Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Day 8, Samoens

IMAGINE TWO LITTLE dots on the "e" in Samoens, whose final "s" is silent. (Like the "p" in "swimming," my father used to say.)

The town is an old one, once considerably larger, then fallen on hard times, now rebounding thanks to tourism. More sports and souvenir shops than bakeries, always a troubling sign. But a nice town nonetheless.

It was here that Marie-Louise Cognac-Jay was born. She founded the Paris department store La Samaritaine. She made a lot of money, as you can imagine; and she put a lot of that back into her native town.

Especially notable is the garden she endowed, la .Jaysinia, small but elegant, part botanical garden, part arboretum, climbing a hill behind the main street. (Practically the only street, when it comes to cafes and businesses.)

There yesterday we noticed a tall thin rather elegant man, say in his fifties, a typically French-looking man I thought with an aquiline nose and piercing dark eyes. He was accompanied by a beautiful Asian woman, very stylishly dressed but not at all excessively, and a very pretty little girl.

When I first saw them he was seated in an armchair that had been carved out of the stump of a failed tree, the girl on his lap reaching up to kiss him, the wife standing by, camera in hand.

We struck up a conversation and the woman admitted she has secretly photograPhed Mac and me, telling her husband that I was him in twenty years. "I hope your next twenty years are as happy as my last twenty have been, " I told him; "with a wife like yours, I'm sure they will be."

They turned out to be Chinese, living in Yunnan; he's here on a professional tour; he's an ethnobotanist working on a project pooling genetic material of useful plants from all over the world. I told him that my mother was born in Shanghai; Mac told him his wife Margery worked as an antropologist in China.

La monde est petite, the French say with their brilliant originality; it's a small world. As we entered Samoens yesterday, Henry and I, in our automobile (commandeered on the road at Les Allamands), who should we find sipping her green tea in the covered market (active only on Wednesdays) but our Austrian, who we first met in the refuge at Bassachaux a few days back.

She travels with a ten-kilo pack containing a little fireplace, utensiles, change of clothing, and notebooks. She always prepares her own food, cooking it over the metal-pot firepit.

She doesn't carry water; just a wooden cup; and she never passes a source of water, trough or tap, without drinking a cup. She walks an hour and rests five minutes; walks four hours and rests one.

She can't weigh a hundred pounds, is slim, muscular, close-cropped, grey, just fifty, and incredibly strong and healthy. Also incredibly good-humored. She too had photographed us and promised to e-mail the result: when I gave her my card, "Oh, you're a writer," she said; "what do you write?"

"Whatever I like," I told her. "I write too," she said, "but books you wouldn't be interested in, about cats and dogs, and how to raise them, and such."

She should write about her walking, I thought; she has much to teach others.

We stay here today, resting up; our next day's walk apparently involves both snow and a ladder or two. I look forward to it.

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