There’s nothing quite as existential as skimming above a forest lake in a crotch harness. I took advantage of the few weightless moments I had left. As my French family on the opposite bank sharpened into focus with shouts and cheers, I closed my eyes one last time and took in a shot of warm sun and breeze.
In France it’s called l’accrobranche; in English I’d call it coked-out monkey training. Basically you climb 30 feet above the ground and bounce from tree to tree via bridges, Tarzan swings, zip lines, and anything else the employees have dreamt up while enjoying their special stash of herb-de-Provence. Despite finishing the course in a dehydrated delirium, the adventure and beautiful setting of it all put it in the win column. My crotch does not share this sentiment.
Back at the house, in the midst of so much intense family action Charlotte and I promised ourselves a quiet getaway to one of the small medieval towns nearby. We made our choice and hopped in the car. I was so lost in conversation I didn’t notice we’d driven ourselves directly into every south of France postcard ever. Vineyards as far as the eye could see, reminding me of the corn fields I once saw driving through Iowa. As we passed by we got intermittent glimpses of the immaculate symmetry of the planting rows, crisp lines of beige soil alternated by deep greens receding far back toward the hills in the distance. As we flipped from one postcard to the next, I said to Charlotte something she’s gotten used to by now: “God I wish my mom could see this”.
We drove through cute town after cute town, one of them so tiny it took me longer to pronounce its name than it did to drive through it. Our destination was Lagrasse, a city built around an abbey from 799 (that’s the year, not a sale price). A 12th century bridge leads you into a web of winding streets that’s far removed from modernity and even further removed from the tourist map. A sign proudly announces it’s received the government’s “One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France” award. Having seen plenty of country villages Charlotte didn’t necessarily agree; as for me I was busy picking out real estate for retirement. When we arrived in what must’ve been the town square, classical music flooded out of an open shop window as a girl practiced piano. That was tingle # god-knows-how-many.
Finally, our last blog-worthy item was thanks to grandma’s 90th birthday. Her gift was a chartered tour in a 4-seater plane above Carcassonne and the two seats in the back were generously offered to us, the newlyweds. I remember my first reaction on the tarmac being damn that is a tiny, tiny airplane. I’d never been part of a takeoff procedure that included helping the pilot push the aircraft out of the hangar. If this thing needs help getting out of the garage how the hell is it gonna get us up in the air?
The view was amazing. I’m talking of course about my little wife wearing a huge headset with microphone; that was precious. The rest of the sights weren’t bad either. To fall ass-backwards into such a unique way to see my new country was beyond lucky. We cruised over the castle we’d just walked through the day before, then over the Mediterranean Sea a bit, and of course grandma’s neighborhood so she could try to pick out her house. One hour and several tingles later we were back on land pushing toward our parking space.
The days passed quickly and before I knew it we were standing with aunt Martine and her husband in the train station saying goodbye. Two different cancellations forced several false-alarm farewells, and due to the 4-kiss tradition in the south it was twelve kisses each before we finally left for Paris. I suppose it was the perfect way to say a big au revoir to my first south of France adventure. All of the small annoyances of the trip – my mistakes in French, the family squabbles, the back-bending guest room mattress – fade quickly against the sheen of grander experiences, the kind that shine at least as bright as the veneer of any Meg Ryan flick could.