Garry McDougall – author, poet, traveller, lyricist, photographer, painter, novelist.
Starts With C
Blacksmith and Canon (Volume One, The Viviers Chronicles)
A Blacksmith’s Life (Volume Two, The Viviers Chronicles)
New South Walks Heritage Walks
Great North Walk, two editions. Sold 9000, Australian market only
Pilgrimage series (10 eBooks and paperbacks) France, Spain
Damn! Creative Journey Across Spain
Border and Soul, The Pyrenees (in progress)
Australian Poetry and Short Story
Proposed Documentary Series for TV
Other In Progress:
The Mission (Volume Three, The Viviers Chronicles)
The Intertidal Zone (photography series)
Member: Diverse Poets, Write-On Authors.
Numerous painting & photography exhibitions, from 1978 to the present.
Former Lecturer, Art History, Uni of Western Sydney.
Feature Poet, Sydney Writers Festival, 2017
Numerous performances, Sydney and Wollongong.
Artist Fellowship, Tempere, Finland. Numerous international publications.
Winner, Peter Cowan Short Story Prize, ‘Patting the Dog’, 2015.
Most eBooks available at Smashwords, also at Amazon, Kobe, Apple – some books in Paperback only.
At Perpignan’s Gare Routiere, I hopped aboard a bus bound for Bunyals-sur-Mer, on France’s southern coast. The driver of this enormous piece of transport was a slightly-built, middle-age woman with a weathered face, small eyes and thin arms. Somehow, she would steer us to within a few kilometres of the Spanish border.
I wanted a clear view of the Mediterranean coastline, so I took the front row seat, hoping to avoid yesterday’s sore neck from constant peering out a side window. Drawbacks? With no seatbelt, a sudden stop would propel me into a wall of glass. If I survived a two-metre fall to tarmac, and the momentum of a twenty-tonne vehicle, I win a clear view of the highway and last Pyrenees hills. If I remained seated without accident for the length of my journey, I’d witness people entering and alighting, buying tickets, having conversations and cursing their children as they shuffled clothes and towels underarm, clutched colourful plastic bags and removed prams with difficulty. But otherwise, uninterrupted views.
The bus pulled out, and we joined narrow Avenue du General Charles de Gaulle, straight towards the congested old city centre, our driver all concentration. Gnat-like vehicles popped out of side streets looking for a break in the traffic. Others manoeuvred from one lane to another, our quick-witted captain alert to threats. Cars might park or depart from our shady rue at any time.
We passed numerous Turkish kebab eateries, corner shops and a music store before we took a sharp turn to Cours Lazare Escarguel, a major city artery. I watched her a occupy two lanes, forcing oncoming vehicles to stop, to complete the manoeuvre. Dangerous for the unskilled or timid, she aligned the vehicle for the lane and accelerated.
Perhaps I should sit elsewhere.
Not because I feel endangered, but as a former tour bus captain, I can’t help participate in, and admire, her driving skills.
Don’t become a back-seat driver.
Passing through the edge of old Perpignan, we crossed the Rive Le Tet before joining the Boulevard des Pyrenees with its mix of Nineteenth and Twentieth-century buildings erected during the Third Republic and the Belle Epoque. Glimpsing down a street, I spied the Fort of the Majorca Kings, a mighty palace from past centuries. Once capital for the Kingdom of Majorca, Perpignan’s rulers possessed massive and disparate property portfolios, at one stage including the Balearic Islands, Roussillon, the Cerdunya and parts of Languedoc and the French Auvergne as far north as Mende. A defensive edifice for two centuries, the brutal complex, a ‘palace’, is the city’s principal tourist attraction.
Next came suburban Perpignan, a mix of belle apartments and discrete private homes dotting the hills to its south. Exiting the small city, we eventually met a roundabout. Our driver ran the circuit before turning on Rue Maillol for Angeles-sur-Mer and its popular beach. However, high volume traffic clogged the way. Vehicle build-up meant its exits became blocked. Stuck where we swung into an avenue, an on-coming truck blocked our swing to the coast. Its driver decided to push his luck by attempting to cut off our passage.
Our driver occupied enough of the lane to declare a face-off.
The driver’s ‘bad etiquette’ (or worse) might work with another vehicle, but on a crowded roundabout, no bus would go into reverse. J’mai!
The truck backed up, defeated.
‘C’est bon, Carmel.’
What the –
A fellow attempted to cross the crowded road carrying a long ladder, caught in the traffic, lost and uncertain, balancing the long implement, undecided whether to retreat, advance or climb aboard our bus.
‘Merde,’ said Captain Carmel under her breath.
Our drive through Plage Angeles-sur-Mer met bicyclists, skate-boarders, motor-cyclists and buzzing beachgoers. Holidayers meandered the pavement in outlandish bright clothes, licked ice creams, dancing and jiving around the stop. Stalls, surf shops, flags and signage blocked my view, but yes – the sea, sand, and salt on Perpignan’s outskirts.
A spicy mix of voices gathered at the bus door. A crowd. French voices. English voices. Elderly voices. Excited, young voices. All around me the clitter-clatter and clammer of entering disordered and civil. Customers asked the driver: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Would we be going to –?’ ‘When would we get there?’ and ‘An afternoon return bus?’ ‘Is this is the right one?’ ‘What time will we arrive at Bunyals and Colliere?’
Courteous and animated, unrushed, she fielded all enquiries with ease, our circus of colourful clowns, pink elephants and verbal acrobatics taking seats.
‘Carmel. Quel jour,’ said her friend in a bathing suit.
And ‘oui’ again, not interested in taming that lion; she had a bus to drive.
Setting off, her passenger-friend stood beside her, talking freely about this-and-that. Whiffs of Eau-de-cologne, salt and damp towels permeated the interior as we climbed out of Angeles-sur-Mer. A sandy beach inhabited by sunbakers, swimmers, and promenades appeared below. To sea, yachts caught the breeze and motorboats skated the waves. We passed olive groves along the slope before tracing a narrow, winding road to a hilltop. Vineyards occupied much of the thinly-vegetated slopes, the next gully virtually unoccupied.
Soon, we entered colourful Colliere, worthy of a Mattise or Dufy painting, contrasted a few kilometres later by the sturdy, naval port of Port Vendre.
Ah, the Mediterre. Land of sun and sea-battles.
At a next bay, once used as an explosive’s testing area, the fear of unexploded ordnance long kept the general public out. Yet, sandy beaches are rare and valued in France, so it’s reopening (sweeping reform), included an extensive car park and heathland path to the beach.
But no bus stop.
Carmel drove into the car par to pick-up and drop-off passengers. With one way and out, exiting was a mix of invention, innovation and opportunism. With few parked cars about, nevertheless, someone’s white van obstructed our turning circle, the likely culprit an amiable fellow chatting with a woman on the footpath.
‘Arrg!’ she said before beeping the horn.
The van’s driver scrambled to move his vehicle.
By now, passengers keyed into her trials, shouted encouragement, the English-speakers looking on, language timid.
‘Tough day,’ I said to my English-speaking neighbour.
We continued along the narrow road south, Carmel’s ear bent to long and animated commentary and a talkative passenger, her replies short and cheery.
How does she do it? Talking and driving is a nightmare.
Blocked traffic. Couldn’t see ahead.
For twenty minutes we sat, edged forward, and stopped again.
‘Anyone know a good song?’
Once we rounded a high corner, a line of cars snaked up the hill without any evident reason. We waited, Carmel chatting with baffled passengers who whispered and speculated on the probable cause. After a while, conversation fell to the state of the vineyards and our cheery views.
My God. What composure.
Without an urgent need to arrive at Bunyals-sur-Mer, interest returned to the mysterious blockage ahead. But Carmel would be late, her standard ten-minute break wiped out. If she arrived in Perpignan overtime, few inspectors appreciated excuses, or reasons, for broken timetables.
Fortunate me, sitting on the tail end of the Pyrenees before it dipped in the Mediterre. My journey along its length allowed a generous four-week time limit. Yet its ‘rules’ would be testing too, like last autumn’s long-distance walk on the Camino de Santiago. With the stresses and strains demanding inner voices gave me contradictory advice. People help you, and block you. At the time I thought, what else will go wrong?
With this occasion, passengers gathered at the front of the bus, close to Carmel.
‘Still cars coming up the hill.’
We edged forward to a first sign positioned across our laneway, informing us of ‘Reduced Traffic Flow’.
‘But why? What is it?’
‘A breakdown,’ said Carmel.
Oui. Ahead, people in blue attended to a broken-down car stopped on a narrow section, the Emergency Services people chipping in with traffic control.
‘Won’t be long now.’
And indeed, soon after, we edged past the injured vehicle and pushed into Bunyals, the final stop. She declared: ‘We’re here,’ and everyone applauded.
‘Thanks so much.’
‘You’re a darling.’
A triumph. Carmel demonstrated that you need the where-with-all, a heart, a working brain, local sensitivity, toughness, patience, and sometimes impatience for travel. I only hoped during my own upcoming trials I could conduct myself as well as her. She had the where-with-all, the heart, brain, sensitivity, toughness, patience, and the impatience to make a memorable journey.
She possessed soul.
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Text in this post: © Garry McDougall
Published with the permission of Garry McDougall