‘Well, I have a farmer set out from there in a story I have written.’
‘Really?’ He laughs. ‘I happen to know some farmers in Haudainville. But there is still nothing there.’
Well, yes and no. There is the beginning of a story there and I want to see this natal place.
But Fred proves his local knowledge is on the mark. But I get ahead of myself. It’s not light until 0830 so I linger in bed and don’t rush to get going. I will be walking up a country road shortly and don’t really want to be doing that in the dark. Besides, I have been awake most of the night reading as I try and put aside my jet lag and the last of that headache.
When I finally hit the road at nine the cloud is trying to lift though I was expecting far too much from the weather forecast which suggested I might see the sun. It never happened. However it has fortuitously turned out that the road on which my hotel is located happens to be the track out of town which takes me to Haudainville. Fancy that. So off I trek in the fog and make my way onto the verge where I carefully watch for cars, which at that time of the morning are few and far between. But those which are out travel fast and keep me on my toes. After a while I realize that they are all tiny, tiny cars. ‘Get a Chev for goodness sake’ crosses my mind. You can imagine my surprise when, two hours later I see a late model Camaro swing through a roundabout and growl off up country. I am forced to eat my words.
A three kilometer walk delivers me into town. My first impression is ‘where is everyone?’. It is heading toward ten o’clock and there is little sign of anyone about. Actually there are no pedestrians at all. A few cars swoosh through town. But there are no signs of life in any of the windows. No lights. Nothing. It’s like a ghost town. Bizarre. At best I spot two chimneys with smoke seeping out of them. An hour into the walk around the village I hear a dog bark and a chap yell – presumably at the dog since the dog kept going.
My character (Simon) is keen to get away from the family farm in Haudainville. Its convenient for the purpose of plot. But in walking around this town I come to realize he is keen to get away from this place as well. It’s a small village pressed into the gully of a ridge, sunken into the damp and the cold, the Meuse River sliding its cold green water past its front door. On the one hand I start out quietly pleased to be there and feel some attachment. After all I have been immersed in the place for ten years now. As I stand in a lane overlooked by grey houses all shuttered up and some falling down I decide the attraction probably has more to do with the integrity of writing about a place after walking around it. On the other hand that same lane prompts me to wonder that there is no colour in the town. The vast majority of houses are coloured nothing more than a variation of cement grey – and certainly none on the main street.
After an hour and half I spot two men up a lane having a chat, two cats sitting on a fence and a librarian opening up the library. I walk back up the road I came in on and smell the sty that struck me hard as I came down the hill. Sweet actually, given Simon farmed pigs. It’s a pong mixed up with rotting broccoli. I take a farm track back to town and pick my way through mud rather than risk being on the highway with all those tiny cars buzzing past – the traffic has now picked up. Unlike the mud I was in a week ago, there are no emu, sheep or goat tracks though I do bump into a mob of Charolais cattle which fortunately prove extremely docile, if not a little curious.
I’m glad I made it here. Drab and droll is Haudainville, with nothing to commend it. Except it sparked some ideas for the text and characters, and most fortuitously supports what I have crafted around Simon over all these years. So all in all I am quietly relieved as well as pleased. It’s been well worth the effort.
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