There's no one around. Just two old friends walking the slow walk that follows a meal. Our chat is quiet, there's no need to be loud. The soft sound of our steps on old stone doesn't travel far in the night's silence. It absorbs it, with our whispered comments. It isn't cold but I feel every bit of the air I breathe in and it's fresh. I can taste it.
The tall plane trees line the banks of the dry river. They stand bare in the January night, their pale bark silver in the cold light. I sense they guard something, stand sentinel against something unseen. It's my imagination, but I let it take me. It doesn't take too much thought. We keep chatting.
Nothing is open. The bars and cafés and restaurants behind the trees sit in darkness, hibernating for the winter. The streetlights are that peculiar continental yellow. They make everything look old. Much of it is old. The ancient stone of the Moorish palace in the centre of the harbour loves the yellow light, sucking it in, shining a vivid sepia against the midnight blue of the sky and the pinprick twinkling stars that seem set deeper in the night than usual.
The dry river stays quiet, its empty mouth arriving at the harbour, the sea's muffled ripples falling against it.
We talk about life, about the lack of people, about weddings and guests, about wine and food, about writing and vines, about our lives. We head towards the church, it's peculiar clock tower off-set from the central nave. I wonder if it's a nave for such a church. It's not cruciform. I wish for a moment that I knew more. Behind the church, at the base of the pier, is a small chapel, barely a shed. Next to the chapel is a large crucifix set in the stone, facing out to see. I wonder, again, whether it is to bless fishermen, or sailors in general. The plough shines bright behind the silhouette of the cross. It's the first time I think of it as the plough and not the big dipper. I shrug at this and wish I had my camera. I look for a saint's name on the chapel and find none. We talk for awhile about the ubiquity of such small chapels in these parts and others.
Nostalgia leads us down the pier, towards the flashing green lantern at the end. The Med lies to our left, its surf barely muttering. We speak at the same volume as the sea. To our right the town shines glorious in its yellow light, its great buildings highlighted - the castle standing watch on the high cliff above, the palace in its regal austerity, the peculiar clock tower and the silver plane trees, perfectly spaced and regimented. I stare and am moved by it all.
Walking back towards town we cross the beach. The water sucks on the pebbles in a perpetual tumult, sounding for all the world like a fresh bowl of rice krispies. I smile at the association and make a note to make a note.
The bar looks as though it's been carved out of a mediaeval wall. Bare stone adorned by tribal art and abstract brass coils, dimly lit and humming with anonymous jazz and blues. The barman's hyper, speaking in rapid French and laughing at my friend's tales. He asks us about English cheese. CDs line a corner behind the bar and he flips through the odd box here and there. He loves his music in such a way that you want to hear all of it because you feel you'll love it too. The back room could be someone's sitting room, though an odd one. A cozy couch in one corner and a drum kit in the other. Thick rugs and draped tapestries and all the trappings of comfort.
The doors to the bar stand tall, primeval and daunting, and as we leave I resent my weariness, for I could stay. I could lose nights in this bar.
We walk back to the car with little talk. The night seems thicker and the light colder.