In my adult life, I developed a fear of the plague. I blame two fictional sources for this:
- The film “Horseman on the Roof”. Apparently it is based on a novel, which I have not read, and is set during the 1832 cholera epidemic in Provence. Something must have gotten lost in translation and/or in my memory, as the latter is absolutely convinced that the story is about The Plague. In all fairness, cholera is pretty nasty, too. The film was made in 1995, and I would have seen it on video some few years later, so I have been frightened for 20+ years now.
- The book “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks. I read it in 2004, and have been *legitimately* frightened for almost 16 years. It actually is about the plague, though the one from the 1600s, not the Black Death of the 14th century. Which just goes to show that whatever century or whatever contagion, they are all awful.
Until literally three days ago, I assumed that the fear of the plague was the same as some of my other phobias, such as the irrational dread of large statues. (Yes, the Statue of Liberty is pretty much my worst nightmare. I choose not to read too much into that…) Turns out, the plague is back.
I am not making light of it. Like everyone else, I am trying to adjust to the ever-changing environment in which the toilet paper is scarce like it was back in the USSR, borders are closing (like they were back in the USSR), and no one trusts the government as a source of correct information (I think I see a pattern…) Unlike many other folks, I spent the last week in France, and gained some unexpected perspective. Spoiler alert: I think that cancer or work-stress-induced-heart-attack are still my more realistic foes in this lifetime.
I had three modest goals for this past week in the South of France:
- To see the newest D’Artagnan statues. Until the last decade, there were three in the world; now there are five. If I had to drive for several hours to a couple of French villages to complete this quest, well, I did. Of course I did.
- To see the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, and hopefully locate the mural of Gerard Philippe nearby. Done.
- To stop by my old stomping grounds in Nîmes. This did not happen. We woke up on the day for which we scheduled this visit to the announcement that the US borders were closing the next day. Supposedly US citizens would still be allowed to enter the country, but tell this to someone with a different family history. This refugee rallied, got on a train from Perpignan to Paris, and flew out of Paris as soon as Delta would let her on a plane. Home is where the dogs are. And a paycheck.
The last official day of vacation, on the way back from Avignon to our timeshare, we stopped at Pont du Gard. I did not intend to stop there, because I had the most vivid memory of my previous visit there. Yes, it was during “that summer that I spent studying in France” https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/09/when-did-the-arc-de-triomphe-start-leaning/. It was such a good day! I mean, I acutely remember it as a *Good Day*. It was June of ’88, the sun was shining, and I was surrounded by friends. Our summer program included an art class, so some were drawing the bridge. I took two photos, which in the day of pre-digital cameras was the rough equivalent of the 19 I took this second time.
We went to Pont du Gard this past week because it was on the way, and we had time. We waffled a little, because it costs $10+ per person to get into the surrounding area. But if I have learned anything in this life it is that you cannot put a price on regret. So we paid and started walking. And there it was, standing since shortly after the death of Christ, towering through millennia over The Plague, my friends and me, my spouse and me, impassively watching people come and go, sun shining, river flowing, and the aqueduct still standing.
It has been almost 32 years. I have lost touch with all but three of the people in that group. Yet on the last day of my “Feast During the Plague”, I felt surrounded by their ghosts. I have never missed KIES Group ’88 as much as I did during that time and in that place!
So, the ghosts of my friends from 1988. The majestic mass of that huge ancient Roman aqueduct from the first century A.D. Spouse and I, having a *Good Day*. And I kept thinking, I’ve had an interesting life. I was fortunate enough to see and be seen at this site twice in the past two centuries. And I am still in touch with three of the people who shared that incredible summer with me, and share the memories of that day. If the plague gets me, I have lived. If the plague gets me, the bridge still stands. Lalalalala….life goes on! And that is how Pont du Gard helped me to deal with my fear of the plague.
 Unrelated to this topic, I love Geraldine Brooks’ books except one. I cannot recommend “The Secret Chord”. It is shockingly violent. I would rather read about the plague of any kind. As of this writing, she has five novels out. Read four of them in this order: “Year of Wonders”, “People of the Book”, “Caleb’s Crossing”, “March”.
 June 28, 1988, to be precise. I know this, because I had to keep a diary in French for class. Apparently I did not swim, because I felt fat in a bathing suit. But it was still a great day!
 KIES—Kentucky Institute for European Studies. Now it’s the Kentucky Institute for International Studies or KIIS (pronounced like “keys”), a consortium of public and private Kentucky colleges and universities which administers a variety of international studies programs in Central America, Europe, South America, and China. It was founded by Murray State University in 1975. Back then, it was just Europe. And it was incredible. That summer changed my life, and unlike many other life-changing events, it changed it for the *better*!
 But I am still betting on cancer or death-by-stressful-job. Not morbid, just realistic.
3 thoughts on “Pont du Gard and the Plague”
What a terrific post!
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