Downpour to Heatwave!

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(This is the view of Canet that we normally see on our approach to the airport in Perpignan – but not on this occasion! Thick rain clouds meant we saw nothing at all)

To say it was raining is an understatement! As we came into land on our Ryanair flight from Birmingham, the skies over Perpignan were full of thick dark clouds. It wasn’t just raining, it was pelting down, you could hear it on the fuselage of the plane, you could see it pouring down the windows in rivulets. When the steward opened the front door of the plane to secure the steps he was absolutely soaked, despite wearing his raincoat, and the captain announced that no one was getting off in the next few minutes. Despite all that, thankfully the landing was pretty smooth, although there was one almighty flash of lightening as we touched down. What a welcome to the south of France!

We’ve been here a week now, and it has got a lot better, thankfully! In fact by the time we reached our house in Canet half an hour later, the sun was beginning to peep through the clouds, and the second downpour that we had experienced on the road from the airport had ceased. By the evening, when we went out to a local restaurant, everywhere was dry. Dinner on this first night was to be in a restaurant we have known well for the past twenty-four years. Back in 1993 when we first came to Canet, we stayed at a place called Malibu Village, a holiday resort made up of Timeshare apartments, rentals and owner-occupiers. The restaurant in those days was very good, but has gone through difficult times of late. We had heard that it is now very much on the up, and we were not disappointed. Carefully prepared and beautifully presented dishes were put in front of us by friendly and attentive staff. We both started with Escalivade, a Catalan dish of roasted vegetables, served here with asparagus and a Parmesan Crisp, which we followed with Gambas for my partner and Sea Bass for me.

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(Escalivade with a Parmesan Crisp served with Black Olive dressing on a glass plate)

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The dessert, one of my favourites, was Tartelette Citron Meringuée.  A good helping of really local red wine ensured that we passed a very pleasant evening.

Sunday was spent working in the garden, which during our absence over the previous two and a half weeks back in the U.K. had burst into colour. There was lots to do, cutting back the creepers, and thinning out the vine, to ensure a good crop of black Muscat eating-grapes in late August and early September. That done we made our way to Perpignan where we were going to attend the evening Mass of Pentecost at the Cathedral.

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(The Sanctuary of the Cathedral in Perpignan prepared for the Pentecost Sung Mass)

As the weather gradually got better during the week, much of our time was spent organising the outdoor furniture and getting the swimming pool (la piscine) back into operation. Our regular pisciniste arrived on Monday and did the major cleaning work after removing the winter cover, cleaned the filter, checked the ph levels, and reset the timers and the heater. All done within an hour, and all we had to do was wait until the temperature was at the level we like it. Within two days the water was crystal clear again, without the use of chemicals. In the pool house there is a UV lamp over which the water constantly passes, removing any impurities and thereby doing away with that awful smell of chlorine! Thanks to the summer cover, which is like thick bubble wrap, and the efficient heater, the water temperature is now 28° Celsius, or for those who work in Fahrenheit, a very pleasant 82°. With the aid of the sun, (and this weekend we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave down here) it will soon be over 30° or a mere 86°. A bit like a luke warm bath!

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Yesterday we marked a personal event, and took ourselves off to Saint-Cyprien, the next town south along the coast, to celebrate in style at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by friends. Saint-Cyprien is one of the largest pleasure boat ports along this coast and also has a fishing harbour, so the fish is always very fresh in the restaurants there. Before our meal we enjoyed a Mojito in a bar on the edge of the port called Le Bateau Ivre, (The Drunken Boat), and since I was driving, mine was non-alcoholic, I hasten to add. It’s known in French as a Mojito Virgin!

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At the restaurant, L’Hidalgo, once again we were not disappointed. Our starter was a rather large platter of Tapas. Being so close to the Spanish border, tapas is very common in these parts and is often found on menus. Ours consisted of a selection of cold meats, Manchego cheese, white anchovies, razor shells, squid, crispy chicken and a fried fishy doughnut, called acras de Morue. We were able to take our time over all this with a good bottle of red wine from Collioure, a beautiful fishing port and wine producing area two more town further south along the coast towards Spain.

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(Platter of tapas, with the inevitable, but delicious bowl of Aioli in the foreground)

Then came our main courses: my partner had chosen to have Parillade de Poissons, a mixed grill of fish and seafood which he very gallantly made his way through!  Mine was a  Cocotte d’Agneau façon tajine, a slow cooked North African Lamb Tagine, which was not too spicy, but very flavoursome. I did leave room for another of my favourite desserts which I have mentioned in a previous blog, Un Café Gourmand, a selection of four tiny desserts, including a Crème Catalan, and another tiny Tarte au Citron Meringuée, with an espresso coffee. Sitting facing the harbour, watching the moon rise, with not a breath of wind, was a lovely end to the evening.

We have really kind neighbours here. Four days ago, the neighbour on one side brought us a huge bag of cherries, which her cousin had picked up near Vinça, about twenty-five miles away. They were beautiful and we have enjoyed some every day since. Then two days ago, the neighbour on the other side brought us a bowl of apricots which she had just picked from the tree in her garden. They were delicious. Not many food miles involved there! Thank you Nicole and Suzanne!

And so our first week here in Canet-en-Roussillon has come to an end, but not without a little sadness. Just above the covered terrace outside the kitchen there is a decorative water spout, which serves no purpose, it’s just there to add symmetry to the look of the terrace,  but over the past few years it has become home to nesting birds who have successfully reared their chicks there, and we’ve watched them coming and going to bring food, and eventually see the young fly the nest. This year, sadly things have been different; first on Wednesday, then yesterday, and now this morning, we have found three chicks on the floor below. Did they fall, or were they pushed? We shall never know, and we cannot interfere, nature has to take its course. But it is still very sad to witness, and we are wondering if there are any chicks still in the nest?

What started with a downpour has ended with a heatwave, but better that way round as today the French are voting again. Just over a month ago they held Les Présidentielles when Emmanuel Macron was elected President, and today is the first round of Les Législatives, when members of parliament are elected. Personally, I’ve had enough of elections, but that is another story, and not one that I intend to get into here!

Photo Album from Canet #1

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Before I go back home on Tuesday, I’m going to share some of the photographs that I took yesterday in the historic quarter of Canet-en-Roussillon. There will be more to follow when I come back in a few weeks time. For those who might be interested, all the photos were taken with the camera on my iPhone SE.

(Photo above: Plant pots outside a house on the Rue du Presbytère)

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(Left: Coloured shutters on houses in the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Right: The sun shines through the arch on La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: A classic Peugeot outside the Restaurant Vigatane on the Rue des Remparts)

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(Left: An old town house on the Rue du Château. Right: The sun shines on the tower of the Parish Church of Saint Jacques, built between the 14th and 16th centuries)

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(Above: Dappled sunlight shining through a palm tree leaving shadows on the old brick wall in La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: The fountain by the Church in La Place Saint Jacques)

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(Above: Le Château Vicomtal, originally built in the 11th century, is gradually being restored to its original splendour by local stonemasons)

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(Left: An ivy clad house in the Rue de la Bascule. Right: View through an opening in the northern medieval town wall)

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(Above: The local bar, Le Castell, advertises Brochettes, which are served on the terrace in summer, in the shade of the plane trees, yet to come into full leaf)

Liberation

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Today, here in France, it is la fête de la victoire, or le jour de la libération. It is a holiday to celebrate the end of World War ll and the freedom of the French people. It was on this day that Charles de Gaulle announced the end of the war in France on May 8, 1945. Here in our town, Canet-en-Roussillon, there was a commemoration at the War Memorial in the local cemetery this morning, a parade of Second World War military vehicles through the streets, the reconstruction of a United States Army Camp on the beach, and later tonight an open air dance will be held in the main square at Canet Plage. Most villages, towns and cities have some kind of celebration, and even seventy two years on there are those who remember the liberation of this country from Nazi occupation and oppression.

Yesterday the French elected a new president. At thirty nine years old, Emmanuel Macron will be the youngest person to lead this country since Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. Obviously as a foreigner here in France, I did not have a vote, but like many I was mightily relieved that a person of the far right would not be leading this country. France has many problems, and the path ahead will not be easy for the new president. Just as May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration and a fresh start after six years of war, so it is to be hoped that May 8, 2017 will be a fresh start and a time for the French people to come together to seek solutions to the many issues that face us all in today’s world, and heal the real divisions in French society.

La Fête du Muguet

There are many different titles given to the first day of May. May Day is the obvious one, and for well over a century the day has had connections with workers’ rights, indeed it is sometimes known as International Labour Day, or here in France where I am at the moment, La Fête du Travail. Even the Catholic Church has got in on the act, and as a response to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius Xll instituted the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. The day has long been a public holiday in many countries, but here in France there is another lovely tradition going back to 1561, when on May 1st King Charles lX was presented with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. It is said that he then began the tradition of giving little posies of the highly perfumed lily-of-the-valley (Muguet in French) to the ladies of the court on that day each year as tokens of good luck.

All over France in the days leading up to May Day, you can buy these little sprigs of flowers or even potted plants to give to your sweetheart, other family members, or even neighbours, as tokens of luck and prosperity. It has become big business here. We arrived here on Saturday and our friends who met us at the airport presented us with a little pot of these flowers when they deposited us outside our house. The wrapper usually states Je porte bonheur – I bring good luck or happiness.

Big business or not, it is still a charming French custom as the beautiful scent of le muguet fills the air. I cannot give you that scent, but I do send you all “a virtual sprig of lily-of-the-valley” which I hope brings you good luck and happiness too. Bonne Fête du Muguet!