Saturday, June 18, 2011

the flip side of things

A rapid step. No, not fast enough. Okay, I’m going to make a run for it. Meet me at the platform. I saunter ahead, reaching in my purse for the right coins to slide into the machine. Quickly. One, two, two more Euros. Now up the stairs. Yes! The train’s there. Uff, exhale. We’re on it.

You have to wonder – why the rush? Why step out of the leisure mode and run for a train even as there is another one just thirty minutes later?

It’s hard to shake the habit of rushing to make it. Whatever the "it" may be.

This particular mad dash was in the city of Perpignan. And there’s another peculiarity: why go to the city at all, when life in the village is so happily calm?

Blame it on the weather. Spoiled by days of warmth and sun, I looked up at the clouds rolling in from the mountains and thought – this is not a hiking day. Nor a beach day.

The market. We do want that. Friday is the second market day in Sorede and we combine our stroll down to the café with a stop at the lower square, where the market unfolds.

It’s always just a tad richer on Fridays. The delightful cheese lady is there.


The fish vendor too.


As for the produce – well, it’s been an atypical year. The drought up north must be keeping the artichoke crop down. I’m not seeing the lovely young vegetable that you can shave raw or just lightly steamed right into a salad. And the tomatoes – ah, the tomatoes. I tell Ed – these are the ones that aren’t selling. At 60 Euro cents a kilo, they’re a steal. (That’s about forty cents a pound). Tellingly, they don’t have the “origin” section filled out on the sign. So a customer asks – where are they from? The vendor answers truthfully – Spain. Ah. The customer moves to another batch. From Belgium. The vendor protests – there is nothing wrong with Spanish tomatoes! We just don’t like them as much – the customer retorts. A sensitive subject still. No matter. We buy the Spanish ones.

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But the gaps here are obvious: There are many regions in France that are having a terrible farming season.

Okay. That was the morning. And what of the afternoon? I suggest we take the train to Perpignan.

It’s the Departmental capital – a crowded bustling city just 25 miles north of here. Last year we drove there – seems an easy and short ride, right? Bustling it may be, but it’s a mere quarter million people. Why not hop in the car and go?

For one thing, there’s the price of gas. We figure we’re spending about 14 cents for every kilometer.

But more importantly, I remember it being a hellish drive. Not so much getting there, but finding our way through the maze of old and congested streets. It took forever to find a parking spot.

In the alternative, there is the train. Five miles from Sorede, in the seaside town of Argeles sur Mer, there is a sweet little station – the type you can drive right up to, leave your car and walk right onto the platform.

After floundering a bit with the ticket purchase (please, American credit card companies – get the chip in already! Our magnetic strip cards do not work in European train stations!) we cross over to the platform and wait. Ah, punctual.


And fast. This little two car train outspeeds the cars on the parallel highway. And deposits us right in the center of things – at the station that Dali affectionately called “the center of the world.”


In Perpignan, we do some poking around – there are historic buildings to see...



... churches too, and stores. Lots of good shops. And merry-go-rounds on lovely squares.


Little ones on horses and camels.

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And, of course, there are the cafes. So many cafes. We sit down at one on a quiet square. I order the cheapest item on the menu (a glass of wine), Ed sips mineral water. I people watch. He dozes.

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People coming...

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People going...

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There is no better way to get your mind and body to unwind again. Let go of the jostle on the streets, forget about the noise of cars, buses, construction. Go limp.

By five, we’re ready to head back. But there is this one last shop I want to peek at. And so we do, putting us too close to the departure time and forcing that crazy run that we are so programmed to do when we’re in a city.

It’s 6:20. We’re at Argeles sur Mer, just a few minutes away from our (almost) favorite beach – Le Racou. Oh, for the cool waters of the sea! After the spin through the city, we feel clammy and just a touch frazzled.

We head for the beach.


Lovely little beach – you are heaven on a June evening.

But what’s this? A cool breeze kicks in. People pack up and turn away from the water. The place is now nearly empty.


And the desire to plunge in has dissipated. The sea has done its magic. Refreshed by merely gazing at it, we head back to Sorede.

Now is the night to try La Salamandre. I’ve been reading more about it – the restaurant with quite the regional reputation. And a great fixed price menu.

(And an obliging Ed. Maybe in anticipation of a good meal, maybe because he’s happy to be back in the village, but I actually am allowed to take one photo.)

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The food is indeed superb.


I ask the woman who oversees the dining room, the wife of the chef here – you two are from Quebec, no? No, my family’s from here. But we lived in Montreal for a half dozen years. And we’re going back. Oh dear. Just as we discovered the goodness of the food here... Why? Because of the kids. The schools are not good? The schools here are fine. But after school – there’s nothing. In Montreal, there was so much to do! Here – it’s great for a vacation. But...

Oh yes, that "but." One person’s paradise is purgatory for another. I want more quiet. She wants more chaos. Chaos! Ed wants less traffic, fewer stores, I like the shops, even without the buying part. At least he and I are solidly together on the less traffic front. And on a calm life. Without clutter or noise. Still, there is much to toss about and consider. No settled road, no clue even as to what it might be.

For now we stroll back to our home here, in Sorede and I think this is the loveliest evening walk.

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It’s nearly ten but not dark yet. Quiet. An occasional dog, a rustle of tree branches, the muffled puck as Ed kicks a stone up the hill.