I'm drying myself after a long soak in the bathtub at a rural hotel in northern Spain. When was the last time that I had taken a bath? Ten years ago? Longer?
Why is it that at times water is so pleasurable? Has there been even a day this past month when we haven’t searched for it, thought about it, played in and around it? Canoeing around the lake in the Languedoc. The sea – that, of course. Then on the river – oh, the drama of it all! And now we’ve moved on to the canal. And after, in our final moments on this side of the ocean, we’ll be back, fleetingly, to the sea, only on the Spanish side. By the sea, the sea, the beautiful sea, you and me, you and me, of how happy we’ll be...
But let me pause by the Canal du Midi for a while, because that’s really all that we did all day Saturday.
We're spending the week-end in an interesting place: it’s ever so close to the Canal du Midi, that most serene and alluring stretch of water that extends over 240 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea to the Garonne River, ultimately providing a waterway that connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. (A feat for 1681!) And not only are we close to the Canal, but we’re also close to the intersection of a small feeder canal and the rushing waters of a river, so that you can walk to a point where the Canal is above the river and the little canal is off to the side and if this is just too much detail for you, follow along with the photos and you’ll understand.
And so in the morning, we leave our little hamlet...
...and stroll along the small canal that feeds the larger Canal du Midi. It’s a mesmerizing walk: the Platain trees line both canal and tow path, the breeze plays with the grasses and reeds, and the ducks squawk at each other in the way that ducks do. I actually make a small film clip of it, because at the moment, I think that no other set of sounds and movements could be as soothing as this. (Even as I know I will never watch it because the fact is, pleasing sounds can be found in all corners of the farmette back home.)
We walk to the place where the river flows under the canal...
... and then along the grand Canal du Midi, first one way, then the other...
...until we reach the little village of Le Somail.
There’s a grocery barge there, and I buy Languedoc acacia honey (a small jar... really super small, tucked in anywhere). And melon jam. Random, perhaps, but in the end, so oddly appropriate. We had the idea of lingering over an ice cream “boule” (scoop) in the village, but the café-restaurant was full of serious lunch eaters. It seemed unfair to use a table for lingering over an ice cream. A few steps further, we pass a shed where a young man is selling regional fruits – peaches, melons – and wines. Ed suggests we buy peaches, but the melons look tempting as well. We buy both.
We take our fruits and find a spot on the banks of the Canal. Ed whips out his Leatherman knife and cuts open the melon and we eat the sweet pulp, letting the juice dribble down freely, not caring really, because, after all, who would even notice.
Though there are others who inhabit the river bank.
A goose family approaches us and I wonder if they’re after a handout, but no, they continue to slowly eat their way towards us (fresh green shoots of grasses or flowers? Bugs? Don’t know...) until a dog saunters over, sending the whole flock hissing and scampering into the water.
You could spend many hours just watching boats drift by and ducks and geese go about their daily chores. (The scene where the mother duck is teaching her babies to scramble up the bank is perhaps the most heartwarming.)
Ed wonders if we should go back for a second melon – it is that delicious. I return to the shed and tell the young man there that we’ve been enjoying all his great fruits by the Canal and he asks if I have ever eaten this melon – picked just this morning! – along with a Muscat wine? He smacks his lips in that quintessentially French manner that we think is only done in movies. He pours me a glass of it and I tell him I am only sorry that I cannot purchase any. I have, by last count, seven wines, two olive oils, some mustards and honeys and now jams – to fit into a suitcase that is thin and is already overstuffed with camping gear.
The fruit seller asks me where I am traveling back to. The United States. United States? I adore the United States! Even though I have never been there...
The lure of the new, the wildly energetic, the incredible great hunk of a country across the ocean. To a young person whose life is moving at the slow pace that I find so endearing, America surely seems like an escape into a better, richer, kaleidoscopic future.
Or maybe he just wants to surf on the beaches of California – who knows. (French people seem to love California best of all the states. Especially northern California. They think it feels most like home.)
(I confess to also buying an olive oil from him: it’s a cold press of luque olives, done in the old fashioned way! Surely there will be room for this treasure. Maybe in the folds of the canoe?)
The fruits were to be our lunch. Ed asks – does this mean we shouldn’t stop for ice cream? It does not. Almond milk for Ed, and fig/honey nut and also rose petal (both made of sheep’s milk) for me.
We walk back toward home again along the canal.
Barges move across this water road, ducks use it for whatever it is that ducks do, but are there fish in it? I pass a young boy who has, indeed just caught one.
As I take the photo, he says – oh, but this is nothing! You should see the size of the one I caught several hours ago! He reaches proudly into his case and pulls out the impressively large fish. But as he does this, the fish makes one last effort to set herself free and she succeeds! She slips from his hands even as he struggles to hold on and she falls right back into the Canal. Sorry, young boy! You’re welcome, fish!
Past the vineyards... I stop to take a photo. Ed rests by the Canal.
And back along the smaller canal. No less pretty though. Boys are building dams where the water streams by, two girls sit to the side talking, looking at each others phone screens.
A day along the canal. And it doesn’t end there. In the late afternoon, we set out to look at the canal locks. There six in a row, just a few kilometers from our hamlet. There isn’t much traffic here now, but we do stumble upon the passage of one yacht with a multigenerational crew that hadn’t yet gotten the hang of things, offering for the onlookers some amusing moments of dropped lines, missed opportunities and general mishaps. Only the grandfather chuckled through it all.
We stroll through the village that abuts the locks, just to see what’s there.
And perhaps you’ll have predicted that we find a bakery. No, no mille feuille this time. Just biscuits to munch on.
Madame tells me I should take photos in the morning, when her shelves are bursting with baked goods!
In the morning... where will be the next morning? In Spain already?
This village is quieter, undisturbed by the flow of tourism. Ed stops to pet a cat. A dog looks at me as if to ask -- why does he prefer cats?
In the evening we eat at a restaurant just two kilometers outside the village. It is a good choice for a last Languedoc dinner. I eat tiny shrimp in avocado sauce and then once more the cuttle fish – bigger this time and prepared with a pesto sauce. Delicious.
Ed drives us back to the village. I say a silent evening goodbye to France.