Skinny waifs with scratchy dry fur. They raise litter after litter in the abandoned buildings, the ruins.
Their offspring inherit the scratchy dry fur. The wide eyes holding generations of mistrust.
Hunger is at the forefront, and they eat savagely, defending every crumb.
Catnaps are quick and furtive, with one eye slit open.
Occasionally, a sound sleep in the shade, as music plays from a nearby window. In the heat of the afternoon, barely anything moves.
There is a hierarchy amongst the cats of the Cévennes, and at the top of that precarious ladder is the Chat Grand.
The Chat Grand is old. Scarred. Lumpy. Misshapen. He has fathered many many of those straggly babies. His yowl is unmistakeable, and carries through the labyrinth of streets on the night air. He is a creature unto himself, and scoffs at offers of help. Turns up his nose at milk or tuna or goose fat laced with dewormer or antibiotics. He is a shadow.
Quintessential South. Limestone facade. Multi-paned windows opening in. Flaking painted shutters opening out. Pots of géraniums rouges.
The wall is several feet thick here. The kitchen sink, carved from a single slab of stone, is set into the inner sill.
This does not phase the feral cats, who scope out the house from the surrounding roofs and steps and walls. They leap and dive and claw for the window, slither through the gap when the door is not shut tight. They are bold, those cats. They live by the skin of their teeth. They survive on instinct and impulse. On wiles. On opportunity.
You are likely to find one in that pot of ribs you left on the stove, while enjoying a leisurely meal out in the garden. You might interrupt another covered in goose fat from the confit. Nothing is safe.
Foot paths lead out of the village in every direction. Many of them head up, up, up. Paint marks, small striped flags, dot the stone walls and outcroppings. Homes give way to empty buildings. Stone shells. Shells give way to ruins. Footprints all but forgotten.
Step through the ruins. The path narrows, from a patchwork of pavement, to a bare track, scree loose underfoot. In no time, you are surrounded by silence. The village floats beneath you, the river a lazy green ribbon. Pass the mazets, with crumbling roofs. In amongst the ashes, shards of pottery. Rusty metal. The ever present snail shells. Limestone.
With every step, the dusty rattle of the laurel. Thyme underfoot. Wild iris. Delicate shoots on the olive trees, grey green and mottled. Occasionally a fig tree, with a last sweet offering. Survival.
You are never alone. This route has been traveled for hundreds of years. Thousands of years. What if you did not turn back, but kept walking, step by step. Step by step.
Opened in 1892 and housed in the same building as the Musee Archeologique, the Nimes Museum is arranged around a convent chapel from the seventeenth century. The prehistory, exotic ethnography and zoology of mammals and reptiles are on display here.
The display cabinets lining the chapel hall are original. Hand lettered signs and plaques. Sagging bubbly glass. Shelf after shelf of antique bottles and carefully labeled specimens. But the highlight of anyone's visit must be the taxidermy, also original to the 1800s. Jagged seams and garishly painted nostrils. Wandering eyes and toothy grins...
Cimetière neuf. Beaded mourning wreaths in glass boules. Enamel plaques with family names. Regrets. The maiden, looking skyward, holding her own wreath, hand over her heart. Famille Dethel. It's almost 8 pm. The breeze is warm. Cigales still chattering in the trees. It has flooded here - how many years ago? Silty layers, cracked by the sun. No footprints to smooth the reminders of the winter rains.