“It’s so quiet,” we whisper to each other; whispered countless times over the years, in hundreds of towns, tiny villages and hamlets we have visited in our travels. It is nighttime in France.
The French are frugal, a cultural norm, and in the evening, after business is done, stores and businesses extinguish the lights. To do otherwise is a waste of electricity. Out go the interior lights. Out go the outdoor signs and billboard lights. In the hamlets and villages where the boulangeries and butcheries have already been closed for hours, only the scant street lights remain. Later in the evening, when the last stragglers have long returned from work and family life has resumed behind drawn curtains and closed shutters, even the street lights are extinguished. It gets quiet. And the dark arrives.
It is stunning; even after so many years, to step out into the nighttime darkness and experience a moment of near-sensory deprivation. There is no ground light. This is a soundless darkness with weight and texture. The dark is so deep I am reluctant to move for fear of walking into something. I can see nothing. I can hear nothing. And then, in two or three minutes as eyes adjust, as if a gigantic curtain is drawn, the nighttime sky reveals itself; a star-lit sky unlike anything ever seen, save the night sky at sea.; as if you can see into eternity. It is a breathtaking sight, a gift of the Gods, waiting outside my door every evening.
With the night sky and the darkness comes deeper quiet. More than quiet, it is silence, an utter lack of sound. I stand still for long minutes, enveloped in the stillness. Then, faintly in the dark, the whisper of wind in the trees, and nothing more. This is a deep, profound silence that gives flight to imagination.
This village where we live, this narrow street where I stand, no one knows how long people have been here. The Romans were here; they say the ancient Catholic church stands where a Roman temple stood. Armies of the Hundred Years War tramped through fields where farmers now toil. The Germans were here; they crossed that bridge leading in to town, and, I am told, they couldn’t get their tanks through town so they knocked down buildings to make room. What was it like that day?
I stand in the dark and the quiet, listening for the past; listening through history and wondering. Who lived here? Who passed through this space I now occupy? Who were the people here a thousand years ago? What were their lives like? What did they look like as they passed through this space I now fill in the dark?
It carries me away to different times; to The War, before that to the times of Napoleon, to the mists of medieval ages, always wondering, who were these people, what was their life like, what did it look like here, on this spot?
It is nighttime in Luche-Pringe. I step outside, sit in the dark on the bank of the Loir, listening for the wind to speak of the past, feeling a connection with history, dazzled by a night sky and peering into eternity, holding tight to the moment, wrapped in a beautiful silence.