes, in the southwest of France. This place, known as Aigues Mortes, was at one time the site of the King's port on the Mediterranean before the realm of the French kingdom had been consolidated. In the process of consolidation, the region around Montpellier and Nimes was decimated of its population of non-Catholic-non-Christians, but that is a story for another time. The true reason for my return to this currently obscure town is that in the 1700s, Aigues Mortes was the site of a prison for Protestant woman. One of those women was arrested at the age of 8-10 years of age and was held for 38 years simply because of her beliefs.
In the time that she lived inside this prison, much smaller than my garage and made of stone, she developed a passion for her beliefs and spent her time carving into the stone with her fingers the word "Registrer" which was the word for "resist". It really struck a chord with me when I thought about my themes for the film project of the freedom to be who we genuinely are.
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The last time I went to Nimes, twenty-five years ago, was to take advantage of a "telephone". You see, among the foreign students here there was a network of people who knew where the "telephones" were and how to work them. At that time, there was no internet and phone calls home were so expensive that we could not afford the tariffs. Desperately in need of a warm-fuzzy from time to time, we would risk our status as students here to find a 'phone'.
Typically, one would be sitting in a cafe or a restau-U (University dining hall) when someone would walk up and say something like, "There is a 'telephone' on the street directly across from the post office in Nimes on the street where it faces the park. You pick up the receiver, you insert 2 twenty centime pieces and then you slam the receiver back down three times really hard. When you pick it back up, you will have an international line to anywhere in the world and you even get your centimes back!" With that news, we would head for the train station, buy a ticket to Nimes and be on our way. Of course, the phones often didn't work, but occassionally, they did. The next problem was in finding someone home in your homeland at the corresponding hour of time zone difference. If you got a line, it was often the case that people were not at home, or that you ended up talking with someone that you didn't have on your priority list at the time, but you had called them because they were the only ones you could think of at the time. It was a risky business, and we were often picked up at 3am by the police and taken downtown to have our papers read, only to be released at daybreak. I think the fact that the phone banks often had 6 phones and a line of 20 people waiting for just one of them was probably a give-away.
Anyway, the point is that I went to Nimes one night with my friend Matt and my Mexican friend Eugenia and we found the phone after descending from the train. Matt tried, and Eugenia tried and I tried for hours, but we couldn't get anything to work. Finally, after a couple of hours of looking over our shoulders before slamming the receiver down 3 times really hard, I got a line and tried several people. No one was home, but I got through to a frat house phone in Chapel Hill. As it turned out, none of the people I knew were in the building and my big adventure with the 'telephones' was over.
By the time we finished up, though, the last train for Montpellier had left the station and we had to hitch back home. Initially, I was picked up by a man in a deux-cheveau through the floor of which you could watch the street go by, but my friends stopped a bus right in front of me as I was about to climb in. I thanked the gentleman without floorboards and joined my friends who were climbing aboard a bus that had been converted into a type of RV or roaming home. We had been picked up by gypseys from Holland. In the center of the bus was a man sitting in a chair at a table with a candle burning in front of him. From his seat, he stared at the full moon and never seemed to take his eyes off of it. To this day, I remember being fascinated by his fixation on the moon and wondered just what was going on in his head.
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Today, I met Angie, a Canadian girl from Vancouver as we descended the train in Aigues Mortes. I explained my project to her and ended up doing an interview with her outside the turret where the prisoners were once held. Trusting my seniority and experience, she allowed me to lead her into every wrong turn and dead end possible as we talked about the history of the place. Funnily, nothing there was as I remember it. I had imagined the word 'resist' carved into the wall above a doorway but we could not find the stone at all. Eventually, we were about to give up and move on when we decided to ask in the gift shop if the stone still was on site. It couldn't have been more obvious...right in the center of a room around the hole in the floor where the dumb-waiter was once positioned. Angie and I had a great laugh at how we had missed the obvious and then we went on to have a nice lunch and to share our journey home to Montpellier. She is 21 years old, the same age I was when I last was here.
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Tonight, I came into Montpellier's center to have dinner and ended up staying way beyond the sunset at 10pm. Walking back to my hotel, I stopped to take some night photography of the monuments in the park of Peyrou and turned around to find the same full moon staring back at me that the Dutch gypsy had seen 25 years earlier. I was astonished that my lunar calendar was in synch with history. It truly felt like one of those signs that we find in the universe to remind us that there is more than what we can observe.
(Above: Full-moon over Montpellier.)
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The French press and Dannon are in an uproar about being taken over by Pepsi. I understand that now more than ever. London is stunned by another round of bombings. I understand the fear, but also know that we have to carry forward. I have spent my life resisting oppression, boredom, disease, conformity and death. At any number of stages, it would have been easy to give up, saying as my friend José reminded me "Tout ça pour ça?" (All this just for this?). No, that wouldn't be right, now would it? We have to struggle to leave our mark and leave this world bleeding from our fingertips, having carved our lives from stone.
Categories: travel film Montpellier Aigues+Mortes France religion intolerance memories