This is how it goes: a few walk over to the edge of the village square. The music is playing. A few more join. And still others. And they join hands and start the dance.
The Catalan Sardana. I’ve heard it referred to as non-performance dancing. The music is steady, the steps follow their own pattern, not oblivious of the music, but in a subtle reaction to it.
I’ve seen it in Sorede on St. John’s Eve. And I saw it again this Sunday.
I hadn’t yet studied the village calendar and so I hadn’t quite clicked onto this day’s dancing. Ed and I simply had a late start to the day and our walk into town for a pain au chocolat, taken to a café bar for an accompanying grand crème brought us to the square exactly at the moment just before the dance.
Our walk was lovely – blue skies, pink flowers against yellow walls.. or was it blue flowers against yellow walls?
...then a quick dash to the bakery and yes, they still had a couple of pains au chocolat left...
... and now we’re on the square, the lesser square, the one below the great square and we see the small gathering of people.
Obviously ready for a Catalan moment.
No, this is not for show, for tourism, for the likes of me or Ed. They do it for themselves. The sense of Catalan pride that runs through these mountain villages is strong. It’s not aggressive as it may appear south of the border. But it’s there. The donkey pasted to the fender of the car (in a push back against the Spanish bull, the Catalonian people adopted the donkey as their own), the Catalan stripes everywhere. In solidarity. And the dance. Children learn it, adults know it, the elders will not ignore the call when the band starts to play.
At first, only those in Catalan dress dance. But in the next round, many of the villagers come to the circle and join in. And soon there is a circle within the circle.
We sit at the café facing the square and watch. People from the village watch as well. Some start their own circle to the side.
Why is this so emotional for me? People having a good time, very informally, without great pomp or ceremony, children, adults, bouncing fluently, without hesitation, without missteps... I am like my grandmother: everything sincere and from the heart makes my eyes spill over.
We leave before noon. I've put off buying the local fruits and I know our grocer will be closing her shop within minutes. We pick up peaches, strawberries and local eggs. All her stuff inside the store is organic. The outside crates are a mix.
In the late afternoon, I suggest a tame mountain climb. We are at the foot of the Alberes – the eastern hills that form part of the Pyrenee range.
The mountain right behind us has a pretty abbey near the summit and quite lovely views of the Canigou peak and the stretch of the Roussillon plane to the north.
Oh, it’s a lovely first hike! Not demanding – one and a half hours up, one hour down. But every step is exhilarating. The flowers, the Mediterranean cork oaks. The rosemary and lavender, sweet pea and jacob’s ladder. The butterflies.
You can visit the old abbey, purchase its wines, refill your bottle of water. We top ours. Ed pets all visible cats.
The abbey also has a picnic table at the back and a boisterous group of young adults, some with babies, some not quiet there yet, gather there for a Sunday picnic lunch.
A passing hiker shouts to them – don’t eat too much! They retort – then come join us!
How is it that the French are so good at using leisure time well? I know, I know, they have lots of practice days to get it right.
Ed and I continue up, not super high, no, just to this point (as usual, the photo of me at our highest point).
We sit on the cliffs for a while and look out to the range that spills to the south – to Spain, and to the east – toward the sea, which right now, merges with the sky so well that you cannot tell which is which. We see the occasional hiker here too. It's a holiday week-end (no work tomorrow, I can't keep track of all their official days off, so I can't tell you why this particular long week-end, but one must take note, because stores will close... except for the baker: there will always be someone baking bread on every day of the year). Engaging in le sport is part of the routine for a great number of those who live here.
It is one of those splendid moments when you understand that, no matter what, your life has been one hell of a lucky ride.
It is evening. We're back in Sorede.
I ask Ed – do you still want to go to the sea? It’s reasonably warm – seventies maybe, but I know the sea can be cool at the beginning of June. Sure.
We drive the short distance to my very favorite beach (well, truthfully it’s in a tie with one further north, but that one takes 45 minutes to get to and this one is a mere 15 and it’s that long only because you have to weave through another village, a complicated coastal one, to get there).
Le Racou. Oh, you’re lovely as ever! Small beach cottages line your sandy stretch, the hills are visible to the south, the waters are clear and calm.
And cool. I ask Ed – you’re swimming, right? In an uncharacteristic move, he takes steps toward the water, then pauses. I point to one person swimming. Still he hesitates. And then he takes the plunge.
I walk up and down the water’s edge, noting that there are many things that are so obviously French (I did not say nakedly French, although I could have) that they fit the stereotype because they’re true.
Ed comes out and I say – that’s it? And he notes that I’ve been strolling and he asks – should I go in one more time for a photo? And I could laugh at that, but I say, sure. And I take the photo of the great porpoise with the wet curly strands of hair falling down his face in the clear waters of the Mediterranean.
The beach is nearly empty now. We leave too. No need to linger. We’ll be back many an evening.
We eat dinner at the pizza place across the street. I know, I know, second day in France and we’re still on pizza. But this is what we do here, at Le Racou. The pizza place is outdoors and terrifically fun and the people watching is good and besides, the wood fired oven gives it a special taste and I pick different topings and drink a rose from a small pitcher rather than the sangria of the previous nights.
The ride home is a balm of familiarity. Of weaving through the labyrinth of streets through the village by the sea, of heading out for the short stretch into the countryside, of oaks and cypresses, of vineyards and the occasional olives.
It’s nine, but the sun hasn’t set yet. It will soon, but this is June and its long stretch of light may be the reason I love June like no other month of the year.