Saturday, June 17, 2006

from Pierrerue: ode to rocky road

But I haven’t seen all of it!

Saint Chinian, my patron town, my place of the great market and fine wines, I’ve neglected you for starred villages, warms sands and rogue cowboys.

I go back to you on this, my last day in the Languedoc. I walk, for the first time, in your back alleys and directionless streets.

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filled window drying line

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empty window drying line

I’m comparing bakeries today – I had neglected them all and taken the easy route of buying from the bread lady, selling from her truck almost every morning at Pierrerue. First bakery – no, your sweet rolls look too sweet. I want something lighter for lunch on the train tomorrow. Second one: no, not you either. Your croissants look good though… next time, next time. Third one: oh, perfect! You have pine nut tarts. Wonderful! I look up, straight into the eyes of the bread lady.

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she bakes tarts too

You have a bakery in town? I’m so stupid (stupide), I did not know that!
You have not been here very long, that’s all.
Three weeks, but it seems shorter…

What would it be like to live here, or at least to come for long periods at a time? I visit an immobilier (real estate guy). Excuse me, I don’t really have any money, but I just wanted to know, how much would a small house cost?
You’re staying at the corner house I sold to the British lady… The houses are not that much. People are poor here, they need money, they have so little of it.

Two little girls run in, ahead of their mother. Beautiful children, coming to kiss papa. But they retreat when they see that he is with a client.
Except, I am not a client. I am wistful, curious, in love.

I left my heart in Pierrerue. Wedged into the crevice of this RockyRoad.

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Looking out over the hills, for the hills are the visual masterpiece. Pierrerue opens up to an amphitheater of vines and forests.

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In the evening, my artist neighbors have invited me over for a drink. She comes knocking at 7.
Have you forgotten? I think to myself, maybe Nina has forgotten to come.
No, no! It is the most important thing that I do on this day!

She has parted with two of her paintings. I am taking them back to the loft – I am robbing her of her Fauve rendition of Roquebrun and her Impressionistic take on the bridge and the Chat qui Peche.

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artist neighbors

And now, for the first time in the three weeks that I have been here, the sky is cloudy and small drops of rain fall. A warm rain, a kind rain.

We can sit outside on the patio. There is no wind, the umbrella will protect us.

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I tell them about my visit to the immobilier and how much lower I find prices here than in the rest of France.

When we moved here from the north eight years ago, they were one third what they are now. People like us, people like you drive the prices up. Everything has become so much more expensive! The melons now, the cherries – I go to the market and I cannot believe the prices.

Me too, I cannot believe how much lower they are here. And how much sweeter the melons and berries are.

He tells me: when we were visiting relatives in California, they had a market eight kilometers away and so I would walk to it. One day, a policeman stopped me and asked me why I was out on the road. That crazy Frenchman, he must have thought. He walks to the market!
In America, it’s so different. Everything is separated: you work in one place, you shop in another, you live in another. And you move between the three by car.

Yes, I know it well. It’s called the suburban lifestyle. It is a privileged existence and people aspire to it.

Here, the locals, they are having such a tough time of it. There is no industry. Wines and agriculture, that’s all. They complain here that the foreigners are buying up their houses and I tell them look, you just put a for sale sign in front of your own door! And you price it so that no Languedoc family could afford it.

She tells me: the most beautiful house of the region, is in a village next to Pierrerue. It’s owned by an American, a woman from Florida. Each time I drive by it I pause to admire it! Such gorgeous detail! I do not know the owner. She does not mix with the locals.

You know, my friend is selling his house. It is small, but it is perfect and it has a terrace with a view, just like this. I think you should buy it! It’s easy to buy houses here!

But I don’t own property. I wont ever own property. I don’t even own a car. Just a bike and a few pieces of art. And a frequent flyer card with miles accumulating at the speed of a bull market.

It is time to go.
Oh, must you? You are such a good neighbor!

Sigh, I am not your neighbor. My neighbors are people I do not know back home. They never ask about my days like you do. They have not opened a bottle of rose wine for me, nor I for them.

I drive to Berlou for a final dinner at Le Faitout. The rain comes and goes. A new fragrance for me, that of wetness.

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Inside, a large group of older people are eating their second course. Thunder rumbles in the hills. A white-haired woman gets up to close the window.
Just for our protection.

Are they local? I ask Madame.
Yes, they’re from Berlou.
To succeed, you must make the locals happy! It looks like they’re happy.

Yes, but we must also make the tourists happy. The locals alone cannot support us.

I let the chef, Frederic, select my dishes. Just serve me something I haven’t yet eaten here.
Delicious! They are a wonderful team. Ocean awards them top regional stars. Worth a detour. Worth a special trip.

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Come out, come out, chef Frederic, I need to thank you yet again.
Come into my kitchen, I’ll show you where I work.
Oh, can I take a photo?
No, no, it is not looking proper! I am just finishing up for the night.
If I were to buy a house in this region, the requirement would be that it is within fifteen minutes of your restaurant!

In the morning, I load the car: suitcase, backpack with my market straw basket, clipped to its side and my neighbor’s painting, wrapped in bubble wrap and tied with string. She is out at her door waving, shouting out bonne chance.