Of old and new
by Philippe Barbe
18 Aug 2021
The buildings have been standing since the 12th century, moss decorating the stones, adding a green touch to the gray granite. The village is quiet.
The last store, the café, closed in the 1980’s. The gas station closed a few years earlier, deprecating forever the antiquated charm of its manual pumping of colorful gasoline into glass cylinders, ending the flow of the combustible liquid into the reservoirs under the simple effect of gravity. The grocery closed in the 1970s. The blacksmith closed in another era.
In this place, I remember people born in the 19th century telling me stories of what happened here around 1850, passed down by their grandparents. Oral histories spanning multiple generations across 3 centuries fading away as the elderly reach the small cemetery surrounded by green pastures. There is a sense of peace and loneliness in this final resting place.
This is one of the last places in France where farmers switched to mechanical tractors in the mid-1970s. I remember hay carts pulled by oxen on furrowed paths.
People pay attention. If it takes an hour to help you, they spend the hour. If it takes a day, so be it.
At the nearest bigger village, the garage is busy. The repair work is interrupted by people bringing in their lawn mowers, cars, tractors… anything with an internal combustion engine… punctuated by the conversation about how it rained yesterday.
The hay harvest is unusually late this year. Maybe the weather is finally settling into the warm day pattern of August, changing the focus from the bad weather to that of a possible drought. I have never met a farmer happy with the weather!
This is why the repair shop is a place where important reflections on life take place. Customers gathering in a circle around the mechanic, all staring at whatever vehicle needs to be repaired, gauging the amount of work that may be needed.
In this place where souls connect, what comes in broken is repaired, be it engine or spirit.
On the winding road, the saw mill is still there. It has always been a mystery as to how it is still in existence as there seems to be few customers, and yet it has stayed alive for over a hundred years.
The hills are quiet, wooded. The little paths are inviting. The little streams dutifully carry their water, bringing life and villages into existence as they merge with further streams to become rivers.
Some tourists bike on the road: a noticeable event in the day, a noticeable day in the summer.
The remoteness brings peace, the old acquaintances of nearly 60 years bring stability and humanity. The stone buildings bring historical continuity.
Through the Wi-Fi hotspot I access the new world, various clouds that do not embellish the sky but are contained in gray warehouses somewhere, nowhere.
Problems need immediate attention, collaborators appear, streamed on the screen, people gathering for a clear purpose who are so far apart that our weathers are as disconnected as we are connected.
The mix of old and new is staggering. The electromagnetic waves ensure business continuity echoing the historical continuity set in the stones.
Materiality has dissolved.
Somewhere, millions of servers are crunching numbers.
Here, every tool used is unique. Each building is unique.
The team spans multiple time zones, ensuring that the sun never sets on our project, while here, dusk marks the end of the day, the appearance of night butterflies, the beginning of the hours where anything that humans touch goes to rest, regenerating themselves for another day.
Over the videoconference, a unique language inflected by multiple accents allows us to communicate.
Here, the local dialect is a disappearing language, swallowed by a uniform diversity.
Generations are gone far afield, driven by rural exodus and the wars, hundreds of miles away.
In the afternoon, a plane crosses the sky reminding me that in a few weeks I will again cross that Atlantic, leaving the old world for the new one, one life for another, one set of relatives for another, one state of mind for another, one culture for another.