Charlotte and her cousins hadn’t visited their aunt in a long time, and Martine’s gratitude to have them back under her roof was evident in the great food laid out for us each night. Warm evenings allowed for casual dinners in the pool house and everyone pitched in to make it happen, including the new guy who was in charge of getting herbs from the garden. Like with the olive trees before, to be clipping fresh basil leaves under a setting Mediterranean sun was almost laughably perfect. Sure I was dealing with awkward family moments and botching my French left and right, but in this setting it was sliding off my back a bit easier than usual.
I noticed a lot of our meals were influenced by our geography: homemade Greek salad, tabbouleh, gazpacho, and paella were making their regional presence felt. The herbs-de-Provence showed up a lot, even mixed into the salt we were sprinkling over our potatoes with French cream and butter. A large cheese plate was passed around each time (a staple), while desserts came in the form of a pear and berry tart, bowls of fresh peaches, and a dense German cake called gâteau à la broche. Each dinner was a party in my mouth and I had the residual garlic taste each morning to prove it.
As lovely as life was at home, there was a whole lot to see in the area and our days were numbered. The pride of the land is la Cité, or the original fortified city of Carcassonne. It dates far back, at least to the Romans 2,000 years ago, and consists of an imposing castle tucked into a small ancient city of thin winding streets. Tall stone walls surround the entire area and were a necessity during the constant threat of attacks through the centuries. Best way to describe the vibe here? You feel like you could be fleeing from a fire-breathing dragon at any moment. We came here twice: once during the day as a large group and again late-night with Martine and her husband who, having being locals for decades, gave us a gorgeous guided tour.
I’m still not sure what gives me such a strong gut reaction to this kind of stuff. It’s more than the simplicity of feeling like I’m in a storybook, but definitely not as lofty as the appreciation a historian or scholar would have. I’m hovering somewhere in the middle, and maybe not knowing exactly where or why is part of the fun. Maybe that’s the reason why the awe of seeing these things is always equaled by the wonder of the reaction itself, the act of trying to place your own life experience inside the framework of a castle or a cobblestone street or a royal garden. Surely that’s part of what makes it so good. Or, maybe all that cold pink wine was just going to my head. Either way it was great is what I’m saying.
The next and final episode will have us driving, swinging, zip lining, and hurtling 140 mph high above the south of France.
to be continued