Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The market, the butcher, and the beach

Tuesday's and Thursday's are market days in our village. The market is 2 blocks away at the "place" (square) in front of the post office. On Tuesday, there is only a single vendor of fruits and vegetables, but he has everything you could need. We bought lemons and mushrooms for the chicken tonight. More regional strawberries and asperagus and assorted salad things. On the way home, shopping bag in hand (you bring your own), we stopped to check out the butcher. He has all kinds of meats as well as wines (8-9 Euros the bottle, not inexpensive by local standards)and some groceries. The meat selection includes porc products of many types including sausages (charcuterie). And in another case, is found beef, various types of chicken, rabbit, veal, and lamb. The man and woman running this shop are most helpful and the woman speaks English. I ask to buy some beef and she asks if I'd like something quick to cook. She cuts me two slices of what I think she called "bavette" which she sliced off a larger cut of meat. Without being packaged and labeled, I couldn't recognize the cut for sure, but it looked to be some sort of steak. (Once home, I look it up in the French Wikipedia and get this definition: "La bavette est une partie du surlonge, morceau latéral du ventre dont la chair est longue, de texture filandreuse et goûteuse." Surlonge = sirloin) And we also buy some olives from an olive domain about 40 minutes from here. We had tasted these when having aperos with John and Pat and they told us they were from the butcher.

We've packed our lunch and are ready to head out to Valras-Plage, what appears to be the closest beach to us. More later.

We're back - actually we got back at 7 PM had aperos with Tony (our host) and dinner (steak from the butcher, yum) and are now cleaned up and it's 9 PM. Had a long discussion over aperos about the speed of life in France. I love it, it protects the quality of life, but it's also exasperating because everything takes a long, long time and you can't get on with life. Somewhat oxymoronic...

We did the scenic route to the Valras-Plage going through the edge of Beziers and through the centers of towns on the way. The plage is about 25 km away (15 miles) and a lovely drive from vinyards to marshes to beach towns. As you can imagine, the beach is slow this time of year as it's not really warm enough to swim. But it is warm enough to sunbathe, play in the sand, and walk the beach. There were lots of folks doing just that. We stopped at the office de tourisme where the receptionist insisted on using English (should I be insulted that my French is that bad? I think I'll believe that it is her job to make tourists feel as comfortable as possible.) We picked up information about lots of kinds of activities from wine tasting (dégustation) to kayaking on the rivers, to visiting historic places.

We were able to park right at the beach promenade (and for free - only July and August require payments). There's a wide, fine sand beach on either side of the mouth of the Orb river. They recently had 4 days of torrential rains and trees of all sizes reportedly floated down the Orb and were deposited at the beach. The trees and branches were cut up and people have been hauling them away for firewood, so that now there is only small evidence of what must have been huge piles of brush. However there are still plenty of twigs left to throw to the dogs who love to run into the water to fetch them.

From the beach, we could see (hazily) the first big mountain of the Pyrenees, Canigou, looming large and snow-covered. We ate our picnic lunch of (what else?) baguette, cheese, sausage, and fruit on the jetty watching the gentle lapping of the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean. Then Dave walked the beach and I sat on the promenade doing some needlepoint. By 3 PM, we were ready to leave, but Dave hadn't had enough of beach towns, so we headed to Sète, 40 km (25 miles) away.

While Valras-Plage was low-key and seemed somewhat undiscovered by the tourists, Sète is a vacation resort type town built around an old town and fishing seaport. As you approach Sète, there are miles of beaches of coarse sand as contrasting to the Valras beaches which are fine white sand. But they are unspoiled and go on forever it seems. They are just finishing up what they are calling a "green path" for cyclists and walkers that follows the top of the main dune behind the beach. Multiple parking areas provide access to these otherwise remote beaches.

Of great interest (and causing great consternation to me) was a public bathroom we found. This bathroom was free (not all are - the can cost up to 50 centimes/$.75 to use) and a simple square concrete box with one door standing at the top of the main dune. You had to push a button which opened the bathroom door. When you went in, there was no lock, but the door was marked occupied (and no one could open the door because the enter button wouldn't work unless the bathroom light showed "libre" (available). The bathroom advertised that it cleaned and sanitized itself after each use, but we didn't know how. It turns out that you must exit and close the door (which then still says occupied) and the bathroom goes through it's cleaning routine and then changes the light to "libre" again. Are you following me? Now, since Dave and I didn't get the close the door and wait for the self-cleaning, I happen to know exactly how this self cleaning works. For you see, as Dave came out, he held the door for me and I went in. The bathroom is large enough for a wheelchair and has a toilet and sink as you might imagine. Just as I was about to sit on the toilet, it began to retract into the wall through a slot (this toilet wasn't attached to the floor and was only a bowl - without seat as is common in France). Luckily able to avoid sitting on the ground as a result, I believe I let out a little or perhaps large shriek. Holding myself together, I watched in utter surprise as the toilet moved into and out of it's little wall slot 4 or 5 times to the accompaniment of flushing noises and blowing air (drying and sanitizing the bowl I can only assume). At the same time, water spread over the floor from little valves on either side of the door, washing the floor. (I had wondered why it was rather wet.) Luckily the water was only 1/4 inch deep and then slid out a drain under the sink. After what felt like several minutes but was likely only a minute or less, the actions of the automatic self-cleaning bathroom stopped and I was able to continue, hoping Dave was watching the door as I now was unsure if it remained locked or not. Now that is a memorable toileting experience. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera (or presence of mind) to record the scene for posterity. But I'd like to have a word with the designer of this badly engineered project. And then I'd like to ask the folks who thought these would enhance the public beach-going experience. Perhaps better than peeing a bush, but I don't think it will change French bush-peeing habits one bit.

Well, back on track - to Sète. Past the beaches, one arrives at the town which on its lower levels is one ritzy apartment complex after the next. The town is on a high hill (about 500 feet if I remember correctly) and is pretty much encircled by water without actually being an island. The Mediterranean on the south, a large pleasure and fishing port on the east and a large, shallow salt-water lake, Bassin de Thau, formed when the sand built up the beach area and cut off the wetland behind from the sea. Of course we had to find our way up to the top for the views which are pretty spectacularly panoramic.

Another wonderful day - beautiful sun, temperature in the mid to high 70's. I can still feel the heat of the sun on my face. Sunscreen is a definite must here. Tomorrow we head to Toulouse (about 2 hours inland from here) to pick up Katie in the late afternoon.


  1. I'm all packed up and ready to go. Leaving here around 8:40 pm tonight. I can't wait, your adventures have really amped up my excitement!!!

  2. I wish it was me you were picking up. I'm not packed or anything yet, but I am ready to leave anyhow!!