Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Market day in Ceret

This was a big weekend in the village, the Festa of St. Baldiri. Friday night the villagers got together in the ballroom for the annual village pot luck. We had to deliver our food by eight, wait for a card to be made up with our name and a description of the dish and then place it on one of the tables. We made a very colourful quinoa salad with lots of sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, parsley, apricots and slivers of almonds. Between eight and nine you could look at the food. We had a quick look round before heading off for a pre dinner walk. Back in the ballroom we paid our 3€ admission fee for dinner. There were lots of quiches and traditional potato and egg dishes that resemble quiches. Since this Is a fishing port, there were lots of muscles, octopus and dishes with squid and peas. Sausages and very tender thin slices of filet were also on offer. And the desserts. Oh my. There were meringues in various forms, lovely apple, plum and apricot tarts, chocolate cakes, an amazing cake surrounded by pieces of kit kat. We left satiated.

On Saturday we headed north to visit the market and  friends in nearby Ceret, France. This is cherry season and this town is well known for its cherries. In fact next weekend is the big cherry festival, where there will be all kinds of activities including a cherry pit spitting contest. We stopped for a coffee before visiting the market and were somewhat amazed to be almost totally surrounded by Brits.

The Ceret market is quite lovely with lots of cherries, apricots, artichokes and new garlic taking prominent at the stalls. We bought some lovely sheep's cheese and Seamus bought some local wild boar and rustico chorizos. There were some different kinds of things on sale for instance one stall sold everything cork. Some of the clothes at the French market are always different. I succumbed and bought a pair of inexpensive Joseph Seibel knock off sandals, at least they looked very like them. They were so comfortable. Unfortunately, when we were back in the car I noticed a distinct smell of plastic — my sandals! They are still comfortable but they don't breathe at all. These will have to be cold weather sandals.

After the market we met up with our friend and followed her on a beautiful, narrow,  winding road going over some ancient bridges and looking out over really lush, green countryside. Finally, we left our car at a church near her house and did the last minute in her car going down a narrow, winding track to the house. What a beautiful spot! Our friends bought the house as an old ruin ten years ago. The 250-year-old house had been unoccupied for forty years before they bought it, with holes in the roof and no windows. It reminded us of those home shows, where people buy ruins and do them up.

The covering on the outside of the house was taken back to the original stone, windows were replaced and some new windows put in. Every window we looked out had a magnificent view over the garden, trees or surrounding valley. The inside walls had a different effect with much of the original stone showing through. There were nooks and crannies everywhere. The kitchen was new and overlooked the terrace and garden. Our friends had put in the English style garden, which was probably at its best at this time of year with blooms in every conceivable colour. We sat outside and had some tea. Here we were surrounded by marigolds popping up through the gravel. The whole thing was lovely and certainly reminiscent of several books I've read, where people move to France and "do up" ancient properties. It was very peaceful and very beautiful.

On Sunday, back in the village, all was not tranquil. More St. Baldiri weekend activities were taking place. As we sat at the Nautica having our coffee we could hear the music, which resembled an elementary school class experimenting with their recorders for the first time, as the parade of the gigantes went from one side of town to the other. The gigantes are huge papier mâché heads and torsos, a mixture of males and females. They figure in several parades every year.

However, we were much more interested in the wine tasting event hosted by the village bodega. Wineries from all over the region set up marquees. We duly rented our glasses for 3€ and purchased 4 tickets each for 5€. This is a really enjoyable social event, since everyone from the village joins in and the longer you stay the merrier it becomes. We spent most of the afternoon chatting with our neighbours and tasting some lovely wines, red, white and rose. It gives us a good idea of what to buy next time rather than just buying wines we don't know. There are so many wines here that it is often hard to choose.

Back home we listened to the traditional sardana band playing music for the devotees of the dance. It is an acquired taste. The dance is very popular with older locals, who join a circle, hold their neighbour's hand at shoulder level and count steps, 39 before changing direction, then 51 steps before changing again.

As I write this on a Tuesday, we have just discovered that one of our supermarkets and many other businesses are closed today as it is St. Baldiri day in the village, a holiday. Bus loads of older people have come in to town. As we had our coffee we once again heard a sardana band and sure enough when we drove by the square they were at it again. People from all over had come to dance the sardana.

For us it was back home to do a final tidy up before visitors arrive for a short stay before continuing to Barcelona and their flight home. We will be off in a few days ourselves, this time to Greece. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cool cars and a shark brighten a cloudy day

This has been quite a week for cars in the village. On Thursday there were three new Lamborghinis in town. It looked like something out of Top Gear but without Jeremy Clarkson. Friday saw a beautiful royal blue Lotus driving around the village. On the same day there were eight very sporty corvettes with signs on them advertising the Gang Ball Corvette Race in Cap d'Adge in September. These corvettes were here for four days in a rally of their own visiting Cadaques, Roses, Empuriabrava and Figueres. It looks like we must be becoming a destination for car rallies. Maybe Clarkson and company will come to town.

Sunday saw our first grey day in ages, but the sight that met us as we approached the nautica for coffee made us forget the clouds. We knew that the fishing pier parking lot would be blocked off today but didn't know why. What a surprise! As we arrived vintage cars of all shapes, sizes and ages were arriving to park along the fishing pier. The cars were taking part in a rally from Badia to Roses.

We wandered around admiring the lovely old fire-engine red Lotus and the vintage white Panther sports car. There was an old British racing-green MGB GT and TR6s and 7s and an ancient great, long Jaguar saloon. And of course there were some lovely, original Minis in a variety of colours. The French were represented by a classic old Citroen and some smaller Citroens in varying shades of red. There were a lot of Spanish Seats in various shapes and sizes. Some did look like knock offs of Fiats and old Pontiacs. Then there were the gigantic American cars. The huge Cadillacs, the Mustangs including an old Bosch Mustang, a very sporty, black Corvette convertible and an old V8 Camaro. I can vouch from personal experience that this is truly a horrible car to own. It may have a peppy V8 but it is a killer on the back and you have to make several shopping trips because the trunk is so small. These vintage car enthusiasts have kept their car for longer than my nine-month Camaro experience.

Italy was well represented with a number of old Fiats. Many were in the original, odd beigy green colour but they all had lovely white leather seats. My favourite was the lovingly cared for little purple Fiat. It was beautiful even if it wasn't in the same league as the antique Maserati and Porsche.

It was becoming colder so it was time for our coffee. As we sat eating our chocolate bonbon and sipping our cortado, we watched the cars head along the main street of the village on their way to Roses. Fina, the owner of the Nautica shared a photo of a large shark taken yesterday right outside the restaurant. It had been swimming around the bay just like us a few days ago. And with that alarming news that is all I have to say.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Festival day in Figueres

When we visited Figueres on Friday we found it in an unusual state of total gridlock. We veered off along a side street and worked our way around to another little street where we found a parking spot. As the previous day May 1, was a holiday, the regular Thursday market had been moved back to Friday. This was a bonus for us, as we needed to do some shopping and had given up on the low quality of produce at our own Friday market.

This wasn't the only reason for the traffic jams. It was the Festival of Santa Cruz. On Las Ramblas and adjoining streets vendors were busy setting up stalls of clothing, jewelry, honey, cheeses and more. At one huge stall we found all kinds of dried herbs and herbal concoctions for whatever ails you. A huge outdoor restaurant had been set up and already there was a gigantic, rotating barbecue full of sausages, steak and ribs cooking away. It looked and smelled delicious. At the far end of the ramblas a jousting arena was set up. While some vendors were setting up others were already doing business but many had set up only to close again on their three-hour afternoon break. It doesn't matter if there are tourists willing to buy, the afternoon break is sacrosanct for many. It was a very busy day in Figueres with very long line ups for the Dali museum. We decided not to wait for the jousting festivities, which were probably a lot later in the evening.

 Meanwhile, we made our way to the old slaughterhouse. It is a lovely old building that has been fully renovated as an exhibition hall. We always admire the roof with shades of green and red tile. Today was the "Mostra d'Art Floral Flors de Circ" or Circus Flowers show in conjunction with the Circus Arts Foundation. Every February Figueres has a huge circus festival that brings performers from all over the world. At the heart of today's display there were twenty-two very old circus posters, from 1915-1930 that the foundation had acquired and a collection of old costumes from the shows made by a now defunct Parisienne tailoring firm. These were all beautifully displayed among flower creations from local florists. What a novel and lovely display!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Search and Rescue crew give boaters a helping hand

On Wednesday afternoon we decided to go to the Nautica for a coffee. It's a lovely spot overlooking the marina and the fishing boat wharf. There is always something happening and today we were in luck as our search and rescue boat, Salvamar Alnilam, sailed around the breakwater with a tow line behind it. It took a few minutes to see that it was towing a power boat that we are guessing lost power. For us it was really interesting to watch, for although we know most of the team from seeing them at the coffee bar, we don't often get to see them in action.

The powerless power boat was pulled closer in and then gently nudged against the dock. With everyone safe the Alnilam moored in its usual spot.
Our day's excitement was over.    

Trip home enlivened by aerial acrobatics

Photo by Christophe Gothie
The highlight of our trip home on Monday was an unexpected show by the Patrouille de France, the French Air Force acrobatic team. Headquartered in nearby Salon-de-Provence, they just happened to be conducting training flights as we drove by. First we spotted four jets in formation trailing red and blue coloured smoke. Then from the opposite direction came four more jets, also spewing coloured smoke. It was all very dramatic, especially when the planes rolled over and flew upside down, right above us. It was quite magnificent.

The Patrouille de France is the oldest acrobatic team in the world. They fly Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jets. In 2009 Commandant Virginie Guyot was appointed leader, becoming the first woman in history to lead a demonstration team.

Great food and a voice from the past

On Sunday, with our White Rock friends, we followed the twisting road to another friend's house in Ceriana. It was time for Sunday lunch Italian style. There were the four of us, our friends, their daughter and her friend and both nonnas sitting at a very long table in the kitchen.

Our first course was a Russian salad with a different twist as it was made with tuna. Next came the torta de verdura or zucchini pie made with zucchini from the land. This was an age-old recipe made by Simone's eighty-eight-year-old mother, Silvana. It was lovely and the pie crust was perfect. Next came fava bean fritters made by Pinuccia's mother, Teresa. All this was followed by sun dried tomato pasta, a fresh salad and three desserts. There were dainty little meringues and cakes from the local pasticherria, a lemon tart, and a cherry cake made by Silvana. I liked the cherry cake the best as it was quite plain and not too sweet. Of course all this was accompanied by Simone's home made wine.

While we were drinking our coffee, Teresa mentioned that she had met someone at the beach in San Remo, who had played in a band with our friend Dino fifty-five years ago, touring around Scandinavia. She said the lady had given her phone number and would love to speak with Dino. He didn't look too thrilled. Teresa, undaunted, phoned the lady and poor Dino had to speak to this lady. I use the term speak loosely since he could hardly get a word in edgewise plus the lady was yelling down the phone. We could all hear her. Finally, a much relieved Dino managed to get off the phone. We all had a good laugh when Teresa told us that she had actually met the woman two years ago and had saved the phone number. Then she told us that the woman lived in Emilia Romanga, which is miles away.

At the end of the afternoon we said our good-byes and left with a big bottle of Simone's home made tagascan olive oil. We drove through the village to a fountain by the side of the road where we filled our bottles with some of the best water we have ever tasted. Our travels to Ceriana ended with a visit to Pellegrin's bar for a coffee and visit with the owners. A perfect ending to the day.