Wednesday, June 19, 2013

what when where

To be recognized as a regular, as one of the steadies, you need to persist. Come in daily and, maybe after a year, your absence (say if you take a week's vacation) will be noted. Your return will be greeted with kisses, your drink will be waiting for you.

We're not even close (at the Cafe Bar on the upper square). Skip a day and when we come back, our typically on top of things waitress places two coffees on our table. Ed shakes his head.
Non? She asks, puzzled.
Non. He drinks Perrier, glacé.
Ah, oui! I have you confused with two other customers!

On the one hand it's good -- we don't stand out. (Meaning, we are not judged by the fact that we don't quite look like the rest, Ed's height being just one thing that sets us apart.)

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But we are just one of many who pass through. We're seen as English (Americans don't typically hang in Sorede, not even for a meal), but without the pink skin. Strangers in a village that values familiarity.

A few photos for you from our morning walk to town and especially from the idle hour at the cafe bar:

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La Ciboulette, the village grocer, draws a steady client stream

rare sight: two women, meeting over coffee. Note one has linden flowers tucked behind her ear.

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the singing butcher stops for his morning cup.

the florist (in the black apron) is here as well .

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this is the time when the first ideas for an Ocean post are born. I'm on my n'th pocket notebook -- this red one picked up yesterday at Figueres.

DSC02090 - Version 2 the clouds still mess with the mountains and the French and Catalan flags romp crazily in the gusts of wind -- all in the powerful scent of the linden tree.

We have three days left in Sorede and we need a strategy as to how to fit in our remaining meals. The tough decision is about what to do for our last supper here. It falls this year on June 21st -- France's Fete de la Musique. Both the upper level (our favorite!) and the lower level cafes have musical events scheduled for that evening. You have to really love loud music to commit to a meal by the makeshift stages in either place. And here's another consideration -- we have yet to eat a single meal in one of the two good restaurants in Sorede. I'm sure you're shaking your head in wonderment -- two weeks in France and not once have we actually gone to a restaurant (pizza places and cafe bars don't count). So when will we splurge and really sit down at a place that actually has a chef and a menu and all the other things you come to expect in this country of great bistros, braserries and restaurants?

There are easier decisions to be made as well. Swimming, for example. The winds are still gusty, even in the village. It's warm, lovely, still partly cloudy -- summer-ish and pleasant. But it's not swimming weather. The sea will remain choppy. Our water play days are significantly fewer than in years past.

What does reliably repeat itself (Ed, stifle the yawn!) is the delightful excursion to Perpignan -- the capital of the Pyrenees-Orientales Department of southern France (France has 96 departments -- five, including Pyrenees-Orientales, belong to the region of Languedoc-Roussillon).

And so we finish our protracted breakfast, stop by the studio of the artist Muriel Warlaumont (had I the space, I would have snatched this painting from her as well)...

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DSC02098 - Version 2, eat a very simple lunch (with a slab of brioche, because it looked so good in the bakery!)

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...and proceed to the little train station just eight kilometers from here (at Argelès-sur-Mer), from where we catch the little train for Perpignan. (Ah. Another photographer with the same idea.)


On the train, playing:


There seems to have been a cloudburst in Perpignan just before we pull in. I'm impressed with how much we are managing to avoid the rains that are on and off passing through the Languedoc. The air is warm, the skies now show more blue than gray.

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I have sort of a mission for this afternoon: wouldn't it be splendid to pick up a summer frock for a wedding I'm to attend next year at this time? Wouldn't that be a fun shopping experience? Wouldn't it?

Ed is graciously going along. I lead him to France's largest department store -- Les Galleries Lafayette. Sort of like Macy's, only French. Ed finds a corner of a bench and promptly falls asleep. I try things (these three things) on.


And I am quickly reminded how much I actually dislike shopping. How I start with a burst of optimism and end with despair. How I hate the way things fit. How my images never fit the reality out there and how I know that I make purchases of this nature so rarely that I should give it lots of thought and yet, after trying on just three things, I want to leave. I jostle the sleeping American and we move on.

We walk through the old town -- I'm rather despondent about the whole shopping experience (and therefore about the visit to Perpignan). Ed doesn't help by reminded me that we've been to this square, on this street, to this cafe... I want to bribe him with an ice cream cone to quiet him down already -- much like an adult wants to plug the kid with food, sweets, anything, just to get him to stop.

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We pass a small shop and Ed recognizes it as the place where I once bought a light summer shirt -- excuse, me -- I remind him -- you actually bought it for me.
I did?
You did.
He sits down, quiet now, as I pick a dress or two off the rack.


One of them fits well enough and I wonder if I dare go to a wedding in such an informal dress -- one that I could equally wear for a trip to the farmers market.

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The shopping part ends now and we really have only one more errand to do here - pick out a box of chocolates (Perpignan has absolutely exquisite chocolatiers) for our wonderful Sorede hosts. We do it quickly -- it's all a blur...

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...and we catch it brilliantly, confidently, because -- well, we know how to do it -- we've done it before.

It's a short ride -- just 16 minutes for us. Ed picks a seat in an almost empty car. Most of the passengers on this long distance train got off at Perpignan.
Here? he asks.
I give him one of those stares that says - no no no! ...look: there's a devilish kid banging the table every two seconds! Anywhere BUT here!
I guess I'm not subtle enough because the mom of the rambunctious boy catches my glance.
I'm sorry -- she says in accented English -- but we've been traveling for eight hours and I have given up trying to keep him quiet.
Are you coming down from Paris? -- I ask. I can't think what other destination is that far away.
No, Bern Switzerland. We're going to visit his grandmother down near Banyuls.

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I can tell she is starved for adult conversation -- we cover a lot of ground in the quarter hour ride.
It's only a vacation for us. Sort of a prevacation. After, we'll go as a family -- to Hungary and Romania. We're thinking maybe in a camper. He can run around outside -- it may be easier on us! She smiles. And segues right into the same old topic that I last heard in Spain and that I am likely to hear again before this trip is over: so, I hear in the United States, you only have two week vacations? How do you do it? How do mothers raise children? How can they work?

She is really curious about this -- as if something doesn't quite fit.
And all I can do is admit that on the subject of family life, of parental leave, of childcare, back home, something doesn't quite fit.
I'm a teacher... He was self employed... The rest? I shrug. It is what it is.

Ed and I walk down to supper on the square at a late hour. It's our moulles frites night at the cafe bar. We hadn't had many nights out on the square this year and so it still feels extraordinarily special to be doing this now.

The waiters on the evening shift are superb. They always are this way -- we remember them well from previous years when we watched them dance around tables, laugh, banter, do whatever was called for to make it a good evening. For themselves, as much as for the customers.

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Tonight, they have the last laugh. I can't finish the fries on an order of moulles frites and Ed is eager to take the remains of my meal home with us. There really is no good way to explain to a Frenchman why you should be wanting the left over cold fries, packed to go.
I try: for his midnight snack! 
Alors, alors, bon appetit! They chortle and laugh and it's as if nothing this funny had happened to them the whole day long.

How can you be this happy in your work?

I think about this as we walk up the hill to our home here. The moon peeks out now and then, the clouds grow dense, then slight again. Good night, good night, dream of good things, sleep well tonight...