Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chemin du Paradis

Today we went for a hike with friends, a school friend of G. and E.'s and her mother. They led us up a trail that we had heard about but never taken: the chemin du Paradis. It winds--winding is too gentle; it switchbacks--up the mountain from the village of Bar-sur-Loup to the perched village of Gourdon. Gourdon commands the mouth of the valley of the Loup River: it perches, high, high up on it crag, and is full of tourists in the summer, and shops selling gingerbread and perfumes and jam and olive oil.

The tourists arrive, mostly, by the busload. This morning it was just us and a few French families hiking up the mountain, switching directions every few yards or so. We started off at the edge of the village and followed the side of the hillside for a while, then began to climb, and then to climb some more. As we climbed up the valley below us opened and we saw, first a bit of the sea in the distance, and then Antibes pressing against the shore, and then we looked down at the wandering lanes of Bar-sur-Loup, and then, finally, directly down into the valley below: Pont-du-Loup, with its railroad bridge blown up during the German retreat in 1944, and up the gorges du Loup, the river canyon, hemmed in to the north by a granite face and guarded, to the east, by the solid, sturdy pic des Courmettes.

We came home and found, waiting for us, news of a long and well-lived life beginning to blink out across the ocean, and photos of another life wondrously beginning in Paris. It seemed cosmically fitting that we had walked the trail of Paradise today. At first, I had translated the name to myself as the trail to Paradise, the trail that led up towards heaven from earth, and I had imagined that the name derived from a time when Gourdon seemed as close to the heavens as a villager was ever likely to get in this lifetime. But then, I paid closer attention to the French and saw that it is the trail of Paradise. It's not going to heaven, the chemin a Paradis: it's the chemin du Paradis, Paradise, right now. It's not some distant goal; it's life at this moment, as you take this switchback. As the bones in your knees click, and your legs burn, and your breath is ragged, and the girls chatter behind you and the French families stop for water and biscuits, and you go up and up and the view opens until you can see up into the valley and down to the coast, as one person we love begins to turn loose of life and another we love just comes into it. Paradise. Here. Now. No waiting.

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