Wednesday, January 16, 2008

from Cassis, France: the everyday

Nino’s staff is already prepping lunch when we go to the dining room for breakfast. They leave us thermoses filled with coffee and hot chocolate and nod to our request for soft boiled eggs. We’re part of the morning wall-paper in their large work space.

The sun is out, of course, with a light dusting of cloud cover. The air is fresh, damp from yesterday’s rain (they’re still talking about it). Outside, the small cars roll up to the restaurants with deliveries. A cook turns heads of lettuce, inspects them, buys the whole lot. Sacks of baguettes rest on a chair.

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I think I should always vacation over a restaurant. Working in one is too strenuous. Watching others fuss about food is deeply gratifying.

We set out again to find the wineries. With maps and instructions now. How tough can this be?

We pass by the port where a fisherman is selling sea urchins. I ask him how early he pulls in each morning. Sunrise, he says. What, six? He laughs. More like eight. Okay, I’ll watch for you tomorrow – I tell myself. Maybe.

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Finally. We come to the first vineyard and Domaine on my list – Domaine Bagnol. It’s closed. Bummer. I thought I heard “open until noon.” It’s nowhere near that. And the next one is far. Double bummer.

We walk along the highway. How pathetic is that! But, we are car free and proud of it, so now we have to share space with speeding, belching motors.

After being rattled by trucks and cars, we approach the Domaine Fontcreuse. Truly an Ah! moment. It’s lovely here. I taste, I buy, just before Madame closes shop for lunch.

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The vineyard is mostly on the northern slope of the cliffs. Just below the mixed forest. So tempting to climb up and take it all in from above! And why not. Ed hides the box of wines in bushes and we climb up through wet branches, bramble and firs, in every conceivable shade of green, up a slippery, muddy trail until Ed tells me to give up. The summit is far, the climb is ridiculously hard.

I can’t I can’t – I say this now to express my desire to continue. He shrugs and waves me on. My boots are a mess, but it hardly matters. I should write here now that I was rewarded for my efforts with the most spectacular view, but life is not like that. I shout down “you were right!” to Ed and retreat.

Still, the forest scamper was worth it. I tell Ed – “inhale deeply!” “Why?” – he asks. “It’s good for you!” And I believe this. The scenery is pretty, but it is the fragrance here, in the forest, that makes your heart dance.

Through a combination of back lanes and some trespassing, we find a gentler way back to Cassis and even manage to locate someone at the first winery, where I purchase six, yes six bottles in radiant jubilation, just before their gates close for the day.

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We pause for a snack at our favorite café – the little one, where you can spend many pleasant hours watching monsieur and madame fuss with coffees and chocolats while their dog keeps tabs on who is in, who is out.

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Time, too, for one more trip to the pastry shop. A fraises des bois tart. Perfect.

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And the circle is complete. We’re almost back at Nino’s. The port is dazzling in the evening light. Do you notice this if you live here?

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At dinner, I pick all things local: a fish soup, a grilled scorpion (“the only Mediterranean fish on the menu!”), a crème brulée.

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In the room above the restaurant, I think about making the various train connections to Paris the next day and I listen to the wind. It is wild again. Roaring in from the sea this time. I get up before dawn to watch the fishing boats come in, but I know there will be no boats to see. The waves are brutal.

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It’s market day in Cassis and I go to the square to watch the sellers unload. My biggest envy may well be that they have this glorious market twice a week, year round.

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At Nino’s I pull Ed out of sleep so that we can have our last breakfast before the train takes us west, then north. Oh, and one more stroll. Just one more. We have time. You have to see the market and the pounding surf! – I say to him.

We watch moms take their little ones to the market and (mostly) men congregate at cafés, and I think this is the Cassis of everyday France.

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When I asked Ed to come back with me for a return trip to France after the semester, he said – when you travel here, it’s like the same trip, over and over. But the regions – each time they’re different! New corners to explore! New hiking trails!

But he is right, to a degree. There is definitely a pattern. And predictability. And to a person who feels herself to be displaced and suspended, this is a welcome feeling.

We shake hands with Nino. We’ll see you again? I say this wistfully. We’ll always be here, he says. Yes, exactly. How wonderful.