In the footsteps of Charity Selborne

As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking part in the free ‘Learning the Fundamentals’ course on offer at WordPress Daily Post’s Blogging University. Today involves publishing a post which must include ‘a new-to-you element’ by including a media element I  haven’t experimented with yet. I have decided to go with embedding some images from the Getty Images website, a site that I have of course heard of but I had no idea before today that many of their images are freely available to use on non-commercial blogs. Yippee!

Anyone who has dropped in on my last few posts will know that I have been to the south of France and that I am sharing photographs which tie in with locations in Mary Stewart’s novel Madam, Will You Talk? So far, I have written about Avignon. Today’s photos are of Nîmes, and I am going to supplement my own photographs with Getty ones.

To start us off, here is a conversation near the start of Madam between narrator/heroine Charity and 13 year old David:

‘You haven’t seen – well, the countryside? The Pont du Gard, and the arena at Nîmes, and so on? Perhaps you don’t bother with that sort of thing?’

‘Oh yes. I’d love to see the arena – do you know they have bull-fights every Sunday and one of the matadors is a woman?’

‘Well I should hate to see a bull-fight,’ I said decidedly. ‘But I intend to go and see the arena tomorrow anyway, and if you’d like to come, there’s plenty of room in the car.’

In you get then, fasten your virtual seat-belt, and let’s go!

Since I detest driving (as you will know if you have read my post Mary Stewart and the dreadful driving of Miss Camilla Haven) and my husband didn’t much want to drive on this holiday, we booked a half-day excursion with Time4Provence. It was just the two of us and our driver-guide, Gordana, in a large comfortable car. Gordana ensured that we had a lovely morning, plying us with conversation, information and bottled water. We drove straight to the Roman city of Nîmes and like Charity

saw the lovely pillared Maison Carée

which means literally ‘square house’ and is a Roman temple from, if I remember correctly, the first century AD:

We also paid a visit to the Arena. As Charity and young David did,

We climbed the sloping street towards the enormous curve of the Arena, and made our way round half its circumference until we found the way in through its massive and terrible arches… [then] up the main steps, out into the sunlight of the Arena until we emerged in what must have been the ringside seats, looking down into the great oval where the beasts and the Christians used to meet in blood and terror under the pitiless sun. I went forward to the edge and looked down at the sheer sides of the Arena, just too high for a man to leap, even if he were in terror of his life.

Embed from Getty Images

As you can see, while gladiators are no longer a feature of the arena, events are held here (although Orange attracts better concerts because of its acoustics, according to Gordana). Sadly, over 60 years after Madam was published, bull-fights still take place here. Gordana (a vegetarian like me) explained that bulls are selected from Spain rather than from nearby Camargue, because Spanish bulls have horns to the front rather than side of their heads. With its history and present-day bull-fights, it is little wonder that we did not feel any wish to stay there for long – just long enough to picture a happier, fictional past where Charity’s bag is jolted by an American woman, and where David runs around happily but then begs to leave…

A much happier place to visit in Nîmes is its gardens, the Jardins de la Fontaine, and the Roman Temple of Diana. When Mary Stewart wrote her novel, the water in the canals was a problem:

I made my way along the stinking street beside the canal to the beautiful formal gardens which are the pride of Nîmes. The heat was terrific, and by the time I reached the gardens – so beautifully laid out around their stagnant and pestilential pools – even my enthusiasm for Roman remains had begun to waver.

The problem has been resolved, I am glad to confirm! The water is clear and lovely:

Although I saw many irises on my holiday, the lower gardens did not boast much in the way of flowers (it is only March after all) but remained impressive, majestic and restful.

Tucked away in the gardens is the Roman Temple of Diana, although at present there is no cafe next to it as there was when Charity

made like a homing bee for the little ruined Temple of Diana – which has a café just beside it, where one can drink long iced drinks under the lime trees.

but the temple itself seems unchanged from Charity’s description of it. She

went through the crumbled arches into the tiny square of the temple.

It was like being miles from anywhere. Behind me, back through the crumbled archway, was the hot white world with its people and its voices; here, within, was a little square of quiet and green coolness. Trees dipped over the high broken walls, shadows lay like arras in the pillared corners, fronds of ferns lent softness to every niche and crevice. And silence. Such silence. Silence with a positive quality, that is more than just an absence of sound. Silence like music.

If you remember, Charity was a young war widow and while she is in the temple she thinks about her dead husband. Until she is interrupted by someone who turns out to have a major role in the novel…

I sat down on a fallen piece of carved stone, leaned back against a pillar, and closed my eyes. I tried not to think of Johnny… it didn’t do any good to think of Johnny… I must just think of nothing except how quiet it was, and how much I liked being alone…

‘Aren’t you well?’

I opened my eyes with a start.

A man had come into the temple, so quietly that I had not heard him approach.

Enter the man

with murder in his mind… moving, under that blazing southern sun, in the dark circle of his own personal hell

This post is reminding me just how suspenseful Madam is. What a debut novel! What a writer!

Well, that was Nîmes. The Pont du Gard will be next, hopefully before too long.