Between clouds

We're back from a few days in Hyères, a small seaside town where my grandparents once had a house built. As holiday places go, this is one where all cares seem to vanish at the door, a place where sitting around and doing nothing takes on a ritual quality. There are he breakfasts on the terrace, the reading afternoons near the sea, the ice-creams and the walks in the gardens, and the evening at the restaurant at the other end of the beach.

The house is on an isthmus, a rare geological formation that looks from above as if an island had sprouted two long arms and clutched the shore, enclosing a salty lake that looks like a little sea of its own, populated by flamingoes and elusive fish and gulls. The larger arm, the one the house sits on, is still very narrow; there's just enough room for the beach, a couple of houses, dunes covered in weeds and pines, and the road by the lake. In one evening, as our friends and ourselves usually do, we took the walk along the beach to reach a little cluster of houses that calls itself a port, have a meal at our favourite restaurant, then walked back after the night had fallen, in near-complete darkness, trying to tread as steadily as we could on the beds of sand and seaweed. The sky was very cloudy and even darker than usual, and then one of our friends pointed to the horizon and practically shouted, 'Look at that, it's–look–wow!'

The moon, that's what it was–a full moon just barely starting to rise, magnified by the horizon until it looked like an enormous gold plate turning to ivory as it rose. The reflection had dug a gleaming trench in the sea, a wide beam that stretched down to the beach. In the large disk of light around the moon, the clouds were etched in pitch-black and silver, so unusually framed that we couldn't tell which strip of darkness was a cloud and which one was the naked sky.

For several minutes, we just stood there, waiting for the moon to finish its game of blinking between clouds, so we could see the whole of it. When it finally appeared, it was striped like Jupiter, but its entire outline was visible, and its golden reflection was still burned into the sea.

A rising mon doesn't look like the mirror it is. It looks like a window on another world of perpetual daylight. Walking back in the now-clear night, we acted as if it was just another beacon, but for a few moments, we looked in another universe, wondering how we were even permitted to see it.


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