Sunday, July 15, 2007
Marguerite & Charles
I just got back from a friend's country house in Ardeche, about five hours drive from here on the winding back roads that I prefer. The area is wild and road access is difficult, but it had been an industrial center during the 18th and 19th centuries due to the waterways that connected the valley to the Rhone river. Now the industry is long gone, and the old stone factories are being transformed into country homes for Dutch and Parisian families.
My friend just bought the place this winter, so we spent the first few days clearing brush and equipping the house. Then we walked the property, which includes a peaceful chestnut forest up on a high ridge.
He had mentioned his elderly neighbors, Marguerite & Charles, who according to the previous owner managed to hang on in their old age over on the other side of the ridge. While we were up there we passed by their house and, sure enough, Marguerite was out watering her plants, so we stopped in front of the gate and introduced ourselves.
She invited us in and offered us some apple juice. Then she explained that Charles had passed away two months ago, and that she would be leaving for a nursing home on Monday. Her husband's family had lived in the house for four hundred years.
"Everything's the same," she said, gesturing towards the valley below as she showed us out, "except there are no more sheep and goats."
It was a poignant echo of the running conversation my friend and I had been having for the previous three days. He was just offered a severance package by a major French record label, and we'd been discussing what the music and recording industry will eventually look like once it restructures in response to the new technologies that have undermined its revenue model.
The technological advances of the past fifteen years have had an enormous impact on the social, cultural and economic landscape. But they're just the accelerated culmination of a four hundred-year economic cycle, unevenly distributed across the planet, that seems at times exhilarating, at times incoherent. Some of us wonder what happened to vinyl. Others wonder what happened to the factories. Still others wonder what happened to the sheep.
Marguerite seemed pleased when I explained that my first name was a Biblical name from the old testament.
"That's good," she said. "We need to bring the past back to life."