Friday, 26 June 2009

Travel narrows the mind

Narrow street in Agde

The roads at the ancient heart of Agde are narrow. Sometimes, you can stand in the middle of the street and - if you stretch out your arms  - you touch the walls on both sides. When we first came here a few years ago, you had to hang your rubbish bags on a hook by the front door each evening because the tight little streets were impossible for a bin wagon to navigate. A man with a cart came by at dawn to collect them. These days, there’s a wheelie bin and a nippy little truck comes around each morning to empty it, so there’s no need to hang your rubbish on a hook any more. I miss that a bit. What can I say? I’m a Cancerian. I have an uncomfortable relationship with change.

The narrow streets are shady, even in the middle of the day, with a cool breeze off the Hérault river licking its way up towards the top of the town (we live on la rue Haute, it’s as high as it gets). The houses are built from sombre, volcanic basalt. So sometimes it’s not until you emerge, blinking like a sunscreen-scented mole, into one of the larger squares or onto the quais, that you realise it’s actually 30 ̊C.

The view from the terrace at duskThe view a couple of hours later

Some of the things I love about summer here…

  1. The slip-slap of rush-soled flip flops on a cobbled street.
  2. A cloudy glass of Ricard before dinner. I am yet to try that fiendish-sounding tribute to Hemingway, the Death in the Afternoon cocktail – a measure of pastis poured into a glass of champagne. I think I’ll keep it that way.
  3. Rising early - as soon as the Mediterranean sun curls its way across the floor of our room - and wandering onto the terrace to gaze at an horizon stained the colour of a ripe peach.
  4. Sleeping late. Falling out of bed and into a fat paperback - one of the many that have been sitting undisturbed for months on my bedside table in London.
  5. Swifts circling the house, celebrating their shrieking dawn and dusk patrols, and the seagulls which my friend Avril says, ‘seem to be constantly laughing’.
  6. The house smelling of ripe charentais melons.
  7. Eating flat peaches and cherries at every opportunity, either in their blissfully naked state or piled into sweet tarts on a pillow of frangipane.
  8. Endless small, dark, cups of coffee under the awning of Le Plazza, while listening to the free concerts in the square (one of the benefits of having a communist mayor, sans doute).
  9. Sitting in a smart bar on the marina at Marseillan drinking an icy glass of Noilly Prat approximately 100 metres from where it was made.
  10. Plucking glossy, emerald green bay leaves on the banks of Hérault.
  11. Eating sea salt caramel ice cream on the terrace of Le Commerce and wondering how I could make it at home. This is the reason why I need to go back there almost every day to sample theirs, in the interests of culinary research.
  12. My mother, who can talk about the ancient Phoenecians as though they are sitting at the neighbouring table under the trees outside Le Capitaine, or at the very least about to row past us in a quinquereme.
  13. If I had to have one thing for lunch every day for the rest of my life, it would be a little tartine of grilled cabécou goat’s cheese on a slice of sourdough bread with a trickle of honey and a scattering of toasted pine nuts.
  14. There’s a beautiful roof terrace several streets away which we can see from ours. It’s filled with pots of roses, pelargoniums and pink oleander. The man who owns it is clearly a very keen gardener. Sometimes he likes to do this naked.
  15. The little boy from the gypsy family on the corner - who always looked so sad in his thick glasses and dummy in his mouth, trailing along behind his older brothers as they performed exuberant wheelies on their bikes - has lost the dummy and gained a puppy, a floppy-eared, beagley scrap of brown, white and black fur, which he carries around under his arm all day like a beach towel. Boy and puppy seem very happy together.

What do you love about summer where you are?

Smart doors, scruffy doors, knockers and hinges…

   Door in Agde Door in AgdeDoor in Agde A tiny, hobbity door A hobbit's neighbour Door in Agde Door in Agde Door in Agde Door in Agde Maison d'Estella, Agde Door in Agde Door in Agde Worn old stepsOccitane and Agde symbolsDoor knocker in AgdeDoor knocker in AgdeDoor hinge in Agde

A place where a door once was in a house on the Herault

This is one of my favourite doors in Agde, the heavy basalt door to the Eighteenth Century bakers’ oven in the house where we are staying.

Stone baker's oven door

19 comments:

  1. I am so in love with your vacation - I was just saying to a friend that it is summer, but I haven't really felt like I was enjoying it or realizing truly that it was here.
    I am really going to rectify that if I can - like take up nude gardening. Now if I could only find a suitable terrace....

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  2. What gorgeous photos!!! Sounds like a wonderful vacation...

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  3. stumbled upon your blog today. you paint such vivid pictures with your words. love the list, too! :)

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  4. Lady P - Just look out for the thorns...
    CookiePie - Thanks so much!
    The Epicurean's Market - I'm so pleased you did and thank you for your kind words. I LOVE a list. They're everyday poems to me.

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  5. Hi.It's my first time here on your blog..love the photos..

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  6. Wow, Agde looks amazing! I must go.

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  7. Lovely writing and photos. I think it must be a family obsession to photograph lots of doors... (I do windows too!) Hope you have had a wonderful restful break.

    C x

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  8. Who is the naked gardener? Can I come with you next time? Please?
    zxxxx

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  9. Those picnics on the roof were very special. The anonymous gardener was truly an added bonus. I was thinking about how our blogs will change now we're back in Britain. Mine will change gear, I think. But yours will be just as beautiful and appetising...
    mxx

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  10. Love your 'things I love about summer here' - but I wonder now if we shouldn't just have said 'sod it', thrown caution to the wind and gone for that Hemmingway cocktail!

    A xx

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  11. Peachkins - Thank you so much for visiting.
    Girl - It is indeed a lovely place.
    Clare - Dr Freud, call your office... Doors are endlessly fascinating. What stories lie behind each one? Particularly here, where a worn and battered door can open onto a magical courtyard or soaring staircase.
    Z - Oh, I'd love that!
    Wendy - Merci, maman! I miss you, and Agde, already.
    Avril - Well, I think that is clear evidence that we have to return. We can call it the 'Sod it, pass the cocktails' tour...

    Dx

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  12. What a lovely post--thank you! I love summer because I can just hang out and do things (bike ride, play tennis, hike) with my daughter.

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  13. Catherine - Oh, I hope you have a lovely summer with Emma.I love it that everything just seems easier. Two days in a row now, I've followed my morning dog walk with coffee in a local cafe with my friends Alastair and Ricardo.We sipped cappuccinos in the sunshine while the dogs lapped at their water bowl under the table. The perfect way to start the day.

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  14. Absolutely gorgeous post Debora! For a moment I was right there with you as I felt, smelt, saw and tasted all those wonderful images! A small black coffee and frangipane tart I can do. The rest I can dream about! It almost seems as if time is "slower" there compared to the crazy hustle and bustle world many of us live in.

    You captured a real sense of history with all those doors! One wonders what went on behind those doors at a time long before the present.

    PS: Summer is awful. We have some really hot temperatures - unbearable at times. Summer is my least favourite season. Right now we are hearing about a heatwave in England and the temp. is 32degrees. You are kidding. A heatwave here would be 45 degrees!

    Another PS; This is my ninth attempt to leave a comment. I have been getting a block that prevents me from submitting a comment. It says "internet cannot open this site....operation aborted". It is most annoying but I have been trying.

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  15. Excuse me, I believe you are having MY vacation? I was just in the midst of having what passes for a vaca here...running errands, pulling weeds, and haunting the mailbox. What was I thinking? This, THIS is a vacation! Falling out of bed and into a paperback...

    I worship you, lambie!

    Love, Karen in cloudy, rainy, Rochester...Which has everyone one might love about rampant constant moisture, minus the appealing allure of vegetarian vampires and other movieland accoutrement of rainy climes.

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  16. Mariana - Thank you! I'm fascinated by the lives lived behind those doors. I wish I could walk through each one, but then I'm nosey like that... Some of them are so small that even I'd have to duck and I'm only 5ft5. Now I'm back in London and it's hotter than France - 35C today and we're all melting! I know, we're wusses. It's tough for us fair-skinned folks to get to work in this weather, but I have little choice. Almost as soon as I got off the plane, I helped my friend Carole with the food for her party for 40 lucky souls and then on Saturday, Lady de B and I are catering our Aussie friend Stuart's birthday party. So it's the best summer ever and I'm chained to the stove... And sooo sorry about your troubles in posting. I'm delighted you persisted as I love your messages. We're investigating the problem so I hope it won't happen again.

    Karen - Does it help even a bit if I say I know how lucky I am? And that I, and my runner beans, are longing for rain to fall softly on the tarmac-melting streets of London?

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  17. Barely, but I'll take it. I'm so glad you know what quiet waters you've rowed toward, darling girl. And I know you deserve every cotton-pickin' minute of bliss!

    Hugs, Lanky Yankee Karen

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  18. Somehow I get the feeling you don't mind too much being 'chained to the stove'. Glad you are having the best summer ever - keep on havin' fun.
    Thanks -cross fingers so far so good.

    Mariana.

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  19. Nothing better than summer in the Mediterranean...just came back from Barcelona and when I started to skim your list I thought perhaps we were in the same place! so jealous of the fruit...New York is wonderful, but the fruit does not compare...

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