We are not in Cannes, Menton, St. Tropez or Nice. This isn’t the Riviera as an extravaganza of tourism, movie stars and casinos. We’re in the western corner near Toulon, heading towards the Pyrenees, an area locked in the seventies even after tourism tried to finesse its way into the storefronts, boulevards and villas. In my heart there’s nowhere like this. My great aunt’s story here is a mistral echo. The genêt, lavender and thyme, opioids and the dreamy haze that captures a pinkish glow bouncing off the calanques and tree shoulders, it’s a history of war and escape, of hideouts and solidarity. There is a peace out of time here. I can taste it in the wine, read it in the trees, feel it in the water.
The port in Cassis was quiet. I remember music even if it was only in my head…I couldn’t humm it for you it was so faint and on a strange musical scale. The closer we came to the calanques, the more concentrated the movement of the water. Miniature waves flipped and curled onto themselves, small folds of foam diamonds and translucent jade.
I can’t remember feeling this calm. The taste of fennel and parsley, the olive oil stretching every flavour. The earth was trying to tell me something, but naive and full of angst, I couldn’t read it. Now, years later I understand this was the beginning of the letting go.
It was on the occasion of my aunt’s death that some of the family decided to come together for the first time and carry her ashes to the sea. The search took all afternoon but we found the place. It felt like a place she would have gone dipping with her friends, in between searching out someone to help organise the rescue of refugees and getting them visas before it was too late.