Saturday, 1 October 2011

On the edge of the seasons

A couple of weeks ago the sea here was unusually active, gushing frothily enthusiastic onto the beach like a pot boiling over or a few million tons of champagne.  The locals blamed the upcoming equinox for this change and maybe rightly, as there was no wind at all and it returned to it's trademark glassy stillness the very next day, leaving no clue as to what had inspired the anomaly.  Someone suggested that the moon was closer to the earth than normal and that was what was causing all the commotion, but actually, the moon was at it's farthest yearly point from the earth so that couldn't have been the case.  Whatever the cause of it, something was up.  There seemed to be a different attitude in the water itself, an extra mischievous joy. Each wave was topped by meringue-like foam that dispersed into what closely resembled a bubble-bath. I floated about in it for hours, re-living watery memories of my childhood holidays, many of which were in France.  I made a big mermaid sculpture out of sand, with masses of flowing hair, like I used to, rolled backwards and forwards in the tide, like I used to, and realised that if I wanted to be on holiday permanently, I could do it here.
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The very next morning, the temperature dropped like a stone and the sunny hiking trip I had committed to when I thought we were still in the middle of summer looked set to be a game of icy wind and rain.  The few people I saw outside on the streets had the haunted look the French always adopt when rain appears, sort of betrayed by nature, like in Day of the Triffids when everyone's gone blind and giant carnivorous plants are stalking humanity; that level of trauma.  So what? I hear you cry.  Well, I was determined to find out how a mediterranean Autumn differed from an English one, preferably with lots of photos of me overcome by the heat to irritate my friends and family back home, whereas it was the exact replica of a late-October day in Cambridge and not at all the kind of evidence I was looking for.

On the way to the pine forest we had decided to hike through I was told that because it was now Autumn and the hunting season was starting we might have a problem with drunken hunters.  Hunters are supposed to aim upwards into the trees, but sometimes they are not so discerning after a liquid lunch.  My friends said it was probably okay because one of us had a red t-shirt on; that would lessen the chance of our movements being mistaken for those of game, at least.  Funnily enough, I had admired some bulletproof vests in the Montpellier branch of Decathlon a few days before, but not realising I would soon have a genuine need for one I had overcome the temptation and bought a swimsuit instead.  It just goes to show that you should always listen to your intuition...

Clustering around our red t-shirted colleague, we entered the pine forest.  After walking for some time we passed through a little settlement and encountered this insanely friendly cat guarding a church there.  I thought it might be part indigenous wild-cat, but it turned out to be English.

The forest floor was covered with pine cones that were so springy to walk on I fantasised about covering my sitting room floor with earth and bringing back a few hundred of them to create an interior forest look.  I reasoned that I would soon be doing woodwork in there anyway, so having a lot of wood and earth around would create the right ambience, but I suppose that it is going to start raining at some point and that could get quite unpleasant.  Still, I am thinking about it!

Amazing wavy pine trees worthy of a Chinese movie.  Expected to see a couple of sword fighters wafting about on them, gently bending the top branches with their exertions, but didn't.  Near to Montpellier there is a famous bamboo forest, so they are probably all there.

These trees were actually growing out of the rock; I really don't know how they do that.

Rosehips, the aftermath of wild roses; used to make herb tea and syrup out of, just like in England.

Nice dried flowers, no idea what they are.  We left the pine forest and made our way through the surrounding countryside, stopping to gather fruit and herbs wherever possible.

Fennel!  I'm sure it must grow in England somewhere but I've never seen it in the wild.  One of my favourite herbs, and something we use a lot in Tripti Kulai, the restaurant I work in, where they insist on calling it 'fenouil'.  I took some of this home and I've been eating it each day as it is completely delicious.  Hopefully it really is fennel and not some hallucinogenic local delicacy.

Beautiful village called Saint-Privat (I think).

I've noticed that vegetation here has a faintly tough look, as though it is ready for whatever life throws at it, in contrast to the Italian landscape that always looks like butter wouldn't melt in it's mouth.

Lovely olives!  I can't be the only person who thought that olive trees yielded either black or green olives, can I?  My friends had a good laugh about this, in their tactful gallic way, and then explained that it is the treatment of the olive that determines it's colour.  On the way home, we interrupted a householder's siesta to buy fresh olives, and some were given to me in order to educate my palate.  They were fruity, delicious and superior; predictably.

My landlady in England grows very good figs.  She says figs like arid conditions, which means I have been wrong all this time and Cambridge is not the rainy place I thought it was.  These figs were quite little in comparison to some I have seen, but very potent, and both fruit and leaves carried the scent of aniseed.

The Priory of Grammont peeping up through the trees.

A goat we found in the grounds of the Priory that I liked very much.

Although it could be a kind of guinea pig, I'm not sure...

There were grapes in abundance along the road, and these were very sweet and strong.  Apparently there is a first yield and then there is a second, smaller wave that most farmers don't bother with because there are not enough grapes to justify the labour, and these just hang around waiting for people to pick them.  I think that these must have been from the first, forbidden harvest, which made them even better!
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The day was not as cold as it had threatened and we were only moderately chilled when we headed back to Montpellier.  I actually only heard one rifle shot the whole day, and that was as we were leaving the pine forest; I think the hunting season may be just starting now.

Perhaps I will go back to Decathlon for the bulletproof vest before our next hike.


  1. Hooray for your burgeoning blogging Hita!
    So wonderful to read your doings and thinkings - and such wonderful humour!
    I hope you'll be hanging the fennel up to dry for collecting seeds... What abundance of lovely life you are finding down there at the edge of the sea.
    Grinning for you xxx R

  2. Ohhh envy! To bask in nature's outrageous excess! Even the goats spend all day in their most magnificent jackets! Thank you for bringing that luxury in words and pictures, dear Hita. Am holding up my bowl with a Dickensian "More please" from under the shabby clouds of northern England. Much love, Sumangali