The Open Road, written by the French author Jean Giono in 1950, is in many ways a classical “on the road” tale. The main characters, friends of a sort, are the unnamed narrator and his traveling companion, “the artist”. The setting is France, between northern Provence and the Alps, and the wandering is done either on foot, or the occasional borrowed truck. The mountains and villages our two comrades wander through are not only timeless, but apparently unscathed by the war just having ended.
The artist runs into a spot of difficulty with some of the locals, and ends up with his hands mangled. But the narrator basically shrugs this off, and they continue on regardless. They settle for a time, here and there, and there are odd jobs for the narrator, and the seasons change, and there are also other temporary friends as they go along, but the urge to move on comes on, and they are off.
It’s a rather dreamy, drifting tale, with nowhere in particular to go, but it made me rather want to tag along. Here’s a taste.
As a series of powerful thunderstorms roll through, the narrator makes his way to the local village’s bistro for the evening. We have a quick bite to eat, even if we are not very interested in the food. What does interest us is the crowd: the people coming in and going out in time with claps of thunder and bolts of lightning. You can hear the din of the warm rain pounding on the roofs, in the downspouts, against the windows. It’s hammering the panes so hard, you’re afraid they’ll burst.
The bistro isn’t getting any less crowded. There are guys here I’ve never seen before. They must have stayed close to their home fires until now. Each one comes in, opens his change purse, buys himself an anise or two, and stares at his glass like it was the Messiah.