It's hard not to romanticize this place that has been a distant part of my family for a hundred years. There is so much myth and mystery mixed with real life--that I hardly know where the legend leaves off and the real stuff begins. In a nutshell. My great, great grandfather left Les Aldudes, a valley in the Pyrenees mountains on the border of France and Spain, back in the late 1890's. So many young people left at that time--and he came to California and eventually made a life for himself there as a baker.
By 2005 my French Basque cousins had almost all moved away from the valley, seeking work in busier parts of France, and the house (for Basques identify deeply with their homes) went on the market. The nostalgic Californians (my brother, dad, and uncle), 100-years-removed, bought it.
Basques being an extremely loyal group, treat us like family when we return. I am the only one who speaks French, and few in the community speak English, which makes me the Official Translator when we visit. My dad's an extrovert; we often joke that my college education, which had a lot to do with France and French and chaussons aux pommes, keeps paying off in terms of real words. So Many Words!
One of my favorite memories of this home was when I was eighteen and studying French in Angers. I traveled there for Christmas to stay with my cousins and was stunned when I realized that presents had nothing to do with the holiday--just church, just family, food, and reflection. That has always stayed with me, and I had a small hope that my family and I could walk into that space once again, leaving behind the city's bustle and focus on stuff, and just come here and be...
Our time in Les Aldudes is always a reminder of life lived a different way--so close to nature. This trip we were able to pray a bit more deeply, to rest and laugh, and spend time each day in the hills.
Romantic as the house may seem, and it does have awesome bones, truthfully it's a bit like camping indoors--what with the wallpaper literally dropping off the walls in chunks, the carpet so thin we're always tempted to just peel it up, and a heater/hot water system that requires manual administration... Plus there's the one bathroom that has an awful brown/pink color combo going on, and the other with carpet actually on the ceiling... :)
But who cares about the carpet and the wallpaper? I don't. I just hope it doesn't take us another nine years to save our money to travel there again...
On second thought, even if it does, I'm glad that such a place exists, even if I can't often be there. I believe that prayers make this world a better place, and that beauty combats evil by the moment. Just the fact that Les Aldudes, wrapped this moment in frost and ferns, exists adds goodness to you and to me.
Published: January 6, 2015 | Filed under: Far