We know that our friend Gabrielle is in trouble but we don’t know what for, or who with. Strangely I feel that the reason must be related to her interest in the old town, my town, the place where Melissa and I lived. I don’t know why this came to my mind: the clue must be there. Why was Gabrielle interested in that small place, out of thousands of much more glamorous towns and cities? Why that spot? Was it really because of her interest in history, in that land wounded by so many battlefields? Yes, she is a historian. And I ponder: what does it mean for a being who live for millennia? What perspective does she have on our history?
The small town grew from a medieval market place to a garrison town on the eastern marches of the kingdom, and on to an industrial town in the nineteenth century. I am looking for something unusual, something that may have attracted Gabrielle’s attention. From time to time clear memories of buildings and churches reveal themselves to me: I am looking at old pictures, and an irrepressible nostalgia overcomes me. I see the small river flowing past our house, the trees reflecting in the water and the kingfisher my mother so loved… I want to talk to Melissa about all this, but she seems more interested in gossiping with my wife and sister, or am I being very unfair? Then the town was still full of older houses, some of them going back to the fifteenth century or perhaps earlier. Once – I must have been still very young – we stayed in a very old house where the walls were thick but hollow: at night we could hear the rats running along the walls. There was a water fountain in the paved courtyard, flowing into a heavy stone basin that was very ancient.
I am looking further at the history, a famous general was born there, who made his name in North Africa, in the last century. The presumed inventor of a precursor of the helicopter was born there too… Perhaps I have to go back further, to Roman times, to the reign of Aurelian, and the great battle that took place nearby, that sealed the fate of the Gaules? The town became christian under Constantine and the religious peace that was the hallmark of his reign. After that the town bishops became very powerful, holding their own against their rivals and even the King. The town hosted knight templars… Images and memories cross my mind, the town was on main the road to Burgundy, and on the invasion routes from the East. Gabrielle has never told me what the origin of her interest in the region was: how far back does that interest reach? I need to see Melissa, she, of all people, must know something of Gabrielle’s studies.
I am looking again at the long list of famous people who were born, lived or died in the town: artists, soldiers, writers, engineers… The town still hosts one of the top engineering schools in the country. But what about the surroundings? Farming is the main industry in the region, and, on the hills, the vineyards that gave it their name.
All this is very far from the cosmogonic perspectives that Gabrielle opened for us. And yet she was, still is, there, looking, scanning vast archives…. What is she looking for? Then I remember Melissa’s page: the pictures of the old churches, and as I open the laptop, and log on, suddenly I see it: the old cloister, the stern ascetic face of the saint – I have no recollection of Melissa’s interest in medieval art, but here is the proof. Is that a clue? Is there something hidden in those old stones?