Bruniquel, Argelès, Collioure, and Perpignan
30.08.2009 - 01.09.2009
The next day, we left for Bruniquel, one of the many charming medieval villages in the region. The sun and romantic ambiance went perfectly with the enormous summer hat that I’d brought for such occasions. We explored the castle, gardens, and town.
I always get dreamy thinking about stone walls that were touched by others hundreds of years ago, and impressed by those skilled in trades that I don’t know the first thing about. We had a light lunch of salad and charcuterie in the open air, and eventually headed back. I really can’t blame the French for taking pride in their patrimoine (heritage) and culture, which they have wisely made such efforts to preserve.
Afterwards, we headed to where one of Pilar's brothers lives with his family, and her mother next door. Their little 3-year-old girl was running around topless and free, looking for earthworms where her dad was digging in their garden. She immediately identified me as her playmate, took my hand, and boldly showed me around the yard and the house. There is something about little French kids that just melts my heart. What amazed me were the fig trees, which just grow wild there. For me, they are so exotic and exquisite that I really feel like I've tripped and found myself in paradise. What a treat to pluck from the tree such a sweet, succulent gift of nature when normally I would have to empty my wallet for a handful of those less fresh. Earlier that day, we'd noticed a fig tree and Pilar and Thibault had humored me with a few photos. Oh là là!
I had the honor of being captured again among fig trees. At my gleeful request, Thibault climbed up and collected a small basketful of figs. I was in heaven. We ended up eating them over the next couple of days. And when I write "we", I really mean myself. The others were a lot less excited about what was in their backyard.
Eventually, we went inside and gathered around the table, where we munched on nuts, homemade toffee (freshly made by the brother), and other snacks. It would've been dinnertime in the US, but given that we never dined before 8:30, it was l'heure de l'aperitif. It was all very friendly and welcoming. At some point I couldn't resist making some opinionated statement on whatever topic we were discussing, but no problems there. (Argh, I really should take notes at the end of every day to remember what the hell was being discussed.)
Monday, we headed to Argelès, a town near Perpignan on the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Pilar shares a little beach house with other family members—also luckily for me. We lunched with other family/in-laws and then hit the beach. It was super windy, but still hot enough to want to jump in. The water was cool and refreshing (and salty--I'd forgotten), with a view of the base of the Pyrenees in the distance.
Thibault’s 4-year-old cousin, Clara (a real charmer who knew just how to get what she wanted) and her grandfather joined us.
Swimming, splashing, floating—pure bliss. I was too afraid to float until a few years ago. It was too hard to let go, relax, and trust that I wouldn’t sink. But once I learned to be at one with the sea…ahh, the tranquility of being gently cradled by liquid nature and gazing up at the infinite calm blue…
We took turns with the shower and I got in last. Mistake—even just rinsing and moisturizing to be able to get a comb through my thick hair takes time. (If it could grow back at a halfway acceptable rate, I would shave it all off.) But I tried to hurry up, though I wanted to look nice before Pilar, Thibault, and I headed out to Collioure. Of course, between my hostess and her son, I was the only young female with difficult hair who wanted to dress up a bit and put on make-up. So it goes without saying that I took a bit longer. The resulting effect was not bad, but aggravated my hostess’s impatience and temporarily dampened my spirits. Nobody is perfect. In an effort to alleviate my guilt, I tried to tell her that many women in their 20s/30s take as long or longer to get ready when making an effort before going out. My words were wasted. Half an hour more seemed to her like an eternity. Note to self: the next time I find myself the only young, single, female adult in a group, get in the shower first, or else carry on as if I were getting ready for work and forget about dressing to impress. As superficial as it might seem, it was really important to me. On vacation mode, I want to make the most of it, look my best, feel confident, play a different role, and get away from the daily grind as much as possible. None of this tennis shoes and jeans bullshit.
Anyway. Driving into Collioure, the sun was still treating us to perfect weather. Every crooked little shop-lined street was packed with tourists, even on a Monday just before September. At least most of them were French. Ridiculously picturesque and long known for its art scene, it reminded me of St. Tropez, with its pastel-colored buildings jammed together on the coast and scattered on nearby hillsides. As usual, Pilar’s camera did its thing.
You can see me in the dress that I’d snatched from my ex-stepmother’s closet (not so scandalous, as she had already left by then). Coincidentally, the dress fits me perfectly, which also tells you the average age and size of women my father exclusively dates. And, as of the last few years, they are exclusively Argentinian. But who am I to judge, having dated men up to 14 years older and as much as 11 years younger (still legal!)? The difference is, I wasn’t looking. But to each his own. Besides, I can imagine myself in 15 years, still single, a xenophilic cougar on the prowl (assuming I won’t be as broke as I am now).
We returned to the beach house for a jovial dinner on the patio (as the French eat outside as much as possible), joined by Pilar’s other brother and sister-in-law, parents of the adored Clara (whom I captured counting to 12 in English at the end of this video—too cute!).
The others prepared to turn in for the night, while Thibault, Clara, her dad, and I went to soak in some of the beach night life, which basically consisted of a low-key permanent carnival. Joining Clara on one of the kiddie rides and pretending it was more exciting than it was, I thought yet again that day…is this almost what it feels like to be a mother?
The next morning was overcast and, not producing enough body heat of my own, I didn’t feel like swimming again. So I watched, rested, and wrote a bit. Besides, I didn’t want to have to deal with my hair again, or give anyone the chance to complain about waiting on me. During lunch, I tried to tempt the others with some of the slightly stale donuts that I’d bought in a London airport, in order to keep a promise to another friend. Most of the group eyed them with the same degree of wariness that the French generally reserve for peanut butter. The grandfather was the bravest, and ate one to please me.
We packed up and left for Perpignan...
...where an annual international photo exhibit was running. Pilar had warned us of the possible effect of the photos, which tend to be taken by journalists in areas of conflict. When I entered the room with photos and stories of Iraq War veterans, I broke down. There are no words for the horrors they have suffered…and for what?? Equally hard to imagine is what people who actually live there have had to go through. I can only feel helpless when confronted with the injustice of people who have to pay the price for others' greed. I guess there is always some little thing each of us can do. But it seems hardly worth saving the human race that only continues to repeat its mistakes and destroy itself through its own selfishness.