Now that I’ve settled back in to my French life, it’s about time I gave you an overview of my new environs. Argelés sur Mer fills many functions; it’s a village, a coastal resort and a marina/port. The village part, where I live, has been around since the 13th century (except for the pizza shop around the corner, obviously) and has many of the same idiosyncracies as Collioure. For example, there is neither rhyme nor reason to opening hours. Each shop seems to work its own timetable and a few just open on a whim. And either my reputation has preceded me or these are a very suspicious people because the local Shopi (supermarket) pursues an even more rigorous policy than the one in Collioure, inspecting the handbags of all who come to the checkout. Or maybe it’s just me.
Argelés is more of a working town than a village and I admit to finding it a bit of a challenge starting all over again in a new place where people are a little bit busier than in Collioure. So, I’ve taken the extreme step of getting up earlier in the morning. And I’ve discovered that if you bother rising before noon fun things can happen (who knew?).
Take the local market, for example. I had no idea there was one until I crawled out of my bed at the unearthly hour of 9.30 to let Bill, the odd-job man, in to erect a pergola on the roof terrace. Hearing a strange babble from the end of my rue, I followed the sound to find market stalls all over the place – up and down the street, all around the church, all around the village. The whole place was vibrantly and colourfully buzzing. From cheeses to chocolates, kaftans to khakis a huge array of gorgeous goodies was on show. Flowers, jewelry, ceramic lizards, hats, vegetables, saucissons, shoes, pottery, fish – it was a dazzling, busy, happy scene in the sun. And this takes place twice a week! That’ll be two early mornings, so. I didn’t even buy anything, just roamed around getting high on the colours and the friendliness.
Living on a narrow street, in a narrow house, ensures that you are rarely physically alone. Monsieur le Reader sits just a few feet away from me each day, reading his book on the narrow balcony that overlooks the street and my kitchen window. The fact that his undies are invariably hanging out to dry from the same balcony makes the notion of conversation difficult but we will get there in the end.
My bedroom and the roof terrace are both at the back of the house, which also overlooks a small street. Monsieur le Vest lives in one of the two occupied houses directly across from me. The man is so large (in a very tall and quite wide way) that I spend hours imagining how he manages to get into the tiny house. The fact that he rarely leaves it adds fuel to the speculative fire. His underwear dangles from his living room window, hovering over the heads of passersby. It’s so large that I like to sit in the cool breeze created by the flapping motion. His wife, Madame le Vest, rarely appears but that’s probably because she is squeezed into a corner somewhere knitting vests.
Next door to Monsieur le Vest, Madame le Bun has visitors. Her son, daughter-in-law and their several-months-old baby have come to stay for a few weeks and they all spend most of the day sitting out on the terrace directly opposite my roof terrace. They’re a talkative bunch but baby Bun will put them all to shade when he starts mastering sentences. Even now he keeps up a constant stream of ga ga’s and woo woo’s, only ever drawing breath when the bottle is plunged into his busy mouth.
The beach at Argelés is about a mile from the village and sports 7 miles of sand which, I’m told, will be thoroughly covered with bodies by the beginning of July. The surrounding area is camper-heaven, with large mobile home and campsites at every turn. Very few of the shops and none of the many stalls that gather beachside open at any other time except the summer months. Bill, the aforementioned odd-job man, who is English, tells me that he and his wife retired to a house by the beach 9 years ago but got so fed up with the extremes of full and empty that they eventually moved inland to a more evenly-paced town. And, lest you think that I am a bit slow at picking up the language, he and his wife still don’t speak any French. So there!
Speaking of which, it’s time for me to start my homework for tomorrow’s lesson. I will leave you with a rough translation of the motto on the Argéles coat of arms, which is ‘Qui S’hi Acosta, Té Resposta’. According to my translation it means: ‘Gather Thistles, Accept Prickles’ or ‘Who Rubs There, Pricks Himself There’.
I may have to talk to teacher about that one.