Friday, 14 August 2009

emissions admission

I'm spending the week at my friend Cat's in the Languedoc region of southern France. As ever, it's a hugely sensuous experience. My daughter Sophia and I spent one day cycling down lanes through the grapevines that cover the plains, along the Canal du Midi and through quiet stone villages shuttered against the midday heat. The dry wind sweeps through the bleached grasses and wild fennel, the air is scented with fig trees and the cigales sing with intensity. Most meals are spent leisurely eating largely the produce of Bernard's garden, including all kinds of incredible-tasting tomatoes. Although I eat only English tomatoes while at home, they are a poor relation to these ones, ripened in intense sun - and after such an experience I know I'm going to find it hard to eat tomatoes in Lewes, even those from Bill's.

Bernard, Cat's boyfriend, comes from this region of France, and he is passionate about keeping local crafts - incuding stonemasonry - alive. He has reclaimed this old garden fom the maquis, the scented, thyme-filled scrub that covers the hills behind the village. There is a spring on the land, that waters the crops by gravity. Like all good gardeners, Bernard has been busy making humus-rich soil in raised beds.

Last night we took a tortilla and a bottle of Bernard's own wine up to the garden, to have a late supper, as the sun set. Fabiola, Cat's 2-year-old daughter, pottered around nibbling on an onion she'd just picked, and Sophia and I picked and ate some ripe figs straight off the tree. We settled Fabiola to sleep in the hammock, and watched the stars come out. Much later, Sophia and I, on our way home, lay down on the warm earth and watched the Persiad meteor shower.

This has been a bittersweet week, and I felt like weeping in the road. Not only will I be giving up English tomatoes but these French tomatoes too. Although my carbon emissions from my rail journey here are a half (0.1 tonnes of CO2) of those of our road trip last week, that's still too much for me. I'm aiming to live within a one-tonne budget (generally accepted as the annual level of emissions that will avert climate meltdown). To this end, over the past couple of years I've changed a lot of habits quite easily, but this final frontier - giving up travel - is a lot more painful.

As Bernard said, most tourists travel because they wish to see other people living the authentic life. Why, he asked, don't we learn to be more authentic in our own terrains?

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