Monday, June 14, 2010

different rhythms

James, our landlord, tells us – you know that in the south, there is the siesta, when everything shuts down for lunch? Well, in Sorede, the siesta is rather long – from noon to five.

What a schedule! You work in the morning, you break until five and then you pick it up for a couple more hours (shops close at seven).

I say to Ed – it’s like an agreement between the residents and the shopkeepers. You limit your shopping to these short hours and we’ll give you good service then.
Until Walmart comes along and offers longer hours and cheaper prices.
No, there’s this loyalty going on. People can go to the supermarket outside of town, but they wont neglect the local store, because they value their small shops in the village.

Ed’s not convinced. He’s got the entrepreneurial blood. I have this idea that we can function well despite it.

But this schedule does mess with our typical routines. If I write in the morning, then, when I’m ready to go, at around noon, we face a sleepy town.

And so we do things differently.

Early in the morning, Ed suggests a swim in the sea. Why not – it’s the best way to avoid crowds.

The drive to Argeles sur Mer (on the Mediterranean coast) is delightful...


...and short. Ten minutes and we’re in the town itself – predictably a touristy one, with the trappings of a vacation destination (though no big hotels here – the Languedoc coast is spared the Riviera nonsense north of here). We drive the narrow streets, getting lost, getting found, getting lost again. Finally we meander toward the beach. Truly hard to miss as it extends for a long stretch up the coast.

The “sand” is really coarse here – tiny pebbles rather than the powder one’s used to. And at least now, at 8 in the morning, the place is nearly empty.


But the water is bracing. And the drop here is quite significant. The water is absolutely clear, but within a few steps your feet do not touch the bottom.

We take the plunge.

Women can swim topless you know.
Ed has heard me say this, but he doesn’t really believe it until we notice an older couple settling in – both in bottoms, both without the burden of a top. Further down, a young man is airing his bottom.
Now that's unusual -- I comment. No one will say anything, but on public beaches, you're to keep your bottoms on.

Slowly people trickle onto the beach and claim their favorite spot for the day. With friends, with children, settling in, picking up the thread of an interrupted conversation.


Ed and I walk up the beach to where there is a small commotion.  Swimmers, in warm suits, doing laps as part of the Catalan Triathlon. We join the supportive onlookers.


It always strikes me as remarkable how sporty the French are – especially when you leave the big urban centers. They seem to love to watch sports and they equally love to participate. And they do so well into their older years. On a Sunday, the roads are always dotted with cyclists of all ages, racing at speeds I would not regard as normal. Here, too, dozens and dozens of men and women are racing in and out of the water,  some of them dragging a bit, but still going back for that extra lap, as if the idea of not finishing hasn't occurred to them.


Walking back to the car, we pass a small group of men and women of various ages being coached in some jumping exercise.


A Sunday morning in the south of France.

We can’t linger too long as we are to meet with James (the landlord) and go over the details of our rental. (He and his wife packed their bags some six years ago, left England and moved to Sorede with their two sons.
Was it a hard adjustment? Ed asks.
It took a good year to get comfortable with it. Our boys are now fluent in French, but my wife and I are still struggling, though we can get by now with basic French.
What made you do it?
Well, the climate of course. And wanting to experience a different culture...)

It’s noon when we settle in for a breakfast on our patio. Pain au chocolat for me, baguette and cheese and tomato for Ed. The weather prediction was for some showers, but they’re staying away somehow. The air is warm, pleasant.

We can’t help but take a nap right after.

In the evening, we walk to the village just to the west – Laroque des Alberes. Past olive groves and vineyards.



The vineyards of Languedoc dominate the landscape further north, but even here, they appear as a surprise around a bend or up a hill side. But the grapes share space with apricot and cherry trees. This is fruit country alright. And we’re in the glorious season of perfect ripeness.

The village of Larocque is even smaller than Sorede. There is a tower in the old quarter up the hill...


...and from here you can see the dark clouds over the Pyrenees, the flat plain of the Rousillon and finally the sea itself. Pretend this is your panorama: looking south, then west, then north, then east.





We stay a while, hoping that the rain keeps to the mountains.

It does.

We walk down the twisting street, quiet now, except for the occasional parent taking a child out for a walk...



Back in the Sorede, we sit down for a meal at Ma Maison. We take a corner outside table and watch the place slowly fill up. But even though there are a couple of empty tables still, monsieur, the extremely efficient waiter, starts to turn customers away.

Why? I ask.
Oh, we have a Sunday crew in the kitchen. They’re working at full capacity now and they want to go home soon. It would be unfair to them to bring in more customers.

Across the street, a waiter at another restaurant has an entirely different idea. His small eating establishment fills up as well. As potential diners show up, he brings out more tables to seat them, putting them out along the sidewalk, in front of garage doors, anywhere at all.


The village of Sorede will support both eateries – one can contract, another can expand. Everyone seems content for now. And more importantly, there’s enough good food to please the patrons.

I start my meal with the local anchovy dish. This is a Catalan specialty and I am a real fan of the Mediterranean anchovies – packed in olive oil, not nearly as salty as the ones we eat in the States – they are a delicious starter.


The loup de mer follows...


... and we finish off with a trio of wonderful ice creams – dark chocolate, cassis and of course, the local apricot.


Again I am delighted with the cheap house wine of the region. Ed tells me it’s all subjective. In my head. But each time he tastes the wines here, he nods. Not bad, he’ll say. I don't disagree.