Whoever dares to question French courageousness needs to drive on my road.
Countless fearless Aixois commuters do it every day of the week. Twice. At speed.
The road is as wide as a catwalk model’s ankle.
Steep ditches line each side of it.
Huge trucks travel at ferocious speeds on it.
Tractors and trailers, graders and even horses and carts can be seen on it.
Yet the only one who is terrified is me – leaning pointlessly toward to the centre of the car where it feels a tiny bit safer.
I almost ended up in the ditch in my second week, trying to avoid a head-on collision with a van while maintaining my speed for fear of infuriating the driver behind me. I learned from that.
It’s only a 1km stretch of road – so far one of the stickiest I’ve seen in the region. If I have to slow down or even stop a couple of times, what can people do? Toot their horn? So far it’s only happened once.
Sabbatical Man has taken to jogging along this stretch of road and points out that cars stop behind him to let oncoming traffic through, then continue on their way, without so much as a “still got my bow fingers” gesture his way. They might be fearless but they are not fou (crazy).
This may explain why, on a whim, I decided to walk Medium home from the fruit and vegetable shop 300m from home along this very road the other day.
I realised that it was madness the moment I saw our car turn away into the traffic. It looked like a Sherman tank compared to the tee-shirt and shorts that stood between my eight-year-old and certain death.
It felt like walking on a motorway. If I put Medium behind me, I couldn’t see if he suddenly skipped or hopped into harm’s way. If I put him in front of me it felt like I was using him as a human shield. We walked in the thistles, we sought shelter in driveways, we sprinted short distances between cars. We contemplated trespassing, traversing deep thistle-lined ditches, discussed the pros and cons of crop-crashing. In the end we made a run for it.
The expressions on the drivers’ faces were priceless – the French really do treasure children. What the hell are you DOING woman, they were eyebrowing at me. Get that child to safety and for God’s sake comb his hair!
“I’m from New Zealand!” I wanted to yell. “Walking on country roads. It’s a thing! We also eat iceblocks and don’t wear shoes even if we can afford them!”
No, never again. There are many utterly beautiful and perfectly safe places to walk with children around Aix-en-Provence. If you live where I do, you just have to drive to get to them.