I leave Gare du Lyon for Orange, in the south of France, on a beautiful summer’s morning. There is something cocoon like about travelling on planes and trains. It’s almost as if the closer we are forced into proximity with strangers, the more we feel the need to surround ourselves with a type
of invisible carapace into which the adjacent passengers shall not be allowed to intrude. It’s a function of not wanting to create a situation where we are interact with people whom we subsequently discover we have little in common but, having once broken the barriers, feel that we have to continue to interact.
So, I fly south, at nearly 300 kilometres an hour, superficially insulated from the surrounding world. The countryside flies by silently. Inside there is little noise and few announcement. No airline hostess comes around to serve dinner or wake me up. There are few annoying announcements. The weather is a thing to be looked at rather than experienced. There is no wifi. Both motion and sound are soporific stretching out along the long hours.
My closest neighbours are a family of five Parisians, parents and three children. They pass the journey in a mixture of sleep, games, and desultory conversation. The state of the economy and of France, generally, what they will do on holiday, the American elections, school, security, immigration, Le Pen. He in IT, she a teacher. And three perfect, well behaved children, a boy of about six and two twin girls around 4.
I find France a bit like a time capsule. I have heard these same conversations, for twenty years, about how France is an economic basket-case, about all the social issues now overlaid with issues around security and terrorism. But around and beneath all this, the cultural heart beats on with, apparently, little change. The trains still run, mainly on time except during strikes. Most services seem better than in Australia, including public transport, the internet, health services, schools. Contrary to the mythology people are friendly and helpful. The countryside has a peculiar ambiance which I love, the little villages appearing immutable and unchanging bound in a tradition that goes on and on.
I am disgorged on the platform at Orange. Someone has been organised to pick me up but I don’t know who. I cross under the platform and up the steps. A voice. English with a strong French accent. “Excuse me are you Chris?”. A tall, lean Frenchman of about 20. Mathé is my designated chaperone. I’m led to the car where Mathé‘s father, Fred, is waiting to drive me to Sablet, where Anne Froger lives in the house she shared with Lincoln Siliakus, before his death, 12 months ago. Fred is an older, smaller version of Mathé but both are archetypes of the southern French male, at least to my eyes, slim, dark, gallic. And the antithesis of the traditional fashionable Parisian.
We head first for a local market before we go to Sablet but, first, must divert to pick up a Oui Car for Mathé. It’s one of the French car share systems where people hire out their car to others. It takes us 45 minutes so, by the time we arrive in the others are ready to leave. First, though, are introductions and reunions. There are Serge and Francoise, Anne’s parents who I haven’t seen since I visited them at Blois, where they live about an hour from Paris, 30 years ago. Mimose Riviere and old friend from Paris days is there along with her brother, Leon, They are both from Reunion, a French Territory, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Mimose has found herself a lover and moved to Germany and Leon is on a world tour of sorts, mostly on a mountain bike.
We arrive in Sablet. This is a gathering of mutual friends of Lincoln and Anne, each a little bit of the jigsaw of Lincoln’s life. Meeting the friends of Lincoln and Anne’s that I have not previously met is like piecing together a jigsaw of a beautiful life painted in people and places, each person, each place, each story and picture is like one extra brushstroke on a water colour of a life.
There are 50 people who make up part of the kaleidoscope of his life over the last 34 years, since I first met him in 1982.
For most of human history, the life of each individual was, for their family and friends, a canvas of which they knew each little piece, during times when most were born, lived and died in the same town, village or community.
With globalisation and with the increasingly itinerant lives of many people, many of us cross the lives of those we know for a few fleeting years, sharing houses, work and loves. Then the tide of life bears us apart, to new lives and new friends, often on opposite sides of the world.
For me Lincoln was one such person. I knew Lincoln, briefly, for a few years between 1982 and 1987 when we worked together on the Franklin campaign, in Tasmania, and then fleetingly, in Paris, when we lobbied Gough Whitlam and the Australian delegation, about the Daintree, at the World Heritage Committee meeting, in Paris.
Then for 20 years our lives drifted progressively apart as he moved with his partner, Anne, to Hong Kong and then to Paris and finally to Sablet.
In 2007, Lincoln, Anne and I reconnected when I moved to Paris to work for Greenpeace. I shared their flat for a couple of
months in the Rue de Rennes. After that we saw each other regularly, if infrequently, over dinners, trips to the country and a walking trip around the wineries in the Rhone Valley. Even so, there remained 20 years where I knew little or nothing of his life.
Then this weekend, Anne invited a paraphernalia of their friends from many of those different parts of their lives of the last 30 plus years, to Sablet, almost 12 months after Lincoln died, for the opening of her new workshop focusing on the use of natural plant dyes.
Over 48 hours of conversation, anecdotes, food and wine, the watercolour of Lincoln’s life became a little more complete, each person adding a brushstroke to the canvas of his life as activist, lawyer, friend, husband, writer, teacher, wine enthusiast and much more.
I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Lincoln’s funeral but I feel fortunate, a year later, to have spent an hour at the peaceful spot, among vines and glorious views of the small part of Provence he called home for the last ten years of his life, and where his ashes floated off in the Provençal breezes to some winery in the sky.
While, in some senses, very obvious, the weekend made me realise how little we often know of even those we call our friends, lovers, acquaintances and colleagues and how important ceremonies and gatherings of this type are for seeing more of the rich colours of lives of which we only know a small part.
The weekend consists, apart from the opening of Anne’s new workshop of a feast of reclining in the Provençal sun, eating good French food and drinking good wine. We are in the heart of the Rhône valley a spectacular area of jagged peaks, medieval hilltop villages and, of course, some of the world’s best wineries.
It is here that Lincoln turned himself into a something of a local icon, a well loved figure, writer of wine blogs among other things, including the famous Vino Solex. Linc. and I passed many happy hours, while Anne was slaving away in Paris sampling the wines of the region and telling each other stories that became increasingly full of bullshit with each passing glass of wine and reminiscing about how the two of us each saved half of Australia’s natural environment single handed.
The last time I saw Linc. was in 2012 when I took my Mum, Lynette, to the south of France, her very last trip before she decided she couldn’t manage overseas travel any more. She described her visit to Sablet, Orange, Vaison, and Avignon as one of the highlights of her travelling life and, if you visit that part of France, you will understand why.
The previous time was 2011 when we did a circumnavigation of every winery Linc knew in the area finally ending up at a degustation where the local vignerons taste each others wine, and rate each bottle to ensure that the standard of local wines is being maintained.
I was asked to join which given my voluminous knowledge of wines was about as much use as asking me to fly the space shuttle. After 30 bottles, I was forced to retire hurt (there were 60 bottles in all to taste), since I had imbibed so much wine via both the fumes and the little that you swallow, even when spitting out, that I was managing to speak a mixture of French, English and Spanish each time I opened my mouth…
Thanks for the memories and hasta la vista, Lincoln.
This is Part 6 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:
Part 1 – Leaving on a Jet Plane to Bologna
Part 2 – Of Maddening Brits and Mad Families
Part 3 – Travelling Idiot Style
Part 4 – Explaining Manspreading
The full archive of images used in this post can be found on Flickr here