It was just a stop over, somewhere in North-France. Very practical, not to drive myself wasted. I just needed a bed and internet for one night. That’s all I needed. Yet I smile when I enter the name in my sat nav: Beaurevoir, a beautiful goodbye is my translation. Passing St Quentin I am being send into the sloping golden grain fields of Picardie. In a valley lays the little village, its church clearly visible above the houses. A perfect picture postcard.
The kind host welcomes me and over some tea I try to keep the conversation going with my rusty high school French. She speaks slowly and patiently. There are no restaurants in the little village with 1500 inhabitants. That’s fine, because I don’t feel like eating a lot after all gas station junk food I had today. I’ll go for a walk I am able to tell her. A road sign to a tower made me curious.
While walking through the streets I hear rolling shutters being pulled down everywhere. I feel like The Daltons entering a Wild West village, the villagers hiding away, closing their doors. I look around. Most houses are build from dark red bricks, older then my ’30’s house back home. I wish I knew more about styles, but all I know is that it reminds me of Belgium. Almost every window and most doors are decorated with white plastic rolling shutters. All closed. How nice, I hear myself thinking.
I take a left at the church. Both pubs nearby are closed. There is nobody on the streets. Did the wind just got more chilled? I am distracted by a large gate. Just before I cross the street to take a better look (is it a farm or a barrack?) I see a man a bit further on his doorstep smoking a cigarette. Ah, there is life in this village. Behind the gate is a disappointment, so I turn around and clear my throat to say hello to the man. But there is no man. Only houses with white plastic shutters. Was it my imagination. I speed up my pace.
The tarmac stops, it’s rocks and sand now. I can see the tower on top of a small hillock in the midst of a grain field. I think I am alone. I climb the hill and enjoy the view. I wonder how old this tower is, and why it is here. Probably hundredths of years. Some pieces are filled with cement and the roof is new. But the Office du Tourisme isn’t very active here. There are no signs with information. But there are voices. I stop my walk around the tower. Young voices. I sit down at an old bench watching the sunset. Of all places where the Beaurevoirians had to be, of course it was here. Youth I hear, with smokes, drinks and music on their phones. After all I am glad this is not a ghost town. Yet I am not comfortable. Did they see me? Or am I here unintentionally secretly. They circle around the tower towards me and settle down just a bit further. I look in their direction and see a young man in black sitting down. He doesn’t look back. I sniff my nose, a bit too loud and look again. No response. Then I lean backward and watch the sun go down. I try to eavesdrop on their conversation but the French doesn’t make sense to me.
Those kids live here, grew up here, have family here. This is their daily life, their habitat, their home. How do you get here? How do you get out of here!? Just an easy stop over for me is the home of 1500 people, behind rolling shutters and dark red bricks.
I silently get up and manoeuvre to the other side of the tower. The only way down is in full sight. I decide to circle the tower and greet the three youngsters with my best French accent. Bonsoir. As if it was totally normal. I can see them thinking ‘who is that? how long has she been here?’ My looks tell them I am not from here, but they don’t know that I don’t understand a thing they say. I walk away. Away from the tower, the hill, the grain. In the village the streets seem even more empty. Quickly around the church and then back home is the plan.
A memorial tablet on the church back side reveals the Joan of Arc was here. I am delighted, there is history in this village! Do the kids know?
Back at my room I dive into the internet. Joan of Arc has been held captive here in 1430 for four months on a castle as big as the village. The only remains are the watch tower in the field. And the use of dark red bricks in houses is seen more often in Belgium then in France.