Perhaps the third time will be the charm. I first started this post 26 December. I was going to do a riff on Boxing Day and how as a kid that meant pantomimes in London but these days seems all about sales. As predicted, I waited too long and then it was ten days into January and just as I was finishing it, I came down with a horrible bout of stomach flu which rendered me incapable of doing anything more ambitious than reading on the couch. So, now let’s give it another go.
Here’s where I left off– 10 January, a couple of days after the horrible events in Paris. This isn’t a political blog, so I’m not going to offer my opinion –honestly, I’m not quite sure what mine is, other than that the killings were appalling and there can be no justification. Still, not to at least acknowledge the events of the past few days doesn’t seem quite right either. I’m writing this on a beautiful warm and sunny day, the sky is blue the roses are blooming on my balcony. If I walk out into the vineyards, I look all around at countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in a century or more. The roads that wind through the vineyards twist and turn and eventually lead to other small villages. The roads are so narrow, hardly more than a trail in some places, that when the occasional car comes from the other direction, one of us must pull to the side. It’s lovely and peaceful and difficult to imagine the violent world I read about in the papers, or watch on the news.
Yesterday, I had lunch with a French friend in Sete. We sat at one of the restaurants on the canals, the reflection from the boats–turquoise, yellow, red–rippled like an impressionist painting. Sete is a big working fishing port. In July and August the city is choked with tourists, but on this summery day in January the streets were quiet. We ate oysters and moules farcie and shared a bottle of wine. We talked for a bit about the attack on Charlie Hebdo, then moved onto other things. When we went inside to pay, customers and waiters were grouped around the television. The Charlie Hebdo killers had been cornered and another standoff was taking place. After a while, we left and walked along the water front, past the sign for the Algiers Ferry. I was for a while fascinated by the idea of taking the ferry over to Algiers, it sounded so exotic. Now I’m not so sure. Last night, a French politician said France is at war, that people must understand that it is no longer peacetime. I hope he’s wrong.
I’m not sure if this happens to other blog writers, I suspect it does. Enthusiasm to start with, no detail too insignificant to record, then a bit of tapering off followed by a sort of compilation of major events instead of the small things then, and this is where I’m at now, a dull nagging that it’s time to write another blog. I suppose if you’re a blogger with a lot of followers and they’re bombarding you with demands for updates it might be motivation. I’m not one of those bloggers though, if I get a couple of comments I’m happy. (Hint, hint.)
So where to start? It hardly seems possible, but Joe’s six week visit is now history, he’s already back in California. Our six day trip to Krakow, Poland was definitely the highlight. Krakow is a beautiful and, all decked out for Christmas, it was quite magical.
Food is one of my favourite–ok, my favourite thing–about traveling and the markets were feasts for the senses: pyramids of elaborates breads and cheese, pastry confections like miniature pieces of art and the smell of sausages grilling in the open air, hot wine for sale everywhere. Away from the tourist center, we found an older market where stout elderly women (no not me) were buying sauerkraut from huge vats and there were stalls of dried apples, pears,apricots. I’d like to have followed one of the women home to see what she cooked up, but we had to make do with food from the stalls. I’m not complaining.
While my blog posts are growing fewer and far between, I regularly toss off gems (some would have other names for them) on Facebook. Here are a few from Joe’s visit.
•14 December: Krakow history–Part of the fascination of Krakow, is the the beauty of the city set against its tragic past. Spent a lot of time today in the old Jewish quarters, the Jewish ghetto, Schindler’s factory which today houses a museum. Today a mild and sunny Sunday, streets thronged with people, difficult to comprehend the horrors of the past.
• 16 December: Last Day In Poland –Used up the last of the Polish bread–solid, dark, damp and a bit salty–but surprisingly better than it sounds. A couple of slices with a soft, feta like cheese served as breakfast every day. Found the apartment on airbnb, very utilitarian but on the tram line and inexpensive–100 euros for the week. Also offered a glimpse of ordinary life in Poland. Only souvenir I’m taking back to France is a horrible cold which I would cheerfully have left behind. It’s been a great trip though. My plan now: look for more cheap EasyJet fares, airbnb accommodations and see more of Europe. I’m thinking of Budapest next . . .
•22 December: Narbonne Yesterday, a little sightseeing close to home. Narbonne, a city that dates back to Roman times, is only 45 minutes away, but this was my first visit. Windy and chilly enough that the Xmas trees in the square might have been flocked with real frost, the city was all festive cheer. Drank a vin chaud in Les Halles, the wrought iron and glass marvel of a food market–all the cheeses, meat, fish and vegetables you could possibly imagine–well, with the exception of kale. For some reason France is resistant its dark green charms.
From Narbonne on to Gruissan beach–acres of cabins, mostly empty just a few days before Xmas, but packed in the warmer months. Gruissan was the setting for the film Betty Blue, our reason for checking it out. Down at the end of the spit, La Perle Gruissanaise was doing a brisk business in oysters and mussels–traditional holiday fare in France and sold in small boxes. Back to Laurens via Colombieres where we had a late lunch overlooking the Canal du Midi.
Oh yeah, and Joe fell in lust with a Citroen 2CV–or whatever the thing is called.
•27 December: Truffle Fair— We drove through some heavy rain today, got lost a couple of times but managed to find the foir de la truffe in the pretty village of Villeneuve-Minervois. I could smell the truffles several feet away from the stands, but wasn’t quite sure how to negotiate a purchase –I’d read about astronomical prices and only had a few euros. Picked up the smallest piece I could find, sniffed it, had it weighed and now I’m the proud possessor of something that looks like a small, smelly lump of coal. The place was fun though–oysters, baked potatoes, slices of baguette for sale all slathered with truffle butter. Local wines and produce–including a black turnip (the name escapes me) grown only in the Languedoc. Now off to consult some recipes, truffle shaved into an omelette, perhaps.
•2 January: New Year Hike –Beautiful New Year’s Day yesterday, an almost three hour hike in the garrigues above Pezenas. Amazing views, Pyrenees off in the distance. Sun was setting as we reached the end of the trail. Joe, unfortunately, fell and may have discolated/broken his shoulder, we’re not sure yet. Could make for a difficult flight back to the States for him on Tuesday. An odd echo of a trip to Portugal several years ago when I fell and broke my elbow two days before our return flight.
•7 January: Major achievement. Yesterday, after dropping Joe off at the airport, drove back from Barcelona to Laurens,a three hour drive, without a single wrong turn–even coming through Beziers, my personal bugaboo. Strange to think that when I arrived in France nearly two years ago, I was terrified even to drive in the villages–as Kit Niemeyer can testify! Roundabouts were especially awful, now I’m a fan. Great when you’re not sure of a direction–just circle around again. Actually there have been times, although not on this trip, that I’ve circled around until my head was spinning.