Cliff-Dwellers

October 18, 2014 • Encounters, Online Content • Views: 970

By Caroline Wray

I looked out the bus window over the edge of the highway at Rocamadour, a town in the French Pyrenees described by its tourism website as “home to a cluster of buildings clinging to the rock half way up the sheer cliffs.”

It looked to me more like a massive tiered jewelry case than a town. The buildings were squared off, stacked atop one another, iced with a frilly tower-top: layers of drawers with keyhole-shaped doors and windows that must have protected sparkling jewels.

Pretty.

I began to explore the bottom tier, noting that my fellow tourists, armed with orthopedics and neck cameras and sunglass straps, were also drawn to pretty. It appeared that the only jewels I might grasp inside of these drawers were rock-hard soaps, plastic jewelry, fudge, or vintage Coca Cola advertisements (in English). There was no grocery store; a local explained that there was also no doctor, no school. No shortage of creperies, though.

Caroline Wray/TYG

Caroline Wray/TYG

Headed down and away from the main stretch, I encountered a nameless trail that led into the woods. I’d found exactly what I’d been looking for: a route to the real, secluded heirloom of Rocamodour. The path steepened. Would I encounter an old secluded cottage? A field of lavender?

The side of the highway. A still-unanswered question: what is the significance of a well-maintained trail leading from the outskirts of Tourist-Land to a random spot on a winding road?

This place, the fringe of Rocamadour, was still and hot, and mocked me. A rock face jutted up from the other side of the narrow road. I noted a small ledge about 15 feet high. I was wearing skinny jeans and the bottoms of my sandals were slippery. No matter. If I wasn’t going to clutch any organic beauty, I was going to clutch that goddamned perch. I attempted to latch onto the rock-wall on the side of the road, swung legs up in search of a grip, and watched the stone grind and crumble slowly down. My fingers quivered, clawing at ripples in the flat surface. As I rose, rock crumbled beneath my flapping sandals, my stiffened jeans. The scene looked like the beginnings of what would soon be a failed cliff-dive suicide attempt; luckily there was no one around to alert the nearest sanatorium. Miraculously, I arrived at the ledge, and found it remarkably well suited. The rock seat cradled my hips; stone pressed cool against my sweating back.

Caroline Wray/TYG

Caroline Wray/TYG

I sat for a while, enjoying the height. Sunlight dribbled across the Grand Canyon-esque faces reaching up from the other side of the valley. I felt like the image of Rocamadour itself on the side of that highway, carved “effortlessly” into the side of a cliff, watching the occasional car roll unsuspectingly down the street, a marble in a chute.

Caroline Wray ’17 is in Jonathan Edwards College. You can contact her at caroline.wray@yale.edu

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