Wednesday, September 29th, 2004: St. Fréchoux, France
A horn blasts every morning in our little village, somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00. If we were at home, we would think we were near a construction site and the coffee truck had rolled up. This morning we investigate and find that it is a patisserie-on-wheels! Our little hamlet is not big enough for a shop, but we can still get fresh baguettes and pains-au-chocolat for our petit dejeuner.
Today is market day in the closest “big” town, Clermont l’Herault, and we head in to spend the morning among the townsfolk, savouring the smells of the butchers, the cheesemongers, the epiceries. The only thing that isn’t on wheels in town today is a patisserie. We walk through the stalls of clothing and wonder who buys this stuff? We are heading to the car when we spot umbrellas on a terrace, above the river (although, it being fall in a dry climate, the river has no water running). It is Le Tournesol (the Sunflower), a restaurant we had been told was quite good, and so up we go for a delicious lunch. The menu is priced in that uniquely French way, where an entrée, main and dessert are barely more expensive than a main alone. So we go the whole way, and order some wine as well. The restaurant is full, and it seems that lunch is a family affair, as there are many children here today. We enjoy watching the 2 waiters playfully make faces at the kids as they race by with their loads; we nickname them Frick and Frack, and wonder how they avoid an upset, as they are always running into the backs of chairs, and even each other as they go in and out the single door to the kitchen. The food is heavenly, and we linger longer than we should, enjoying the sun and the coffees, turning into sunflowers ourselves.
We head to Lodève, the other “big” town in the area. As we pass the turning to St. Frechoux, we drop Greg at the chateau so he can take a nap. Rose and I continue on to town. Although only about 12 kilometres apart, the difference between Lodève and Clermont l’Herault is striking. Clermont l’Herault is almost medieval in feeling, its streets winding up and around the church. Although the church in Lodève is almost as old, dating back to the 12th century, it feels like it has been dropped into place, for everything else, including the beautiful Hotel de Ville that used to be the bishops palace, feels no newer than the French Revolution. We walk around a bit, discovering the charms of this sleepy town on what feels like a midsummer’s afternoon. The museum beckons – there are posters all over town, and we respond to their siren call. The museum is inside a beautiful hotel particulier, and the special exhibit this year is of Van Dongen, a Dutch painter, a good friend of Picasso’s, of the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. The show is impressive, and definitive. Both Rose and I are quite taken with it, and given the size of Lodève (about the same as Mitchell, Ontario) totally surprised by its quality.
We head home, happy, to find Greg busy making a light pasta and salad supper, which helps us assuage the guilt we felt after our big lunch.