Sunday, June 20, 2010

village love

When you walk into a bakery and discuss the differences between two baguettes with the shopkeeper and then leave feeling like she was the most informative, nicest shopkeeper on earth, when you walk up to la Place de la Republique and nod to yourself that this indeed is the most agreeable village square in France, when you go to a larger town (say, Ceret) and it has a dream of a Mediterranean market – huge, spilling onto the next street and the next, filled with fruits, soaps, baskets, you name it, and you think -- ok, but smaller is nice too, when you take an evening walk to the village next door and you silently think – our green grocer has a better lay out and a friendlier countenance, and their café bar doesn’t even come close to ours... well, it’s clear you’ve developed a case of village love.

Sorede is perfect.

It’s got character. Old stone houses and a river running through it. One day you’re climbing summits, and the next you’re splashing in the sea, and in between you’re slurping your neighbor’s apricots and sipping a rosé wine from the vines just down the road. Sure, the people are friendly all around Languedoc, but they seem extra friendly here. And they have this Catalan thing going which lends intrigue and drama. They’ve got it all.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Can you read that little heart on the mailbox of this Soredian? It says "j'aime mon village." I love my village. (Note the Catalan flag and the dancer on the doorway beads – which are a common way to keep the breeze going while preserving privacy.)


Still, you can’t stay glued to your village, no matter how perfect you think it is. You must explore. See the world. Visit the towns that are more renowned. For example, Ceret.

I’d popped in on Ceret once before. Four years ago, alone, driving in on a quiet evening. I remember thinking then that it was rather somber. It was a favorite destination for twentieth century artists and I tried to look at it as they had seen it. The light was mellow and I appreciated the tall plane trees and thought – I’d probably set up my canvases out of the town some. There are too many shadows here.

And now, on this bright, partly sunny Saturday morning, I'm thinking it's time to look at Ceret in a different light. It’s a short drive – the town is only 20 kilometers west of Sorede – and it's a pretty route at that, affording frequent glimpses at this region’s magical mystical Pic Canigou (more on Canigou in a few days).


In Ceret, it is market day and I have read plenty about the market here. It is, in fact, quite spectacular. It’s hard to photograph, as it’s reasonably crowded (though not shoulder to shoulder, like our Madison one) and it’s set up along narrow streets with magnificent towering plane trees that are very much part of this town’s architecture. Taking it all in is a challenge.


We are here at a time of beautiful light and colors, and terrific energy.


Ah... people dress well to go to market. I’ve noticed that before, of course, and the more rural the place the less likely it is that you’ll see denim. Ceret isn’t exactly rural (population 8,000), but it feels close to the hills (that bear France’s cherry crop) and in any case, it feels far from any urban pressures.


Which vendors are popular? Fresh seafood stalls always get the crowds. That’s true at all markets here.


But so do other stalls. Maybe not the specialty tomatoes (there are great, sweet tomatoes at 1.40 Eur per kilo elsewhere), but the fruits, regional spices and of course sausages and wines – both offering plenty of free samples – are definitely in demand.






We meander this way and that, remembering to look up at the old trees, and to look down the more empty side streets...



...and remembering, too, to stop at the Museum of Modern Art to see the Chagall piece and the Picasso dishes with the bull fighters (sorry – no photos allowed).

This time, Ceret feels properly delicious.


And on our way out, we remember to pause at the bridge – the one that dates back to the 14th century (when Cerat and indeed, all of Roussillon belonged to the Kings of Majorca) – because the span of the arch is really is quite spectacular.


We leave not empty handed. Once again the market has given us ideas for a supper on the patio.

In the evening, we take a walk to a village next to ours (Saint Andre). We pass a campground slash caravan park and, curious, we poke around a little. A very friendly British family invites us into their little house (but really a movable thing, though it’s secured now to the local plumbing and electricity). I’m impressed: the structure is cheap, the maintenance is minimal and there you have it – a person of modest means or inclined toward frugality can bypass the enormous costs associated with vacation home ownership and for a few thousand, have a little place in the south of France. Oh, it’s not beautiful or exquisite, but it's adequate and in any case, there’s beauty enough in the land around you. A simple place to sleep and to wash up after a day out on the hills or on the beaches of, say, La Franqui.

We continue our walk to Saint Andre and it is a fine walk...


though once in the village, we keep reminding each other how much lovelier Sorede is. Even as Saint Andre is a perfectly adequate village.


But I have to be honest here: Ed insists we stop at their local bakery. Seeing a tray of mini pastries...


...he buys a little mille feuille. We finish it before we’re out the door. It’s exquisite. We should get another – the larger one, he says. And we do.

We finish that one again in no time. I love our local bakeries, but Ed has proclaimed that the prize for the mille feuille goes to Saint Andre. By the tiniest of margins. I’m okay with that. The shopkeeper in Saint Andre was equally friendly and sweet. We’ll give her the honors (should she ask).

We walk back in that occasional raindrop weather that again has taken over the hills and villages. The sky is full of drama, but I hear we have a week of clear weather ahead.

Ah, there's the ever  thrilling Pic Canigou again...


In any case, it’s dry enough to eat outside once more. Paella from the market (at 10 Euros a kilo, it is a wonderful and ample meal for two) and leftover tomato, endive, egg and an anchovy salad. With a local crusty bread and a local rosé.