I wake up with the face of the better half only inches away. Without the cares of the day, and without the calculating and distrustful face that she sometimes adopts to deal with them she looks very beautiful. She wakes up soon after I do. “You look very beautiful,” I say. “No, I don’t,” she says, putting on a calculating and distrustful face.
Yesterday a strange thing happened. On an earlier visit we went to a town where there was a huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral, which was shut. We always wanted to go back and see inside. The building looked from the outside as far as it is possible to imagine a monument to a god of love. We remembered the town as Pezenas, because we bought the local pies there, which look so nice and taste so dull, and they are called Pezenas pies. So yesterday we went to Pezenas. It’s quite nice, and full of cultural amenity, if you like candle shops. But there is no huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral.
The French have a tradition involving the rapid removal of cathedrals. One thinks of the Jacobins. One thinks of Debussy’s cathedral engulfed by the waves. Closer to home one thinks of Musrum, by Earnshaw and Thacker:
“A torpedoed cathedral sinks rapidly into the ground.”
Or perhaps it wasn’t Pezonas but somewhere else, and the huge and brutal Romanesque cathedral endures yet. Google may reveal.
The visit wasn’t wasted however. On the way back we climbed the hill and looked down on the huge and wonderful dried etang at Montady, perfectly circular, a mile across and shaped just like a tart that has been sliced and is ready to eat. See http://www.360cities.net/image/oppidume-etang-montady#41.86,21.00,70.0
I think that I may have maligned the younger Belgians. They have become affable, to each other and to us. Maybe it was a row that made them morose. Anyway, they left today and are replaced by a family with two babies.
After breakfast, the older Belgian man and I have a conversation about food. He refers to the reputation of English food as leaving something to be desired. I say, as I always do on these occasions, that the food in restaurants in London is as good as anywhere, but that the food routinely available in England, such as in airports and in the high street, is still by and large dire. I tell him about the great genius of Fergus Henderson and how the St John Restaurant is slowly changing the world. The older Belgian man adopts the thoughtful look of one has long ago stopped listening to anyone else.
“I once – there is thirty years – ate a steak and kidney pie. The taste was, er, not so bad, but – bouf!”
He gestured expressively, but what did he mean by ‘bouf’? He put on a kilo? He was most unwell? His cultural integrity was fatally compromised? Suddenly I feel squeamish and I change the subject.
The weather is hot and cloudless, so we go to the beach. The French by and large stay away. As Anthony Powell remarked, French people when in an expansive mood tend to inform you that the difference between the French and the English is that the French operate by logic; the English by experience. Logic dictates that by September the winter has begun; experience that the temperature is in the high thirties, there is nota cloud in the sky, the little waves curl refreshingly about your ankles and it is all quite good. Even better, last week, when it was not winter, there was a café on the beach with a ghetto blaster dispensing the sort of sound that reminds you that the French may have the best food and wine in the world and some estimable painters, but their pop music is crap – and now it is silent.
Three women of a certain age parade along the beach. One is wearing a headdress appropriate to a closed order of nuns, and instead of a bikini bottom an arrangement in string. It is as one imagines the dress code might dictate for an orgy.
“Russians,” says the better half.
“How do you know?”
“Because only Russian women wear string instead of bikini bottoms on the beach.”
She is prepared to leave it at that, but I can’t help wondering why that should be. Is it something in their cultural history? Were secret papers transmitted during Stalin’s terror entwined between the buttocks of babushkas? Does it go further back than that? Did Genghis Khan and his henchmen rage across the steppes, ever closer to the heart of Holy Russia, with string in their bottoms? Probably speculation is useless.
The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
Wylder’s Hand by Sheridan Le Fanu
Cold chicken, tomato and avocado salad
Domaine de la Mirande: Picpoul de Pinet (bought from the back door)