(From the time before Covid)
At home, the air drenched with rain and the garden heavy with roses and peonies, collared doves nesting, I’d felt a twinge of resistance to be travelling away. But twenty four hours later there I was, sitting at a favourite pizzeria by the sea, looking across to the Mont Saint Clair and Sete, breathing in the fresh, bright light. Julio Iglesias echoed softly in the background, adding to the atmosphere, and my pizza arrived laden with anchovies and capers.
I’d driven from Montpellier Airport in my no frills hire car, loving the Mediterranean landscape of conifers and umbrella pines peppering the hills. I felt at home here too.
Next morning I went to visit a dealer chez lui. He’d hurt his leg so wouldn’t be stalling out at the Saturday Puces market. He brought a chair round to the door of his depot and sat as I carefully lifted down boxes, moved paintings and mirrors, and peered into old suitcases. We chatted, had coffee, and quite some time later I had a car full of purchases to be deposited with Barry later.
The Puces market was disappointing. With just a long wooden rosary, a gold framed Certificate of Baptism and a metal jardinière I sat with my grand creme in the tentatively warm morning, the air full of amber incense after a damp night. I drove on to Marseillan to a favourite wine producer with warehouses on the salt lagoon. In years gone by the wine was shipped out from here.
Monsieur, now elderly, let me taste some wine from a large plastic vat with a petrol pump style nozzle. He carried my wine out to the car and peeked into my basket with the gold frame peeping out. “I am perhaps indiscreet,” he said, “but I love old things.” We stood talking for quite a while as he told me he had lived in the village all his life, as had his family for many generations. I treasure the memory of that conversation. “I sleep in sheets embroidered by my great grandmother,” he said, “and I’d rather remember my family by living with their possessions than by visiting the cemetery.”
Seventy years ago there were just three cars in the village, he continued. “People went on foot or by bicycle. Two generations would live in the same house, so Grandmere was there to look after the little ones while Maman worked in the vines or at home. The men got up at 3am to feed the horses and work in the vines until midday. My mother would send me to the corner Epicerie for a ladle of milk. After lunch the village shut itself inside to keep out the heat, and to sleep. But when I was little”, remembered Monsieur, “I didn’t want to make a sieste and my father tried attaching me with a piece of string to his toe to keep me inside!” In the cool of evening people would take their chairs into the street to chat. The men went to bed at 10 but the women stayed longer. Everyone helped each other out, vous savez. But with the arrival of television the evening gatherings diminished as people peeled off to watch their favourite soap. So much has changed”, he said ruefully. “But one thing that still needs time and patience is the wine. Et voila……”