Tuesday, June 12, 2012

quiet days, good days

I’m so glad we’re inside, I tell Ed.

It’s been a guessing game. Storm coming? No? Safe to walk? No Rain? Rain?

In the Midwest, you know where the whole batch of bad weather is coming from: the west. Here, when you look at the radar map and you see great masses of cloud cover swirling, you wonder – am I in the path? Or not? What does this all mean?

It's very confusing.

But this evening, we called it right. If you looked up, you’d see blue, but to the side, you’d see dark gray and eventually the dark gray came to dominate and in any case there was too much rumble in the mountains for me to feel happy about being outdoors.

The day did not start out very threatening. Yes, some clouds, sure, okay, clouds. Let’s walk down to the square anyway. And hurry, darn it, hurry! I am so longing for a pain au chocolat! Wet drops on the vines remind me that the rains did indeed pass through here just hours ago.


The day is quite on the edge of rain. Let me not think about that. Concentrate on the bright colors  on our walk to town. There are plenty to be seen!

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I do note that people have umbrellas tucked under the arm. 
Bonjour, monsieur.
Bonjour monsieur, 'dame! The older people still use this old fashioned form of greeting.

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Just before the bridge over the river that cuts Sorède in half, there is a homestead where the family harvests  apricots, peaches and potatoes. One of the great pleasures of being here in June is that you get to go to their backyard, greet their dog and buy loads of their most delicious apricots (and later, peaches) at very low prices. They’re open for business this morning and we are one pair of happy customers.

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Okay. That’s the upside. The downside of strolling into town with high hopes and expectations is that you might have to jolt yourself eventually into remembering that your favorite bakery is closed Mondays.

Fine. There is a second bakery and their bread is good, if not as perfect as your preferred bread (these are all subjective measures, I’m sure, though please do note that the preferred bakery is expanding while the second one is standing still, so maybe it's not very subjective after all.)

And they have the pains au chocolat, even though their pains have only one strip of dark chocolate running through it, as opposed to the two in the preferred bakery. No matter. We're happy customers.

We eat our quite fine pains at the village square – a quieter place on this weekday. 



And up the hill we return now, without the anticipated rain. Luck is with us.

Again, admire with me the gardens we pass...

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... the vines, always the dancing ladies, against the backdrop of the cork oaks. (Did you know that Sorède in Catalan is Sureda, which translates into cork oak?)

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Ocean reader, are you yawning yet? Hold on, there’s more of the quiet stuff! ...Because our next activity is – you guessed it, lunch on the terrace. The highlight today is the fruit plate – enhanced considerably by the apricots from our neighbor down the hill.


The afternoon is intractable. The rain comes, the rain departs. And then the cycle repeats itself. I say to Ed that this is the day to do our functional if boring errand – to track down the battery replacement for his suddenly dead 1979 Timex.

We take the red clunker to Argeles sur Mer – the nearest town that’s still not exactly large, but certainly larger than Sorède. It’s by the sea and it’s split between the vacation-oriented new town by the water and the somber looking  commercial older center a couple of kilometers away. Here’s a photo of one of the main streets:


We drive through it often on our way to various beaches but with the exception of quick hops to the bakery to pick up something or other, we never stop. We have everything we need in Sorède. To me, Argeles is a tired looking kind of place – what you’d expect from a working town.

We leave our clunker at the train station and walk down in search of watch batteries.

Easy. First tabac has them. Purchased. Now what? Go home?
We stroll toward the church. There's a commotion there. Lot's of people in pressed shirts. A wedding? No, a funeral.  Skies are gray, people are weeping – my impressions of Argeles are not going to change this time around.

We find a bakery that has attracted us in the past. Closed. Oh, but it will reopen in a half hour! We walk some more.

We pass a winery – one that has reputable reds and rosés. Okay, that’s interesting.
Inside, madame is very friendly, very generous with the samples. Ed notes that if you bring your own container, you can buy the stuff for 1.3 Euros per liter. We have apple juice bottles at home... he prods me. But I’m not interested. We don’t consume enough here to warrant buying by the bulk. Trying new producers, comparing varieties is part of the joy. To sample, rather than to load up!

The bakery is open and yes they do have Napoleons. You could say that this is our moment of great satisfaction.

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For later, I tell Ed. Please, for later.

It's finally raining again – a warm, steady rain that we know will linger for a while.

By late evening, there is a pause and still, I’m reluctant to walk down for dinner. There are stormy clouds rolling around the mountains. I don’t want to get stuck in a downpour.

We take the clunker out once more. Twice in one day. Yuk. Each time we drive it down the winding tight road, we groan about its large size. On Sundays, when people are home with cars parked by the road, we need to snap the side mirrors in just to fit between cars and stone fences. We admire every little car that we pass (and they definitely dominate the car scene here) and remind ourselves how much fun it is to drive a mini.

Stupid Hertz.

There! A negative statement on Ocean! I have it in me!

The rain has stopped, at least for a little while. The game is on at the café-bar and a small group is again watching it over pastis – the southern Frenchman’s drink of choice.

We order the moules frites and a half carafe of rosé. The plates are enormous!


The mussels are as they come – big, small, heaped with onion in a basic broth. The fries are good, the ketchup abundant.  It’s a quiet Monday evening on the square. For a minute the clouds part and the scent of the blooming tree is so strong that I think I must be back in the store of French creams -- the place where I did my moonlighting bit just a few years back. 

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I think back to our first visit to Sorède, just three years ago. I chose this village randomly – it had a cheap rental and it seemed close to the sea. Bang! In love. And, I loved it despite the unfortunate run down nature of the first rental here and despite the fact that this favorite café-bar on the square was being renovated for the first half of our stay. Finding Gunter and Baerbel’s rental apartment for future visits (so lovely and as meticulous as I would have it if it were it mine!) was the greatest piece of luck! It makes for perfect days now, here in this southern corner of France, against the mountains, by the sea, even as clouds swirl, occasionally letting out torrents of rain and rumbles of thunder.