May 15, 2016

Thursday, Collioure

Part Two: Something has happened to me.  Though maybe that tense is wrong, maybe I should write: something is happening to me. Part two.

Wednesday night my plan for the next day, Thursday, was to cycle to Ceret. The weather was forecast to be fine, I have not been on my bike, and I would like to see Ceret, a village in the Pyrenees Orientales. It is a ride of something less than 25 miles, probably 45 miles round trip, with very little climbing by Berkshire standards. Part of the draw to that town is the fine museum, respected for its collection of painters known collectively as Les Fauves, including Derain, Cezanne, Picasso. Cherries: Ceret is also famous for its delicious, first-of-the-season cherries. Typically May is cherry season, but the spring is late and chilly, and I have yet to see any.

Thursday morning. I woke early by my French standard, made coffee, ate something, showered, dressed, took a look at the sky, took a look at the map. Stopped, and took another look at the sky. It was almost that startling blue Collioure is famous for. Not quite, it has been wet and moisture remains in the air. Still, very blue. Things started shifting. I started making excuses, they went like this:

"Oh, but my nagging painful hip, I don't want to aggravate it again. Oh, but look at those red roads, (Departementales, a map designation) they might be busy, with cars whizzing by. Oh, look at those towns I will need to find way through. Oh, perhaps if one of my Berkshire cycling buddies was here with me.

I took another look at the sky. Not a cloud. Clear. Saturated blue. Now all of those things are true, of course. None really gives me a moment's pause, except the hip, an issue that doesn't disappear.

But, whatever my brain's chatter and expectations, the fact nonetheless emerged: I wanted to continue yesterday's quiet reflective pace. Wanted to walk along the Mediterranean. That was the heart and truth of it.  My changed intentions had nothing to do with that chattering brain's excuses.  My real desire was to walk along the sea, where I knew there was a path, sometimes high on the cliffs, sometimes at water's edge.

Thursday, I didn't get on the bike. I walked.

It isn't lazy that I feel. Maybe it is calm. Maybe it is an enveloping lack of ambition. It feels like a question of time and space, of a desire to hold on to, and make the most of this quieter experience.  This possibly changing understanding of ways to live in the world. Dan Klein's book Travels with Epicurus, which I read last winter, lingers in my thoughts.

As I sat I remembered how the sound and sight of the sea so deeply quiets me. The smell plays a part also, here more subtly. The Atlantic has a strong, pervasive, salty smell that I associate with the ocean. The scent of the Mediterranean is milder, sometimes almost unnoticeable. Being at the shore is a rare experience for me these days, and it has a strong effect, one I have recognized for at least 30 years

I waded in the water: it was not cold, but not warm enough to be inviting for a swim. Sitting again, my feet became sunburnt, as did the back of my neck. I became hungry: lunchtime had passed, hours had passed. It was time to move. I returned by the same path to Collioure.

So I walked. The sentier, trail, was not as long as I hoped, though it was stunningly beautiful. The route effectively ended at a small sheltered beach 2 or 3 km from town, the way forward closed, with a sign marked:  Dangerous! Do not proceed!

When I arrived at that beach around 10:30, my presence made a total of 3 people on the gravelly sand. For the next three or four hours the total human count varied at any moment from 3 to 15 . Most were walkers like me, but they paused only a few moments, then turned back, returning by the same route. Others arrived from the nearby campground, towels, beach gear in hand, and stayed longer.


Lunch was at a cafe next to the cove near my apartment. Everything in that cove is under the windmill, which itself is below the medieval fort. They sky turned grey, the wind picked up, the rain returned and I returned to the shelter of that apartment.

This trip itself is definitively changing itinerary, not being totally about the cycling as my trips to France have been. The change remains a bit odd to me, and not totally intended.

May 12, 2016

Wednesday, Collioure

Something has happened to me. Though maybe that tense is wrong, maybe I should write: something is happening to me.

Thunderstorms were promised for the afternoon yesterday, and rain was dripping a bit in the morning. It was Wednesday, market day here in Collioure, and I wanted to arrive before the line for roasted chicken was too long, before the bread was sold out. Also, it was a good morning to buy a train ticket, and coffee, to do a few other chores.

The forecast made me glad I had made the long walk to the castle and Port Vendre yesterday. The same  forecast made me, again today, not plan a bike ride into the surrounding hills. Tomorrow promised sunny, dry skies, until late afteroon. I thought: back on the bike tomorrow. There is a small town, Ceret, with a great art museum, about 25 miles west of here that I hope to visit.

After market, conscious that my goal is to slow down, to reflect, relax, I walked the streets, glancing into galleries and gift shops, though I'm not much of a shopper. The colors of the houses were much brighter in the morning light than I have previously seen them, the hills running down to the sea were charming.

The town economy is clearly tourist-based, but not in that internationally familiar, overwhelmingly so, sort of way. No high rises. The tourist atmosphere here is very much tempered by town history.  Artists such Picasso, Matisse, Derain lived here in the 20th century and influence an arts culture continuing to this day. There remains something of an ongoing, though greatly lessened, culture and economy of anchovies. Less than over the nearby Spanish border, still this is a Catalan town; if you listen you will hear the language. Protected no doubt by smart zoning laws, aimed at retaining the historic nature of the town, Collioure retains something of its history as a fishing village and trading port. It is a lovely place in May to walk and to think.

I settled in to watch the world go by. Whether or not there is any deep genetic significance, boys little and big alike throw stones into water. As I sat, the promised rain arrived, and I hurried back to the apartment for a late lunch. Market chicken, tapenade, heirloom tomatos, fennel, anchovies. Yum.

The sun returned, stronger now in late afternoon and I went out, back to the nearby swimming cove, with its cafes and benches. I sat for awhile and then noticed that as the sun moved lower and west in the sky, it was stronger on the far side of the cove, the area protected from the wind, with  four benches. On three of the four benches older women sat, one per bench, looking comfortable, relaxed, reading in the afternoon sun.

I joined them on the fourth bench. Very soon, I too relaxed. Wrote a bit. Read the book I found in my apartment. Helpfully, and unusually, it is a book about the process of writing. Thought. Reflected. Calmed down. Chilled some would say. Felt more in place. Somehow I think it was there, that moment, sitting with the three other older women, though their company went unacknowledged and unrecognized, when the excellent advice of my friend George became operating reality. He had told me just before I left the States: (paraphrased) yes, go, reflect, think, and write it down. Do it again, but remember write it down. Relax, pay attention, and remember to write it down. Write your thoughts, your ideas onto paper.

I realised that for the first time since I've been here, I wasn't trying to relax, I was relaxed. I was't thinking I should write, I was writing. Equally important, I  wasn't judging my writing, analysing it, looking at it much, I was just doing it, regardless of what resulted on the page.

Storm clouds blew back in, I listened for a few minutes to distant thunder approaching. Then, quickly,  I returned again to my nearby apartment, big drops falling on me as I neared the building. Thunder blasted. I rushed indoors.