Wednesday, June 20, 2012

what if...

What if I lived a life of no pressing obligations? No stress? Wouldn’t that free me (or anyone) to do more? Deliberately rather than because I have to?

In other words, what if I retired? (The current plan is not to retire. I’m just scribbling thoughts from the day.)

Early in the morning, before the sun fully cracks through some distant horizon, Ed and I crank ‘what if’ numbers. By my own calculations I should work forever. But what if I didn’t?
We go back to sleep and wake up to the day much much later.


They said it would be cloudy and it is cloudy. We skip breakfast. It’s fun and a great value to sometimes eat the big meal on the square at noon. So rather than breakfast, we have the 10 Euro (tip, taxes included) special at the café: a huge Catalan salad..

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...and mussels and fries.

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And only after all that do I have my morning shot of caffeine.

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I watch two workmen come and sit at a table not far from us. They order their lunch – burgers and fries. Ed comments – ah, here we are, two Americans eating French food and two Frenchmen eating American food! Though I point out that you’re not likely to order half a carafe of café with your lunch burger back home. And return to work after.


The plan is to make the annual obligatory trip to Perpignan – the former capital of Roussillon and Northern Catalonia, some 20 or thirty miles north of Sorède. To an American, that’s like a daily commute. A sneeze and you’re there. But we’ve learned the hard way that here, it’s a bit of a nightmare ride. If you take the highway, you have to get to that main road. Adds on miles. If you take the local road, it’s easy to get lost and especially once you enter the periphery of this once medieval town. With a quarter million people, it feels very urban. So driving is hard, parking is harder – the whole trip becomes rather unpleasant.

Unless you go by train.


It takes the clunker 11 minutes to go from our home in Sorède to the train station in Argeles sur Mer. There, parking is by the track, free, easy. We arrive, the train pulls in, perfectly on time. 17 minutes later we are in downtown Perpignan...


... with a lovely walk before us...

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... taking us straight to the heart of this actually rather charming little city. (I began to view it as charming once we figured out that the train is there, available, fast, delightful.)

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The current thinking among some is that we, in the States, are a car society. We don’t need trains. We want the freedom to stir up our engines and go as we please. I listen to all this blabber and I think – how short sighted this seems! As our dollars continue to subsidize car travel (to say nothing of airports), as we keep our gas prices low and focus on the myth of the inexpensive car ride, so many others have developed systems of train travel that are delightfully stress free.

(On the train, I take out the camera and snap a photo that marks almost our halfway mark of the trip on this side of the ocean. This is how we look after being in each other’s company round the clock!)


So, here we are in Perpignan. And right away I get distracted by its delightful little shops. 


Ed is there to keep me grounded.
You look great in the glasses you have. You don’t need new frames. 
But the styles are rounder now! Look at these! I show off a beautiful two toned pair.  
You look like my father in those. 
How about this pair? 
You look like my mother in those. 
You're just saying that. 
You wont be able to fit a lens into a European frame!  I know he’s making that up, but it’s enough to get me out of one shop. And into the next, where we repeat the entire conversation. With an addition. You may want to retire someday... 


We often talk about living below one’s means (an idea that he embraces with greater conviction than anyone I know). Most of the time, I’m on board. When I travel, it's tempting to stray. 

Look at this beautiful, simple, cotton dress! 
You look gorgeous in what you already have. 
Should I buy it for a daughter?
No. (Sorry daughters, no dress.)

We do find the shop I visited last year – a place where they sell stickers with the Catalan symbol, especially for cars. (It’s a donkey and if you really want to make a statement, it’ll be one with yellow and red stripes somewhere on it.) I had bought one small sticker last year and I could not decide which vehicle should take on the honor of sporting this symbol of my affection for the region. So now I buy two more. The red hot lover, Rosie and the mudroom – each will have its own little donkey.

We also visit a chocolatier. Perpignan has magnificent chocolate shops! I know, you can get great chocolates anywhere these days, but Perpignan sweets are really quite exquisite. And we are looking for a gift for our favorite landlords in Sorède and for a few souls back home. (Okay, the shopkeepers are magnificent to behold as well.)

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I think Ed senses my wistfulness as I pass one eyeglass store after another because he offers to buy me an espresso at a uniquely tempting little café, with strong coffee aromas coming from inside.

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He reaches for his book, I look around. There is always something that catches your eye if you look long enough. And this time, something catches my ear too. A demonstration just a few blocks away. A motorcade of cars, horns blaring, flags unfurled, smoke bombs thrown on the road. So far as I can tell, road workers union making a fuss for one reason or another.


I’m amused to watch one van come to a stop and a worker dash out to pick up two glasses of beer from a roadside vendor. There’s an oddity for you: it’s not illegal to have open alcoholic beverages in cars, even as the laws on drinking and driving in France are far stricter than ours back home.


And so our quick visit to the biggest French city we’ll see on this trip is over. Just a few minute wait at the station...

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And we return to the quiet of Sorède. And as long as we’re driving now (from Argeles sur Mer to our home), we may as well stop by Le Fournil bakery. After all, it’s after six, our local bakery will be out of bread, right? Here, the baguettes are still streaming in! Hot from the oven!

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Our dinner is the flip side of the eating order: it’s what we would normally have for lunch. Bread, cheeses, and a tomato cucumber endive salad, with an egg or two thrown in. With the leftovers of some very very wonderful pastries from two different bakeries. Not in competition with each other. No, not at all!