(An early evening comment) Ed, dear, that man’s buttocks are right in front of my camera lens. And the guy further down? He’s naked too, isn’t he? I can't post these! Why not? Ed looks over at my photo. You can't see a thing. Eh, I better take another. Without buttocks or penises.
We wake up to skies that are still unsettled. Gunter, our host, complains that it’s a humid week. I suppose he’s right. It doesn’t feel unpleasant to me, but there are still misty clouds hovering over the mountaintops. Not great hiking weather, says the more lethargic side of me.
But, good strolling through the village down to the café weather.
And good lunch on the patio followed by a nap weather.
And a good time to explore the area more. Villages we haven’t seen. Museums – there is one in Sorede that we’ve not been to yet. Horsewhip making. Because our village was once a major player in horsewhip production. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow because mountains beckon, the sea shimmers...
Then there’s the matter of wine. I think I can fit in some six or seven bottles to take back home. But which ones? I bought two in Banyuls. And an olive oil. And another oil in Sorede. How do you select other rosés from the dozens upon dozens in the grocery store alone? I leaf through a booklet on organic foods and wines of Languedoc. I read about a wine producer who happens to be less than a half hour from us. Domaine des Demoiselles. I call them. They’re open for tastings.
We drive through the ever lovely villages of this region, new old, they’re all pretty...
...past fields of grapes, so deliciously green and abundant.
And finally, a winding rural road takes us to the Domaine – the winemakers' “cellars” and home. Surrounded by fields of ripening vines, it looks like an oasis – an old farmstead built on the strength of wine. I stop the car. Two dogs amble over barking in the most welcoming way.
No one else seems to be here. I remember the proprietor telling me something about being somewhere at 4. It’s after 4 and I didn’t get really where or for how long she’d be gone, so I poke around and wait. The doors are open. There’s money on the counter, open bottles, half filled glasses. Wooden barrels fill one room. Horse saddles straddle posts in another.
Outside, bees buzz furiously around the climbing grape. The sound is so loud that for a minute I think I am hearing a motor running. The dogs go back to a reclining position. Ed waits in the car – himself asleep now.
It’s a movie set. Old buildings, bottles, barrels, dogs.
I try to reconstruct what I’d heard on the phone. Most definitely she said she’d be here. At some point. I wait.
An old car rolls up to the Domaine. A man steps out – he could be from Paris, he could be from a mountain village in the Pyrenees: athletic, in an unrehearsed sort of way, sharply good looking. I’m looking for the proprietor. Rapid fire French: busy in the fields... we only have ten days left until July... I’ll call her... allo? Oui? D’accord. She is on her way: around the corner... be here in five minutes.
He goes toward the house. Three children, somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11, come out when they hear him. Where is papa? On the tractor of course. Your mother is coming though. They all disappear inside. I wait and listen to the bees work the grape vine.
And then Isabelle pulls up. Buoyant, energetic Isabelle. Sorry, sorry, I told you I’d definitely be here by five! Ah. Missed that one. No, I am the one who’s sorry – you seem to be busy. I dislike interrupting the work of people for small purchases, but Isabelle is unflustered. Oh no, this is what I do. We are open for tastings mornings and afternoons. It’s part of my work.
Isabelle is insanely charming. The Domaine is hers – well, hers and her husband’s, but it’s her grandparents and great grandparents – seven generations of her family have produced wine here. She talks about it fluently, beautifully – half English, half French. It is her other baby. Forever requiring care. Didier (her husband) takes care of the vines, she makes the wine.
I tell her right away that I am traveling from overseas and cannot buy a lot. I want her to not waste time on me, I don’t deserve it. I cannot be an important buyer ever.
Do you sell in the States? In the States? No, just in Oregon. An interesting distinction. We work with one agent – we choose our agents so carefully, but we like him and he is a buyer for a shop called Casa Bruno in Oregon.
Otherwise, they have a regional presence. And one in Germany. And England. Italy. Belgium. And one restaurant in Paris. La Trouffier.
I’m curious when she decided to go organic. 2001. I wanted to do it: it’s the right way to live. I believe in it. To grow grapes naturally. We have children. We’re thinking about them as well. It took us several years, but we’ve been certified since 2006.
Children. Yes, I saw them. They go to school in the village? A special school! She beams proudly. They learn in Catalan. They speak it better than French! Better than me! You did not learn it from your family? When my mother was little, Catalan was repressed, so that generation never learned it. Now, more and more are studying it again.
I ask her where the name for the Domaine comes from. Domaine des Demoiselles. I tell her I associate it with the champagne. Yes, of course, there is a big Domaine Demoiselle in Champagne. I actually know them... Our own Domaine name came from my grandmother. When her husband died, she worked here with many women assisting. In the village, they often said – the wine from the place with the young women. Desmoiselles. So she adopted the name.
Her wines are exceptionally lovely and I buy six bottles of three wonderful whites and a rosé. I do not know how I will pack all this, but I do know that these will be for the special Sunday meals with friends and family at the farmhouse. As I praise her wines which she generously opens and pours for me to taste, I don’t mention how it is that I picked these for the big purchase. It was, in the end, because of the name. And the organic component and the location of course, but in the end it was the name that drew me. Idiotic reason, I know, but when you are in a place where dozens of labels stare at you, all inexpensive, all delicious, many organic, most local – the name on the label becomes the deal breaker.
It’s significantly past five. I suggest to Ed that we head for the sea. Not Racou – we’ll save that for a last swim (which is awfully close now). Not the favorite Franqui. Too far. Somewhere in between. We recall a nice stretch of beach seemingly removed from homes, hotels and campgrounds. Just north of Argeles sur Mer (the closest to us beach town), I tell Ed. We drive due east until we come close to the water’s edge. No, not here. Too busy here. The spot I remember is must be closer to Argeles.
We drive a few kilometers toward Argeles. Try that road. We follow a bumpy road that ends with a small parking space by the sands. Looks good! Not the one we remember, but nice enough. More pebbly than the others.
And that’s where the post’s opening comment comes in. Because we appear to have stumbled onto a beach that’s friendly to nudists.
Languedoc has a number of beaches that deliberately cater to “naturalists,” as they are called here. But this one is without any reputation – it just happens to have become that. And actually, I note that it is especially a place with naked men. Yes, there are a few women as well, and one or two mixed gender sets, some even in swim attire, but my guess is that this is a word of mouth gay men favorite. Because they not only are the dominant gender here, but they do appear to be in couples. And some singles, waiting by cars, waiting... And there is a bar nearby, with a terrace that is fenced in, very well fenced in, can’t see anything from the outside-fenced in.
Still, the beach atmosphere is pleasant and inviting.
Some swim, some read. And it surely is a good evening for a swim. The warm air is with us, coaxing, prodding. The water is deeper than, say, at La Franqui, but it’s equally clear, equally pleasing. Ed and I take the plunge and bounce around in the small waves for a while. The sun is sinking now. Shadows stretch in the way that they do just before there are no more shadows. We dry off for a few minutes and head back toward Sorede, pausing along the way to watch horse riders cross the river that spills out to the sea.
Driving home, we think it’s time to once again try to eat at the restaurant at the next door village of Laroque des Alberes ("La Cueva"). Open! Yes, wonderful. Reservation? No... Just two? Okay.
We sit in a lovely courtyard with a dense branches of a tree over us. Ed hides from the camera, but I catch him anyway.
Next to us, a French couple is eating wonderful plates of food – helping us make decisions about our own (we end up ordering pretty much everything they ate -- a cake of eggplant, a Catalan paella, an orange creme brulee for me...). To the other side, a table is set for ten. A large Norwegian family comes in to celebrate one daughter’s birthday (there are eight children – all in some years of adolescence or just beyond). They are a jovial blond bunch and the waiter is wonderfully kind to them even as they mostly order steaks in various degrees of doneness.
The couple next to us gets up to leave. Our age, I would guess. She tells me – we’re off to our yurt. Yurt? Yes, it’s our second night. Last night we slept in hammocks. Tonight, the yurt with no windows. I’m a little bit scared of that, she says. Why are you doing it? Are you from around here? No, we’re from Bordeaux. Our son gave us this holiday for Christmas, so our yurt night is part of his gift. I wish her luck. At least they had a good meal with a nice rosé to set them into a good direction. Naturally.
We walk back through the village to our car. Lovely evening. Quiet, dark now, still.