We wound around narrow cobblestone paths, walking by local residences with colorful blue or orange or green doors and shutters. Their flowers and vines were neatly tended; even a wildflower rising through a crack between the curb and the street was supported and tied up to help it survive. Pride of ownership was obvious in this clean, graffiti-free place.
The rock promontory at the top of Saignon is the perfect place for a castle to sit; only ruins remain, but you can tell why they chose this spot hundreds and hundreds of years ago. From the top you could see for miles in every direction and imagine a guard detecting the approach of a savage hoard and screaming out to prepare the catapults, or hot oil, or whatever defenses they had at the time.
Getting to that vantage point at the top, even today, is not easy—especially for Alex. This is someone who has been game for almost anything: bungee-jumping head first off a platform in the Atlantic—no problem; learning to snow ski at the ripe age of 30-something—why not? But these steps…these steps were steep, uneven and winding with no rails. The only forgiving thing was that they were wide. So I told Alex just to hug the mountain as she climbed. She did a lot more hugging than climbing, but we eventually made it.
This is where France and America differ greatly: America would have a big, ugly, chain-link fence along that trail at worst, a prefab plastic fence at best. God forbid some idiot tests the boundary and falls and someone gets sued. Maybe France is not as sue-happy as we are, or maybe it’s their own form of Darwinism… either way, I liked it. Alex, on the other hand, was not so sure. “Don’t get so close to the edge!” she blurted, mid-climb, as I took a picture standing a good two feet from the drop off.
After some threats from Alex of turning back, and much coaxing on my part, we finally made it to the top. Having conquered her fear I thought Alex was the better for it, but her first comment was “now how the hell do we get down?!” Needless to say, she hugged that mountain going down just as much as she had on the way up.