L’imagerie de la vie en Aniane

Yesterday we spent the afternoon up the road in St. Guilhem de Désert which, in Prince Edward Island terms, is the Cavendish to the Montague that is Aniane.

While the travel guides tend to characterise Aniane as “a drab little town,” if they mention the village at all, St. Guilhem de Désert warrants descriptions like “nestled in a steep and wooded ravine rising from the gorge, the reddish roofs of its medieval houses contrasting with the electric green of the surrounding trees” (from The Rough Guide to Langeuedoc and Roussillon).

While there is no model space shuttle in St. Guilhem de Désert, and it certainly does have a striking location, like Cavendish its tourism star appears to have sucked much of the life out of the town, leaving craft shops and candy stores in its wake. Every flat piece of ground is taken up with pay parking lots, and a cup of hot chocolate costs $4.50 CDN.

That all said, we did spend a pleasant afternoon there, in no small part because we discovered that Catherine + Oliver = Peter in teeter-totter terms, and there was a great playground near the parking lot.

But back to Aniane.

Drab or not, we’re quite enjoying our little life here. Aniane is a medieval town too, with streets no wider than a single car (or, like ours, too narrow for any cars at all) arranged in chaotic maze-like fashion with not a right angle in sight.

Fortunately for me, Catherine, who cannot read a map if her life depends on it, has an excellent directional sense, and once she’s traveled a route, she can easily find the same route again. For me it’s a whole new ballgame every time, and so it usually takes me twice as long to get anywhere in the village. I’m slowly starting to recognize the various visual cues — flower pot here, recycling bin there, pile of sand around that corner — that help me find my way. Having Oliver at my side — he’s inherited Catherine’s directional abilities — is a big help; yesterday he led me all the way from the boulangerie across from the big church to our front door.

This small town of about 1,500 has four bakeries, two small grocery stores, two butchers, a half dozen restaurants, two newsstands, and, on the outskirts, a health food store that rivals any I’ve seen in Canada (and they sell only food; there wasn’t a “supplement” in evidence).

We are slowly discovering the complex inter-related opening hours situation: in addition to the “everything closed from noon to 4:00 p.m.,” each boulangerie is closed on different days, presumably so as to ensure that the town is never without ready access to baguettes.

This morning was market day, and the parking lot on l’Esplanade was taken over by all manner of nomadic meat, fish, fruit and vegetable sellers, with a smattering of sellers of socks, pants and underwear as well. We came home with oranges, raspberries, strawberries, lettuce, thyme-flavoured goat cheese, a baguette, two eggplants, some carrots and a basil plant. Oliver came home with a tiny dinosaur, purchased from two entrepreneurial young boys set up next to the fish stand; it cost him 20 cents.

We came home and had breakfast in the garden: pain chocolat, coffee, tea, juice, and raspberries. Despite being overrun by a team of small flying insects mid-meal, that it was sunny, 20 degrees and we were in France made for an almost perfect meal.

I have taken to reading, or at least trying to read, the Montpellier newspaper Midi Libre every day. While my French cannot support any of the details, I did manage to figure out about the new Pope, and I’m sensing that there is a grand political sea change happening in the country (although I can’t describe it to you at all). I can read the obituaries and the TV listings and the weather, and the reports of who got écrassé par une voiture last night.

I am off to my favourite tree in Gignac now, to find my WiFi sweet spot, grab my email and paste in a backlog of blog posts. Rumour has it that the other newsstand carries the Daily Mail, so I will hurry back before they close at noon to see if I can catch up on the English-language news.