It was a clear and cold day, one of the last before going back to work, so we decided to head to the Sainte-Victoire mountain for a walk around the articifial lake that lies at its bottom. The night frost was just melting to damp glow, and it was surprising how wild the place looked, for a lake that was created by human as a reservoir.
The water was high, a metre or two below its maximal level, so we walked in the darker band just bove the surface, where the soil is permanently grey with silt and the poplar trees are dead, but still standing–you can drown a poplar tree, but not topple it that easily, it seems. At some point, we sat just next to the water, above a chilly little bay. The lake was very clear, but its banks so steep you could only see a metre or two away. The banks there are covered with flakes of limestone, and we played at throwing them and ssending them bouncing across the surface. There was one flake, just large and regular enough to promise a magnificent bouncing throw, just before my feet. And then, as I eyed it, I saw an irregular shape, gleaming with the morning damp. The flake held a beautiful fossil: a complete ammonite, with its streaked shell and perfect spiral shape, no larger than a shelled walnut.
Ammonites are not rare, and the Sainte-Victoire used to be a place where everything that fell to the ground would fossilise, down to the soft shells of dinosaur eggs that probably never suspected they could spend three days without decaying, and you could probably have fossilised dinosaur nappies if it came to that–so we got to keep our find. Now we only need a mantelpiece to showcase it on. For now, the Internet will have to do:
As we came back home, we stopped to buy some roasted chestnuts on the street. We asked for a small bag, and the seller replied:
'Let's see if you know the rest of the song!'
His smile was half-way to a shrug, as if he'd given up on some mildly important cause already and was classifying it as 'no big deal, but failed'. He started to sing as he filled the bag:
'To pay my mother's bills
I sever Jack and Jill…'
'It sounds beastly, I know
But I'm a nice fellow!' we sang back at him.
The man's smile was enough to make everybody's day. 'Ah, I see the younger generation is keen and ready!' he said, and we left. Who had disappointed him by not knowing the words to Executioner's Blues we didn't learn, but it's nice to make someone happy, and even better to be called 'the younger generation' when thirty has been creeping towards you for a while and you're trying very hard not to panic.
Besides, you don't go home with chestnuts and an ammonite in your pocket every afternoon. The holidays ended well indeed.