Tuesday, January 15, 2008

from Cassis, France: make sure you point out that you lost your way and could find neither the wineries nor the b&b!

My occasional traveling companion tells me to note this on Ocean and what better way to highlight it than to put his directive in the subject line!

Well, it rained.

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I knew it would and so we moved slowly all morning long. Nino’s was on break and no one wanted to come in just to fix us breakfast, so we headed to a café in the heart of Cassis, where we ate the biggest pain au chocolat ever. And watched locals come in, take an espresso and demonstrate great incredulity that it should rain.

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After, I worked and Ed rested. It’s not unusual for us to find ourselves proceeding in this way.

And of course, when you are physically inactive, lunch is a welcome diversion. We head for a place right by Nino’s and find more than a dozen tables occupied by chomping French men and women. We joined them in one big national chomp, fondly referred to as le grand dejeuner francais. Ed and I both have salads, but we’re talking salads that spill over in their abundance. Mine, with seafood, is superb.

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The plan for the afternoon is to search out the magnificent Cassis wineries. I have a terrific map listing them all, but you really need a car to get near most and, the drizzle notwithstanding, we are bent on walking. (I also want to check out a b&b for future visits. Nino’s room is beautiful, but he knows how to charge for this pristine oasis with views to die for. Especially in high season.)

I find neither the b&b nor the wineries, so in that sense, Ed is completely correct: we spent the better part of the afternoon being utterly lost in the stunning but wet Cassis countryside.

Yes, of course, I do locate the vineyards. And they are lovely.

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I find gnarled vines to be graciously beautiful, sometimes reminding me of sage thinkers, sometimes, in their younger stage, of so many acrobats and dancers.

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But as is often the case, the wineries and caves are away from the fields. Our country walk is invigorating, the garrigues (those fantastic stunted oak forests, interspersed with dense rosemary, lavender and thyme bushes – a combination found only in the limestone soils of this area of France) are fragrant in their wet state, but we come back tired and empty handed.

In the evening, we return to our lunch place for dinner. It is Monday, a common restaurant closure day and at any rate, we are by now without imagination.

Next to our table I hear, for the first time since coming to Cassis, spoken English. The couple is welcomed and kissed by the owners and staff, a curiously affectionate gesture, given that the couple appears to be absolutely loony. And I’m not just focusing on his pajama bottoms. They are indisputably the town eccentrics. Or rich and famous. Or both.

As the evening winds down, the dog of one of the French diners gets up, wanders a little, and lifts his leg. No one notices. Should I tattle? Of course. Monsieur, excusez moi, mais le chien a fait un petit pee-pee.

Ah oui. The waiter removes himself and discreetly brings back a bucket.

It is late. And still new people come in. A very wet threesome, obviously after a day at sea. Would you like a table on the verandah? No no! As far from the outside as possible!

The door opens and closes constantly. This is only the second week of the complete ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and I feel like I am in a new world, especially when in the tight quarters of small cafés. And amazingly, the smokers are observing the new law. They go outside. Waiters, proprietors and clients, pacing the quay, taking a few puffs then returning to their place.

A piece (three pieces actually) of cake and I’m satisfied. Body and soul, fully recovered.

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