Monday, May 29, 2006

from Pierrerue: living the good life

Several corrections to the previous post: first, my patron (neighboring) town, St. Chinian, is bigger than I thought. In addition to the grocery store and bakeries, it supports at least two meat stores.

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St. Chinian, from across the river

Second, I do not mean to imply that the French opt for leisure the minute the week-end begins (sometime early on Friday). They work hard, for example, at eating. 24/7. It is, therefore, no surprise that food stores are open Sunday morning and St. Chinain’s market days are Thursday and Sunday. And it is a big deal market. More on that later.

Third, though it is true that St. Chinian is not geared for tourism, neither is it 100% French. It is 95% French. And 1% miscellaneous European (guess German), here to sample and buy up some good wine options. And a solid 4% British. I could tell from the market. They were there, turning pink under the fierce southern sun (this part of the country is in the midst of a heat wave so that it is sunny and bright and in the low nineties, though nicely breezy and not at all humid).

I think the British must be doing well by themselves because they are the new Japanese as far as traipsing around European destinations goes. No cameras though. Just hats to keep the sun at bay and walking sticks. They seem to like a good walking stick to help push things along.

We first encountered them in Dubrovnik. There, they were just passing through. Lots and lots of pensioners, slowly passing through. A day, no more, and off to the next destination.

In St. Chinian, they are here for the season. Or for good. They have purchased simple homes and they go to the market and they turn pink and I’m sure they thank the Lord that they are not up north under the murky drizzly British skies.

My landlord at Pierrerue is such a person (hence the lovely flowers at the doorway). She lives somewhere in the vicinity of St. Chinian and she keeps this flat for occasional family use, but mainly I imagine to help the budget along. And she is not the only one. Downtown, I saw a real estate agent’s ad plastered on the wall with “English spoken” written at the bottom.

At the market today, I was a puzzle since I obviously am not local-sounding but I also do not turn pink; I am actually quite dark by now as a result of Sicily, Croatia and now here. The newset guess is --Spanish? I did overhear several of the sellers muttering a few English words, clearly prepared for the invasion from the Isles.

The British expats do seem to retire for the day early. Last night, when I stumbled into town late in the evening, I saw none of them. But the market brings them out. They drive in from their country homes, in their modest cars, and they shop and sip a beer or coffee and chat up the other expats mingling about.

Okay, that brings me back to the market. It was one of those extravagant markets that brings to town all that is needed to make life move forward. Half food, half practical clothing, it is there to ensure your survival until the next one (Thursday). I took some photos of course, but only of products I myself bought. So if you see it here, you can assume that it made its way home with me (among other unphotographed purchases). Heavy bundles, hot walk, uphill most of the way. But with a water bottle. I learn.

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called a "country baguette," it has a thicker texture and a beautiful crust

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I've been asked if food is more expensive here, given the emphasis on quality. Is it?

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farmer's son gets to pick his own cherries

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which would you buy?

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absolutely passionate about his organic oils

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I ask, so, what's local here? He answers, I am!

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everyone carries one; it saved my foods from becoming soup on this warm day

I did also visit a wine store – it is this town’s raison d’etre, after all. And I am glad, because wines of this region (the general area of Languedoc, running basically from the western edges of the Mediterranean down to the foothills of the Pyrenees) are my staple back home. I love a good Bordeaux, but my budget loves Languedoc wines even more. Needless to say, here, they a steal, rarely topping 5 Euros a bottle.

I desperately need visitors. I cannot myself drink all that I want to sample.

St Chinian (the AOC ones) are predominantly red so that makes it a little easier since I am a predominantly white enthusiast. But still, they have a fantastic selection of my very favorite summer beverage – French ros├ęs and so I am back to panicking that my three weeks will end and I still will only begin to know the different choices. Life can be so difficult.

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at a store selling only wines of Languedoc

Back at the apartment I would have collapsed, but remember, I am a changed woman. Not only do I sit down for lunch in cities, I cook my own if I happen to be in a village with nowhere to sit down except at my own table. The market foods need to be cooked and eaten otherwise I cannot justify shopping for more next market day. Again, guests are welcome to help move things from market to table, only please find your own place to stay. It would be too cozy in my little apartment for more than the most intimate of guests.

N.b., I had fancied myself eating lunch on the little terrace with the spectacular view, but it’s not going to happen. It is toasty hot in the afternoon and the shade of the tree only means that the are wonderful little tweetie pies out there, mating and eating and basically using the patio as their loo. Inside the cool stone house it will be and I am not sorry. I feel like others in the Mediterranean region who retire for several hours, close the shutters against the heat and do the eat and sleep number. Only in my case, it’s eat and blog.

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