Vaucluse – Vallis Clausa – “Closed Valley”
We walked out of the station sniffing the air. It was the end of April and the Provencal sky had a whiff of mistral about it; luckily the cold north wind that blasts down the Rhone valley to assail Avignon was not blowing. It had been 12 years since I’d seen this sky; in the distance above the trees loomed the giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux, dominating the Department of Vaucluse from its height of almost 2000 m. And 12 years was the time Rose and I had lived on the flank of that same mountain.
The first records, for Avenio, from which Avignon is derived, are from 1st century BC Roman texts. Avenio means “town of violent winds” or “town of the river”. Avignon’s rich history dates back to the Neolithic era when people lived in the area called Le Rocher des Doms in the centre of the city. Avignon’s situation on the Rhone River has made it a port since the Celtic-Ligurian period – in the centuries before (Palace of the Popes Wikipedia) the Roman occupation – when it was called Cavares. It remained a major Roman centre until around the 5th century. The magnificent Palais des Papes is testament to the role the popes who ruled from here, played throughout the medieval period.
The new TGV station in Avignon was impressive, a giant cocoon straddling the rails. We breathed a sigh of relief. We’d almost missed the stop and could have been on our way to Marseille. As arranged, we had met our friends Suzanne and Chris on the train at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. On the trip south we caught up and time slipped by. Suzanne, Chris and I decided to go to the bar for a coffee. They got theirs and moved off. I was still waiting for mine when I heard the announcement: “Avignon!.. Avignon! . . Trois minutes d’arret!”(Three minutes stop). What, already? Couldn’t be. We hadn’t been that long on the train, surely. Panic. I grabbed the coffee and took off back to my seat where I was surprised to find Rose, frantic, by herself. Suzanne and Chris hadn’t come back, where were they? No time to look for them as the train had already stopped at the station. We grabbed our bags and struggled them to the platform, scorching coffee in one hand, luggage everywhere. Should we take their bags, which ones were they? At the last moment they arrived and hastily quit the train just before the doors closed and it headed off to Marseille. Apparently I’d rushed past them in the bar without seeing them and they hadn’t realised we were in Avignon until the last minute. A near thing. Welcome to Provence.
© Richard Carroll