The Lost Van and the Art Village

Our Ferry from Corsica arrives back to Toulon, south on the French mainland. It’s early enough to still be dark and I’m feeling stretched from lack of sleep, having spent a wakeful night on a mattress I’ve dragged from the top bunk. But we stumble out and make our way out of the cabin decks and in the general direction of the car decks. But which one? We came up from our deck in a lift, but there is more than one. I definitely recall a large, shiny space when we exited the lift- but where is it?

We begin to search all exits, trying staircases, of which there are many, descending to car decks, lorry decks, dead ends. Which deck is ours? Which side? And which end? We squeeze between gigantic lorries, searching for our van. Outside in the half-light of dawn, vehicles are streaming out and off while we continue to do a frantic search for our campervan. We’re starting to despair as we go back upstairs to try again to find our lift area- then we spot a group of foot passengers in a waiting area which is…shiny, spacious and outside some lifts. At last! We push through the foot passengers and go down to the depths. And there is our van, in almost solitary splendour except for a few vehicles trapped behind it, their drivers waiting for us to arrive and a few extremely irritated ferry crew members. We’re sheepish as we drive off and I’m mouthing ‘sorry’, although it doesn’t feel entirely our fault.

We’ve to navigate Toulon in the half-light then off up the motorways. We’re heading towards home now, although France is big [by our terms] and we’ll be making a small diversion to see a friend and ex-colleague of Husband’s. Nick was an art teacher and is now a successful painter living in a small village in the Minervois area. This entire region is almost entirely given over to wine production, with a spot of tourism thrown in- as well as art, of course.

The village where Nick lives, Caunes Minervois, has a community of artists including potters as well as painters. We arrive mid-afternoon and search for the village’s handy campsite, which, as Nick has established for us, is open. The entrance isn’t obvious, although it’s by the sport complex, which is commonplace for a municipal site. There’s nobody manning reception but we’re directed, via a notice, to find a place and see someone later. The site is tiny but lovely, with a view of the cute village. It’s beautifully maintained and has everything we need- and all for 12 Euros per night!

Husband strides off up the village to see his friend while I get an hour or so of sleep. We wander up to Nick’s cottage later in the evening, strolling through the lanes. It’s hilly, narrow streets flanked by stone, terraced cottages. There’s a stone cross and a beautiful bell tower on the church. It’s all idyllic. Opposite Nick’s house, on the sloping lane, lives a potter, Lionel- examples of his ceramics adorning his front yard.

The inside of Nick’s house is as quaint and cute as everywhere else, with small rooms leading on to a courtyard partly covered by a vine. The rooms are filled with his art works, large canvases, swirling and vigorous. Across the courtyard is his huge studio, rustic and criss-crossed with beams. It’s warm enough to sit in the courtyard to eat.

It’s late when we walk back through the village to the campsite. Nick has warned us that the streetlights will be off and indeed, it is dark, but there’s enough light to see to walk and there’s something lovely about the ancient village, silent in the dark.

In the morning Nick comes to us for coffee and we ask to buy a painting, making a quick second visit to the studio to choose. It’s tricky! Nick’s work is shown in many, prestigious exhibitions, including the Saatchi Gallery and Brazilian locations. https://www.saatchiart.com/account/profile/938067 But we reach an agreement and he wraps it carefully for us to take away.

I feel reluctant to leave but we must make progress north now that Autumn has taken firm hold so we bid Nick ‘au revoir’ and we’re off again…

You can visit Nick’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=nick%20rands

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

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