Monday, December 17, 2007


This morning I set off for the marche only to find, when I had gotten a few hundred yards down our lane, six or seven men and at least that many trucks, tractors, and assorted other vehicles blocking passage. One of the trucks was engaged in backing slowly up the lane, so I stopped and waited to see what would happen next. The driver arranged the truck on a slightly slopped driveway to my right, and I took my foot off the brake to proceed. Then I looked up: a mound of earth at least as high as my car was neatly piled in the center of the road.

Our lane is, at its widest point below our house, not more than 10 or 12 feet wide. For most the journey downhill, we have a stone wall to the right and a drop of several yards to the left. At the bottom of the hill the lane broadens to as much as 15 feet, enough for two small and cautious cars to meet and pass. This spot was in one of the narrower bits.

The men, all nattily turned out in orange coveralls with reflective stripes, had gathered on the side of the road to watch my progress. When I hesitated at the pile of dirt, they eagerly, enthusiastically guided me to the left where, indeed, there was a pitted gravel driveway. Camouflaged by a stand of cypress trees and a few large orange earth-movers, it wound away from the lane and then, after a generous vertical dip, back up to it. I turned my car along it and drove slowly past one of the orange-suited men, who stopped me for a moment and leaned down to my open window.

Dans deux jours, Madame, vous aurez la route du Champs-Elysees ici. In two days, this will look like the Champs-Elysees.

I laughed, and he laughed, and so did all the other orange men.

When I came back from the market, I came along our lane from above the house so as to avoid the construction. A curve or two before our driveway I found two signs placed in the roadway. The first expalined that the road was closed in 400 meters. The second sign was an arrow, and it read Deviation. The arrow pointed to the right, into a sharply sloping thicket of bamboo and blackberry briars. I could only surmise that my friend from the Champs-Elysees had been there.

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