In August, a week of camping on a small lake in Aveyron, part of the Occitania region, provided welcome relief from the heat wave roasting Europe. Aveyron is about 2-3 hours from where I live. One of the least populated areas in France, Aveyron is known for Roquefort cheese, knives, and charcuterie.
Located near the town of Brusque, our camp was nestled beside a lake that looked very much like a Monet painting. Even though we were in the Aubrac mountain range, the days were still hot, but the cool nights made sleeping wonderful.
During the week, our party swelled to 15 members—four families with children from our housing complex in Castelnau-le-Lez, a set of maternal grandparents, a friend of Hugbug, and me. Given how everyone considers our dog, Spot, to be one of the family, I probably should increase the number to 16.
The camp had incredible options for kids of all ages—from water sports like paddle-boating, kayaking, and swimming to tennis and hiking. Activities were organized by age group, so parents could drop off their kids and then relax without the need to entertain or supervise them. Evenings typically included some kind of entertainment at the center stage.
Toward the end of the week, Expresso and I went exploring in the village of Brusque. The remnants of a 12th-century castle were still in evidence along with part of a 13th-century church spire. I was impressed by a building on the river’s edge that was only 10 feet wide but four stories tall. I could only imagine who got stuck with the uppermost bedroom!
Given the French style of living communally, we caravanned together to the camp from Castelnau-le-Lez. We also ate midday meals and dinners together. Lots of wine made it to the table for meals and the apero party, de rigueur before dinner. And I tried some new cheeses, all of which I liked. The teenagers, who escaped meal preparation, were stuck with washing dishes.
Everyone but me stayed in a tent cabin. I stayed in a tiny apartment that remained surprisingly cool day and night, even without air conditioning. Given that my unit was no more than a stone's throw from the tent cabins, I could easily join the group when I felt sociable—for instance, for sunbathing at the lake’s edge in the afternoon. Or I could choose to play the "old age" card when I wanted to spend time alone.
But I was never really alone. A group of special-needs adults was also being housed in my building, and usually a half-dozen or more of them were sitting on the front balcony watching the nonstop parade of campers walk to and from the lake, the restaurant, the welcome center, the tennis court, the river, and so on.
They seemed to keep track of my comings and goings as well. Although I spoke my greetings in French, I couldn’t always understand their responses because of my limited language skills. But smiles are universal, so all of us understood that much.
Toward the end of the week, Spot escaped from my unit. I had thoughtlessly gone out to the porch and left the front door ajar. When we discovered Spot was gone, Attenderella and I panicked. She ran to the lake and along the river, fearing he might get lost in the forest.
I stood outside my front door, cursing myself for my carelessness and trying to figure out where to begin my search. Then I saw one of the men in the special-needs group trying to get my attention. He understood my problem and pointed to the path Spot had taken.
Much to my relief, I found Spot immediately. But then I had to find Attenderella. That took much longer. Finally, though, we were all reunited, and I no longer had to berate myself for letting the dog escape.
Afterward, I went back to thank my neighbors who had watched the scene unfold. They were all smiles when I told them in my best French that Spot had been found. I was struck by the sweetness of my new friends, who celebrated the dog’s return with me. If I’d had a bottle of champagne, I would have opened and shared it.
On our last day, a thunderhead rolled in quickly and, after ominously darkening the sky, dumped buckets of rain on the camp. Hail the size of marbles rolled around on the grass, sidewalk, and beach. Two hours later, the rainstorm was over.
The hail quickly disappeared, just like the seven days at camp. But for sure the memories—like exploring the centuries-old town of Brusque, wading in the Dourdou River near the lake, and partaking of the extraordinary food and wine—will remain.
James Matthew Barrie, a Scottish writer and the creator of Peter Pan, said, “God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December.” Next winter, when the mistral, an exceedingly cold, dry north wind, sweeps down through the Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean and chills me to the bone, I’ll look at my camping photos. They will keep me warm.