As the plane touches ground in Lyon, I’m so glad to come home! Home? I’ve never been to Lyon! But I feel at home wherever our van is and more importantly, where Frank is. Home is where the heart is…
Frank is happy to see me too, having driven 350km on his own from the South of France in the sweltering heat (temperatures reached 45 degrees at midday). We drive on for another half hour to find a beautiful spot for the night, by the side of the Rhone. A quick and refreshing dip in fast flowing water while watching a kingfisher dart past and the sun going down…
The next day, we drive all the way to Lac Leman (lake Geneva), parking up in a little campsite on the French side of the lake. Amazing how fast we travel northwards – it took us 10 months to get to Marseille and then we zoom back up in a few days. We are on our way to Crans-Montana in Switzerland to visit my brother who is spending a few weeks in a rehabilitation centre there, following an extensive operation on his spine, removing a cancer.
Some time in the mid-afternoon, we arrive. The last 15 km are a steep ascent from the Rhone valley, offering stunning vistas at every serpentine turn of the road.
The Swiss have got something right about healing people. The rehabilitation centre is more like a hotel than a hospital, with spacious rooms facing the valley and the snow-covered peaks beyond. Stepping out on the balcony, you can sit in the sun in a deck chair and breathe the crisp mountain air. For the less mobile, an elevator takes you to the top floor from where a little corridor leads outside to the mountainside above, where a path leads around a fish pond. For the more able-bodied amongst the inhabitants, hiking paths start right from the centre into woodlands and up the mountains. One week into his stay here, my brother Karlo has made great progress in his recovery, so we take the stairs instead of the elevator when we go up the five floors to feed the carp.
A day in the life of the rehabilitation centre includes about 4 hours of programme individually designed and agreed upon with the client, to include physiotherapy and specific training to build up muscle, but also things like Tai Chi, Accupuncture, meditation, therapy, massage etc.
Karlo’s son Anselm is there too and we spend the afternoon all together, sitting on the balcony, chatting, laughing and joking, and walking around viewing the rehab centre and watching the carp snap up the bread which Karlo scrumped from the canteen.
Karlo invites us for dinner. They are equipped to deal with visitors – it’s really like eating in a good quality restaurant, including that we get table service!
Connections between us have never really been untroubled, and in the last 15 years they have been downright awful. I won’t go into why that is, it’s not important. What is important is that something fundamental seems to have shifted to allow us to meet in the ‘Now’, to enjoy each other’s presence without the dark shadows that have been around for so long. There is a lightness, joy and clarity between us as never before. What a precious gift. It really confirms to me that any ill feelings harboured for too long are a great waste of time and energy.
That evening, Frank and I leave Crans-Montana with our hearts brimming.
For photos of this chapter, go to flikr
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One early morning, I go on a 3hour horse ride with Fabien, who together with his wife Cissou runs an equestrian centre just outside Merindol. We pass through the village and up through the woods into the hills. Instantly, we are enveloped in the heady smells of rosemary and thyme, the silence only broken by birdsong and the buzzing of many insects. It is great to experience landscape from the back of a horse – I’m higher up and can see further, while Pepito, my horse, is taking care of the rocky path. I had imagined the hills to be very dry and hot, with very little shelter, but Fabien knows a way that is luscious and green. We descend down a steep path into a gorge, where the tree branches create a green tunnel and the path is soon joined by a chatting, bubbly brook.
We return to the plains some 5km further east of the village and make our way back home via the wide floodplains of the Durance.
(There is a plaque by the old castle above Merindol. Besides pointing out landmarks, it says that the area is plagued by three great forces: The unpredictable floods of the Durance, the Mistral, and the Government in Aix-en-Provence. Imagine the cheek of the local people, writing that on a public plaque! This would not happen in England.)
When we come back to the ranch, Cissou is in the middle of saddling up four little ponies for a pony club and I watch them for a while. The children can’t be more than 4-5 years old, and they each have a pallette of water colours in their hands to paint the horses backsides and bellies, decorating them in all colours. When the ponies are suitably beautified, the children get equipped with helmets and safety jackets. “Have you thought of what song you will sing on your way to the picnic in the woods?” Cissou asks them. After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing, they all leave the farm single file, singing a jolly song. They all have to wave good-bye too – a great little exercise on the horse, freeing one hand from the reins and half turning your upper body around while the horse walks on.
This family is very committed to their farm and they love their 40 horses. All animals look well fed and are calm and contented. This is a great place to go for a horse ride, no matter what level your skills. Here is their web site.
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