Jacqueline Heath wins £250 for her account of discovering the meaning of forever on a mountaintop in the south of France.
I am standing on a church tower on a mountain, feeling the wind in my hair and the sun, warm as a blessing, on my face.
Below me is the Mediterranean, set like a precious stone, glittering and shimmering amongst the rugged hills and umbrella pines of Provence. The road to Eze, a ribbon laid upon the sandy, rocky landscape far beneath me.
Climbing to Eze is a pilgrimage, a homage to the beauty of a landscape that was there before the car, before the tourist and before the stress of modern-day life.
It takes a while, that steep, switchback street, paved with worn stones, demarcated with shallow steps and lined with pastel houses that drip with flowers and provide a welcome shade as you make the long breathless journey up, ever up, towards the magnificence that so richly rewards your effort.
The human architecture, too, rewards you on your way with subtle colours, quaint corners and hidden gems of flowered courtyards, little boutiques and a slower pace of life – one forced upon you by the climb and the stepped streets. It is a chance to look around and marvel, to immerse yourself in the quiet and the calm of a stunning little village with no traffic and no hurry.
Why not stop in the little shops, buy the fresh bread whose scent entices you ever onward, photograph the hidden corners and sit next to the soothing fountains? Why not smell the flowers, watch the cats sun themselves and admire the brightly painted houses? You’ve got all day.
At the top the whole of that part of Provence is laid before you, the sea, the landscape and Eze village below. It is the perfect finale; the gift of a beauty that you can package up and take with you in your heart for the days when life is not so glorious.
It is fitting that the tallest building is the church because the people who built Eze must have believed that such brilliance could only be divine. They must have stood there in awestruck wonder and said to themselves: “We have a lot to live up to here, only the best, the finest and the most beautiful will do.” and so they built the whole village, conscious of the need to create beauty enough to reflect the beauty that surrounded them.
They did not build for convenience or for utility alone or for ephemeral needs. They build something permanent, something for the future, something as a legacy for as long as stone and tile and land should last. They built forever; and when you stand on top of that church with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face you too, for a short while, are conscious of forever.
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