WELL, WE DIDN'T GET FAR today. It's hot and a little humid and I think somehow being down here in a valley instead of up there in the mountains has somehow made a difference. We walked about five miles altogether; stopped to investigate an archaeological museum, stopped for lunch; and decided to stay at the hotel-restaurant for the night, the alternative being six hours more of walking, to Modane.
An interesting conversation with the hotel proprietor at tea this afternoon. We'd been to the grocery-post office whose sign said it opened at 2:30; but by four it still wasn't open. He shrugged. Around here, signs, they don't mean anything, people open when they're ready to.
Are we in Italy, I asked, or Provence? Worse, he said, we're here in Bramans; around here no one really has to do anything, the houses are empty much of the time; people from Netherlands, England, Paris, wherever, come live here for a few months until they're bored; then they go to Morocco or wherever. The towns are rich, but empty.
And it's bad for the people who really are from here; they aren't rich, but the town is classified as rich; so they have to make the best of it.
So it all becomes clear. These towns on the Arc valley in the Maurienne are hyped in the tourist machinery as "authentic" villages in the past; cars are asked to park on the outskirts; there aren't any neon signs or for that matter much street illumination; all that is just fine with me, but it's pretty artificial.
Of course it isn't really artificial at all. It's a logical way for a village to be: tranquil, clean, pretty. We could all wish our own villages to be so; and if more were, this would be normal, and the nagging feeling something's simply been staged for the benefit of a tourist economy would go away.
Most of the towns these last three days, Lanslebourg excepted, have been pretty small potatoes -- one church; one cafe, one hotel if any. Not too many people in the streets; perhaps it's just too hot. Getting from one town to the next has been fine; dirt roads through fields and forests for the most part; often thankfully in the shade.
Tomorrow we'll hit Modane, and from there take a train to Chiomonte for the day. Then it's up and at 'em: climbing back into the mountains for the push to the next big town of the walk, Briançon. I'll be glad to be back up there.