Tribute to Decazeville

by Garry Robert McDougall

Who can know you Decazeville?
From Google map's aerial eye,
who can know your tangle of streets,
six-thousand people and shrinking,
inscrutable grey coal pit to the south,
to the north, Jesus-on-a-cross
found amongst the grasses and weeds,
worn and cast aside.

I walk your hills in innocence,
through hazelnut forest and farmland,
from ancient Conques,
pilgrim to your curving roads,
encroaching your valley from above,
growing confident to florid homes,
unaware of your blasted centre,
on determined day's walk
didn't I wonder that pilgrims bypass you
for prettier towns?

From first lanes to unwelcome traffic,
welcome bar, cold drinks a treat,
the sign says Non Fumer,
soon breathing the aromas of tobacco
and old France, barman serene.

You can smile Decazeville, but you still cough.

I don't know you, deceived perhaps when
our host practices her wondrous violin,
music of love and the sublime,
my head quaking, my feet aching,
soak 'n sooth legs in cold water,
wrapped in towels before
the cat ate my pate.

Roundabout then,
we wandered Rue de Gambetta's
bars, takeaways and the mundane,
late afternoon citizens deserting main-street
for your air-conditioned shopping centre,
short of the great pit.

In your old square,
peruse amusing postcards,
buy hand-made sausage and pate campagne,
wander discouraged lanes,
pass curious monuments, seen-better-days,
stand with surly youth
at Jean Paul Sartre Recreation Centre,
thinking we'd
try out the weights of justice,
press the barbells of freedom,
test the balance bar of fraternity,
and spell 'being' and 'nothingness'
in a friendly game of Scrabble.

Hunger drives us
to a clean and pilchard pizza palace,
ordering the New York pizza,
the Genoa pizza, pizza Romana,
even the South Seas pizza,
but nowhere do we see 'The Works.'

Falafel and kebab rebuffed,
Decazevilliens prefer Italian pizza,
six parlors pretending choice.
'Does rolled bread offend you my villains?
Are falafels too foreign, salad unmanly?
Is the pizza's flatness more alluring,
after centuries of digging holes,
only dough to be trusted?'

You do not answer.

Are pizza's ingredients,
glued to your landscape meal,
more agreeable than wrapped ingredients?
Is creamy cheese, rich tomato paste
with crispy edges, the stuff of legend?'

You do not answer.

We leave town next morning,
climb the north-west hill
for Livinhac-le-Haut,
meeting a pale white church
in broken form, doors locked.
In the vacant lot opposite,
we discover the Crucified One,
expelled from church,
lying flat on the ground
over a cracked white door,
barred entry to Heaven and Earth.

Neighbours invite us to crush grapes,
extract juices, taste the terrior,
making vino tinto, the vin rouge.
I took a churn, all laughter with locals,
youthful bluster, timely muster,
the uncle stirring juices
in a cave of his own,
baton in hand, orange apron,
he is master of the dark ways.

I don't know you Decazeville,
sweating on the downhill in,
laughing on the uphill out,
walking the world of freedoms.

Garry Robert McDougall's picture

A Sydney poet and novelist, Garry gives Spanish Pilgrimage presentations, writes novels and occasional opinion pieces, teaches poetry and exhibits paintings and photographs. He is a member of the DiVerse poetry group and the South Coast Writers Centre executive. In 2013 To San Domingo de la Calzada won Second Prize, Glen Phillips Poetry Prize. In 2012, Beating Time won Highly Commended in the Peter Cowan National Short Story Prize. In 2015, he won First Prize in the Peter Cowan Short Story Prize. His early walks guidebooks, Great North Walk and New South Walks Heritage Walks, were both published with Kangaroo Press. His two novels, Belonging and Trust, are Australian stories based on historical events around 1900 and 1988 respectively. His third novel, Knowing Simone, is set in Victor Hugo's France. He won artist/author in residence with Arteles in Finland, combined with long distance walking journeys in Spain and Portugal, soon to be published as Damn! His novel's common thread is respect for people caught in hostile historical circumstances, dramatising their negotiation of powerful social and historical forces. His poetry might rhyme, be experimental, lyrical, visual or sparse, but time, word, place and the human spirit are paramount.

Last updated July 07, 2016