Yesterday, a cold blustering wind pushed through the town trying to destroy the playful Sunday atmosphere. The yellow sunshine and bright blue skies meant many were persuaded to buy rotisserie chickens rather than stand over a hot stove all morning preparing Sunday lunch. G’s mum had reserved ours and instead of the planned, leisurely walk in the morning sunshine to pick it up, we relied on the car to shelter us from the sideways wind.
Just as the week before, when G and I tried to buy our roasted chicken from these pop-up stalls dotted around town, the cues were enormous. We drove around town in the heat last week trying every rotisserie stand we could find and they’re not easy to locate when you’re not too well acquainted with their whereabouts. Some are set up outside boulangeries, some outside fruit vendors, we drove for half an hour until we found another. We didn’t know last week about reserving chickens either. As I waited patiently in the cue, reprimanding an old cyclist who thought nothing of pushing in and eyeballing a woman who had the same intentions, we were told after fifteen minutes that unless we’d reserved a chicken, there were none left and we’d go without. One friendly lady told us where we could find some more that would be ready at 1.30pm but after smelling crispy and juicy chickens all morning with garlicy sautéd potatoes, we couldn’t wait any longer. We tried a butcher, no such luck. We were resigned to our fate and opted for slices of cold roast beef instead and warm, freshly-baked baguettes from the baker next-door.
The butcher was a charismatic man, obviously ready to shut up shop and enjoy the sunny Sunday afternoon. “Take that, yes. Anything else? No? I shall pour some eschallotte oil over the beef slices? Yes?” We nodded to his seemingly rhetorical meanderings and happily headed home with our bounty. I constructed a gherkin, mustard, lettuce, tomato and beef sandwich and he was very right about the tasty sauce.
This week however, we had our chicken reserved. Whilst I picked up the baguettes, G’s mum waited in line. I spotted a homeless woman shading herself by the awnings of a closed shop. We were one of the smug customers who smiled inside and out when the announcement came that there were no more left. I saw G’s cousin in the line at the rotisserie, well it wasn’t a line, more like a crowd. She said a quick hello and I heard her huff after the announcement turning to her companion and saying “McDonalds then?”, I felt sorry for her.
As we crossed the road, our roasted free-range chicken and garlic and parsley spuds in arms, I noticed the homeless woman was now sunbathing in a turquoise bikini in the empty carpark. “Why not?” I thought to myself and it made me feel a ray of happiness that this woman who life, through luck or lousy choices, was leaving behind, was taking solace in the sunshine and appreciating the small positives she had around her. If I’d had money I would have brought her a chicken – smelling that all day could not be fun. Then I saw she had a sandwich, a big one and I was happy.
At the house we tucked into the usual odds and ends as an array of delectable goodies were brought out of the fridge. I’ve never had a roasted chicken before with spicy guacamole and black tapenade that’s for sure. I agreed to a small amount of red wine to accompany G’s mum but I’m not a fan of hazy and heavy wine in the middle of the day, especially in summer.
I had brought a chou fleur gratin with me, cauliflower cheese to us Brits. I had made it the day before to bring to the cancelled bbq due to the belligerent blasts of wind and shamefully, a third of it was gone. Gin and tonics on the terrace had made me hungry and in my slightly inebriated state I ploughed into it, appreciating the béchamel sauce I’d spent an hour making. Thankfully, it went down very well with everyone – even G said it was delicious and he doesn’t enjoy béchamel or chou fleur – another success story to fade the memory of that terrible pie.
Driving home I expressed disappointment at the wind. Shielded by the car, it was a glorious day. So rather than stay inside at home we went for a drive. We headed towards Nyons and it was stunning. We drove through vineyards and past old, crumbling, golden-stoned buildings. We drove past olive trees, fruit orchards and palm trees. I saw the Côtes-du-Rhône vineyards and the Vinsobres grapes lapping up the sunshine. Large barrels were used as signs, as were large wine bottles, and Hollywood style signs. It was better than I had imagined. Fields stretched over the land rolling out in front of us, all shining from the golden sun and enriched by the blue skies. The lack of modern houses and the sparsity of commercialism and people in this very productive and natural area, added to the delight of it all. The quiet roads, winding through it with respect, were somewhat empty of vehicles, yet not deserted. Some cyclists passed us by and some motorcyclists too, appreciating what the day had brought them.
We were alert for Napoleon’s Eagle but didn’t spot it. As we passed Grignan, I tried to coerce G into stopping so I could pick some cherries off a tree that was just reachable from an old stone wall. He smiled but kept driving, knowing that a neighbour had collected some for me. The views of the Medieval towns built into the hillsides, the vineyards with aphid-attracting rose bushes, the orchards with brightly coloured fruit, was almost too much. Veering around a floral precipice, I was fixated on the views beneath us. I saw signs for handmade ice-cream, a chocolate factory and wine tasting. I was in paradise. I also saw artists’ work hanging in windows and signs for an upcoming Marcel Proust festival. “I love it here”, I said relaxing into my chair, “If the sea was just an hour away I’d be even happier”.
Two hours into the drive and the beauty was over-stimulating. I started to get tired of seeing vineyards and noticed that the towns were empty. “A lot of rich Dutch people have spent billions on properties here and then don’t use the villages until the height of summer”, G explained, spotting NL number plates ahead of us. It was disappointed to see the lack of life in the stunning villages which made me dream. One after the other, I found something more beautiful. A cafe/restaurant by a fountain, made out of crumbling ruins, or a castle/chateau with manicured gardens, or even simple farm houses with turquoise/blue shutters (my new favourite colour). Flowers were in full bloom and the pinks against the gold stone and blue shutters were postcard perfect. Flowers were an essential part of the landscape. I noticed that in some towns, the mass of flowers were the most alive thing there.
We drove back a quicker way – a lot less scenic – with plans to spend a day in noted villages that we had passed previously. We talked about business ventures and dreams and decided to come back for wine tasting soon. The French countryside is such a wonderful place to dream. It’s moments like this that I forgive cultural clashes and programming and just appreciate where I’ve chosen to live. All of it was beautiful but it’s the kind of beauty appreciated by a vacation rather than a photo. How do you chose to represent a small part of this place when it’s a place that needs to be experienced in its entirety – including the food, the art, the morning sun and the warm dusk aperitifs… I love being here. If only I could drop in my friends and a bit of the English culture I’d be even happier!