The road came to a dead end. Ahead a few white yachts plied round the headland. Unloading my luggage in the hot afternoon, I relished the sea breeze and the calm. The modest hotel here is all I need. I’m glad to return – it’s going to be a busy few days but here I have my retreat.
I woke next morning in the still, cool, calm pre-dawn, ready for a small market in Sete. The air was heady with pine and thyme, the mirror sea pearly blue. A short drive along the narrow spit of land between salt lagoon and Mediterranean took me to Sete. Stall holders slowly unloaded in the Place Aristide Briand. Beautiful sheets were being arranged, the monogrammed initials hand worked to perfection, the linen cool and heavy. I couldn’t resist a couple, but there was little else yet on offer. I spent an agreeable few minutes looking at the old CD stand, remembering favourite singers from the 80’s. I’d take another circuit of the Place later but still found little.
I made for a café to watch the town come to life. Women in cotton dresses passed by, dog walkers sauntered. A seagull walked casually around the fountain. A Ville de Sete truck pulled up as I sipped my coffee and two men shouldered between them a huge plastic tub cascading with foliage and flowers. Up it went onto a post on the corner of the Rue Alsace Lorraine and was duly sluiced from a long yellow hose. The French do their municipal planting with verve.
The next market in a village further round the salt lagoon was quiet. A few vans had parked along the road to the port, oleander trees in pink, red and white in full blossom. One dealer said he didn’t think there’d be so many stallholders today: it was going to be very hot, and strong winds were forecast, which meant disaster for the large market parasols! Just then a car and trailer clattered around the one olive tree roundabout and reversed deftly into place. This looked promising. Pots, pitchers, baskets, trugs, picture frames, boxes of ribbons and a beautiful faded pink, wool filled quilt were unloaded on the ground and the day got off to a better start. Once an abundance of purchases had been wedged into my hire car, I walked along the port, past old wine warehouses towards the lagoon. The Mont Saint Clair stood shadowy on the horizon and the oyster bed racks silhouetted against the bright morning sky as a yacht sailed quietly out.
I drove on to Pezenas on back roads through small villages, past vineyards and umbrella pines filled with orchestras of cicadas, gusts of sound billowing forth. Demented swallows swooped and screeched. A seagull struggled to take off from the road in front of me, a very dead rat in its beak.
This June was hot, hot, hot and French dealers were expiring in the heat as much as I was. There was much talk of 40 degrees in the shade, blocks of ice in front of fans, cool baths and sun down. Lush summer fruits were set out on wooden stalls for sale along the road – apricots, peaches, melons, nectarines. I stopped to buy a melon, and Monsieur picked one that was perfectly ripe for that evening.