They ring out the hour twice, in case the peals were not heard the first time, and then, just after seven in the morning they go crazy. Perhaps you were asleep? No! Get up! Get up! Get the cows in the field, turn the hard dry soil, push that cart up to the barn at the top of the hill before the sun forces you to stop breathing. In Villalier, a few kilometres to the North of Carcassonne, the church bells dominate from their secret place, hidden behind and between a jumble of ancient stone houses.
On Sunday the priest arrives with four silver haired parishioners. They greet each other then enter the cool dark of the church. I follow them in. At nine in the morning the sun is already fierce and the chill air within the building makes me instantly aware of the beads of sweat readying themselves at the base of my neck for the long descent along my spine. They wait. The priest has vanished with his flock into the vestry. I tiptoe. Here is a effigy of Jesus. There, one of Joan of Arc.
“Bonjour Monsieur, you are welcome to join us for mass,” says the priest.
I say thank you, but decline the offer.
Outside the church there are cats fighting. A lorry rumbles past. Pigeons gossip. A fan rattles in its cage.
The bells ring again at ten, and again, just after ten. The church is locked up. The tower is the only visible part of the building. I walk around to find the streets that gift their light to the high arched windows of the nave. They do not exist. All around the houses have drawn together to form a shield, a bulwark against any other approach to this holy place.
We may never return to this village, to this holiday rental, but it is not one that will be easily forgotten.