Les Saintes Maries de la Mer
I've heard "Life is full of disappointment." So it can be true. I keep an open mind, examining both sides of Fate's coin. I am a dreamer and a doer. I move quickly and rarely sit still. Silence is a comfort to me and I have a natural solitary nature. However, when I find familiar minds I am inspired and often overly talkative. These observations are born of a travelers occupation. I have many moments to myself, even amidst busy foreign streets. So often observed and also the observer, I cannot help but to numerate upon myself, my habits, my continual birthing of an authentic identity.
When I decided I was flying to Europe there was one thing I knew I had to do. At last, I would travel to Southern France and see the legendary white horses of the gypsies in the Carmague of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. This inspiration gave me strength despite my shy heart.
Alas, the best fed fantasies can breed bitter disappointment. I have also heard it said the Universe will answer every prayer with, 'Yes,' ' Not yet,' or ' There is something better.' In this I often find solace.
According to local legend of the Carmague, three biblical Marys arrived at what is now the village of Sainte marie de la Mer from across the Mediterranean Sea. They were Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene with her infant daughter Sara.
I arrived to the Sainte Maries de la Mer busstop carrying with me a backpack full of unnecessary belongings, my tender heart and a passion resolved to experience something I had read about in novels. I imagined it to be like the unicorns who run through the waves of the desolate castle in the fairytale of The Last Unicorn animation I watched over and over again as a youngun'.
When my Mother and I stepped off the bus to Sainte Maries everything appeard more dear than I had dared to hope for. I had little expectations beyond the excitement that I would see these horses dance upon the salt sprayed shores of the majestic Medditeranian sea. Our little cottage proved to be just right and after reheating my lentils prepared the night before in Marseille, I adorned myself in my long flowing linen skirts, scarves, silks and hat all aquired in my travels. I felt beautifully bohemian. I set out to explore the white washed streets of the little village. I was immediately pulled into the wilds of the bird encrusted marshlands that opened a few km away onto the shell littered beaches.
The unexpected element to this excursion was the terrible wind! It blew me to and fro. My skirts tangling over my legs, holding my hat fast to head. I was quite a romantic spectacle. The roar and rush of the wind through my ears was exhilarating. "Well," I thought to myself, "If Varanassi was representative of the fire element at the burning ghats, Praiano of the Water element in its stormy Seascape then Tuscany was of the Earth element in my daily forested Wildcrafting frolics resulting in wildcrafted meals prepared in a traditional kitchen followed by afternoon naps.
So surely, this is the Air element adding its magic touch to my journey." I laughed outloud to myself, the sound immediately consumed by the wind blowing sand over the marsh and dunes into my ears and hair. Next day was just the same and it took much effort to forge my way through the windswept seascape into town. Alas, the Cathedral of Sainte Marie was under rennovation, so I did not meet her idol. I visited the monument nearby and then set out seeking someone to rent a riding horse from. This strategy failing, aghast at my inability to communicate to the Catalan peoples in my rough skills of French, I followed a tour group across the dunes to the highway. Just before darkness descended the horizon, I spotted a stable I assumed was a most prophetic sign as it was named 'Tamaris.' I returned the next afternoon, despite the drisly skies and unhappy grimace of my young french speaking guide, having managed to make a deposit in reservation the night before.
We set out only the two of us, crossing the same marshland filled of flamingos, blue herons, cranes, ducks, seagulls, flickers, birds of all sizes, shapes and varieties. I was in an ecstatic state. As cold and wet as the day was, I felt warm in my old shawl and widebrimed felt hat I had bought from a flamboyant Italian artisan in Siena on another cold raining afternoon. I held the hat on my head with my right hand ducking into the wind, while grasping the reins in my left. At one point my 'trusted stead' decided to turn around and I shouted, " Ánisè!!!!" hilariously into the storm. She was so angry at me, I guessed by her vicious spitting french curses, for not kicking the horses sides to establish my dominance. It was at this moment all my many fleeting experiences of horsemanship came rushing back to me. I nodded assuredly to her that I would behave better, smiling into the rain with sparkling eyes, hopeful we could still carry on.
We rode through the bay waters out to the seashore and the horses hooves walked upon the sea foam on the sand. I could see the bright clouds moving over the glassy horizon and I took an exhilarant breath of delicious 'dreams-do-come-true' preciousness. Ànisé asked me to gallop and I thought this was a dangerous but incredibly fun idea...but my ankle was twisting and pain began spiking into my calf an excrutiating stabbing pain. I became worried I'd break my leg or fall off the horse. I stopped. My words were powerless to explain I needed to adjust the stirrups. The straps were 3" too short for my long gangly legs! I was sitting in the saddle with my knees tucked up under me like chicken wings. Why can't she see? And then, Ànisé turned us back. I halted her and my hopes came crashing down. The storm...time rapidly retreating....not possible to go further if I will not gallop. Oh, the agony of not being able to cooperate in the tongue of French language! I cried a little as we turned back. I would not see the wild horses of my dreams. I've traveled so far and yet come so close, 1 more km and I would have nearly touched those white wild manes....
I have resolved in my heart that I must do two things. Learn to better ride life by horseback and also study how to speak French. I am unsure if the spirit of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer has rejected me. Perhaps this is Fate's way to say, "Not yet, there is someting better." Maybe Sainte Marie looks forward to meeting me afterall. Of all the unexpected experiences I have risen to accomplish these past 2 months of travel from India through Italy into France, this journey was the one plan I made for sure. It has fleeted me. And yet, in a way, given me So. Much. More.