My first night in Claviers wasn’t restful. If only that cave had a locked door. Every little sound I heard all night woke me up. I was certain a clawed-foot beast was creeping up from the bowels of the townhome fixing to tear my arms off. I’d relax then drift back to sleep when suddenly the room would shake – GONG went the church bells. Every goddamn hour all night long. Our room could have been inside the belfry it was that loud.
When sunlight began to lighten our room, I got up and headed downstairs – straight for the coffee pot. I was happy to find a simple Mr. Coffee maker on the counter, but my happiness was short lived when I realized there was no coffee. I ran a comb through my hair and hoped I’d find some sort of market in the square. I reached for my wallet then realized I’d left it in the car.
The sun felt good on my face. As I navigated the stone path, an occasional voice could be heard from around a corner or beyond a doorway, yet I saw no faces. The mood was surreal. There wasn’t any action at the bocce ball court so I paused and took in the surroundings that didn’t have my full attention the day before. The trees along the stone wall looked colorful under the morning sun as did the clusters of red tile roofs spotting the hills and valley below. After grabbing my wallet, something caught my eye – a naked woman. Actually it was a statue. I walked closer and realized she was standing beside a huge flame. The placard read Monument de la Resistance. It was hard to imagine a peaceful place like this being overrun by a bunch of Nazis, yet easy to understand why the locals would have done anything to drive them out.
My mind was inquiring, but I still needed coffee. I walked down the road toward a building that looked promising, but turned out to be a house. Across the street I noticed the entrance to a cemetery. I’m not one to explore final resting places, especially when on the verge of a caffeine fit, yet this place looked so cheerful and colorful with flowers and unique decorations. My curiosity got the best of me and suddenly there I was – among the dead of Claviers. Most of the tombstones had prominent photos of the dead. These were taken when the people were still alive – during the “prime” of their lives. In many, they wore the clothing of their career such as nurse uniforms and chef hats. This struck me as odd. The more I saw of this, the more disturbed I felt. I turned on my heels and walked out of there as fast as I could.
The village square wasn’t exactly hopping, except for the bell tower which, of course gonged me good once again nearly shaking me right out of my Florsheims. I gave it the finger then searched its stone base for something like an emergency shut off button, which I didn’t see. I looked for a window or door hoping to find an old man sitting inside with his hand on a rope. I’d have done anything at that point including bribery to keep those damn bells from going off again.
My mood improved when I stumbled across a small bakery that was actually open. I prayed to find coffee. Inside, a large woman with stern blue eyes loomed behind the counter as if still protecting it from German invaders. I bid her the obligatory Bon Jour which was followed by a moment of awkward silence. I moved my eyes down to the case and was happy to find it packed with rows of dark and firm croissants. I held up five fingers and she grabbed a paper bag. As her sausage-sized fingers stuffed the bag, I suddenly remembered Claviers was supposed to have an open air market. Donna booked the townhome months before we left and I remember seeing photos on the web site of shoppers crowding the streets buying meat, fish and vegetables. I’d fantasized about joining them – buying food, gathering their recipe ideas, and preparing exotic meals in the kitchen.
“Market today?” I asked, handing her some Euros.
Her eyebrows furrowed and her head shook. Perhaps she didn’t speak English, or she spoke it just fine, but was telling me there was no market today. Or, there was indeed a market today, but it was only for people who liked the bell tower. It didn’t matter because once she handed me that warm bag I knew that I’d be sinking my teeth into the finest treat this country offers.
“Coffee?” With my pinky finger extended, I made a gesture of tipping a cup.
Her eyebrows furrowed again, which I took as my clue to say Au Revoir.
On my walk back, I noticed that most homes had ceramic signs hanging outside their front doors, but the names didn’t look French. Instead they looked German, Scandinavian, or Spanish. That’s when I realized why this place was so dead – it was a second home village and everybody was still at their first home.