House Details
Especially for you
House diaries
Day trips from the house
House film library
Got French?
House diaries
A Working Holiday
Chapter 1: We Leave for France
Chapter 10: Looking for Mr. Goodstone
Chapter 11: A mission to la Clape
Chapter 12: Dinner at Château de Lignan
Chapter 13: Antiques and plunder
Chapter 14: The vintner next door
Chapter 15: The rooftops of Nézignan-l'Évêque
Chapter 2: Comes the crusade
Chapter 3: The 13 colonies
Chapter 4: Our curtains are dreadful
Chapter 5: Naked beaches
Chapter 6: A visit to Château des Estanilles
Chapter 7: A pilgrimage to Toulouse
Chapter 8: Remembering Collioure
Chapter 9: The priest and the mayor
Languedoc Roussillon
Recreation in the region
Sights to see
Regional wines
Antiques & junque
Tour the house
by moving your mouse over the gray arrows below.

Back To List    
A Working Holiday
Chapter 8: Remembering Collioure

An apéritif made in the Languedoc-Roussillon and advertised on barns throughout France.
David and Linda arrive, looking like yesterday's newspapers.    The flight from the U.S. isn't actually god-awful bad. From the East Coast, with a good tailwind, you're in the air five hours and change. To Paris. Then you hop a commuter jet to Montpellier: add one hour upstairs in Air France's capable hands. (You can come through London, of course. But personally I think that's a big mistake, as Heathrow is a den of thieves and incompetents, and in my experience quite seriously not up to the job. With all due respect.)   Flying to France is not as bad as, say, flying to Anchorage from Boston, which turns your ass into a cast-iron skillet and swells your feet to twice normal-size. Even so, crossing the Atlantic is a long, exhausting overnight flight. David and Linda come in asleep standing up. Unresponsive. We wait with them at the Montpellier carousel. The baggage claim area empties. Finally we're the only ones left, watching an unclaimed bag repeatedly circle the quiet room, disappearing and reappearing like a figure on a Swiss clock.

Public art at the Collioure boule court
We drift toward the baggage office. There's a short line. Simone has been through the drill several times. Our banged-up cardboard boxes have never arrived on time; they just seem to take a separate route, yet finally they always appear, intact, tape and rope unbreached, with what just might be an embarrassed look on their faces. Simone negotiates the questions for Linda. Linda looks through the chart and points out some items. As a consolation, Air France gives her an emergency toiletries kit for women, including a T-shirt. They're out of toiletries kits for men.    Before leaving to pick up David and Linda, Simone and I spent the morning conducting a towel and sheet inventory, discovering to her horror and my wan indifference that things are missing! We've been robbed! Of a pair of flannel sheets, the odd towel.   Another towel is ours but has changed color utterly, from brown to some navy gray. Simone has almost religious respect for the cleaning power - the puissance - of European clothes washers, which are small and pack a wallop. They are famous long-soakers and incredible spinners, like airplane props at full throttle. It's quite conceivable that some form of bleach has worked a transformation in the towel, that the color has simply spun right out.   The fun has ended, I'm realizing. Now we are hotel-keepers.    For our amusement we can henceforth check on pilferage. Check on spoilage. Clean the toilets. Worry about repairs. See dust on every surface. Medieval dust, true, from walls that heard fifteenth-century shouts. Dust with character, as Alain maintains. Dust that, despite its theoretical charm, must be wiped off. And every day it's back.
A tongue-in-cheek sculpture on Collioure's harbor helps visitors correctly frame the town's most famous view.
Just before we leave for the airport, Simone finds a bit of dog poop in the gutter right outside our front door, right where you'd step. With a paper towel, she plucks the offense away then cleans the spot with glass spray.

The man ordering a birthday cake in the bakery a few doors up our little rue doesn't know if his wife prefers coffee or chocolate. She's soon to be 39, on the cusp of a new decade: her fading forties. We're all laughing at his predicament. The baker includes everyone in the discussion. I'm nodding, too, and laughing it up. This I can follow. It would be the same in any language: the guy doesn't know his wife's favorite flavor. Trouble ahead, pal.   Pretty soon he throws up his hands and good-naturedly tells the baker to do what she thinks best. Coffee. Chocolate. Whatever people usually like. He smiles at everyone and unveils his final and best reasoning: "It's her birthday. She'll have to like it."    He leaves. The baker waits on us next. And she immediately complains, "People always say, ‘Do what you want.' And then when they see it, they protest, ‘That's what you did?!'"   On the house tour, on the top-floor terrace, as we look out over the tile roofs of Valros toward the nearby vineyards, David finds an American coin: a quarter. It proves to be a lucky quarter. The phone trills. It's the airport calling. The luggage has arrived. It will come by courier tomorrow morning.    For lunch, I invent a new word: re-manage.   Simone and Linda cannonade around our narrow, noisy kitchen assembling the usual cold fare: torn fists of bread, several patés, glistening slices of hard salami, three kinds of regional cheese including mellow Cantal and tomme, olives, fruit. And wine. There is a new house rule: a bottle of red wine, Château des Estanilles preferably, shall be open at all times. If that bottle empties, another bottle must be opened to stand duty. In France, I'm fiercely determined, good wine will be a ready essential, like water.

Collioure's waterfront promenade
I put out four plates in a neat half-circle, edge to edge. The idea is, each person will take a plate and fill it as they go. The food's in the center, like a mini-buffet.    Simone comes in and silently sizes up the arrangement. She moves the plates in front of the four chairs, to the compass points. I look at David. He says, "Well, there you go."   I say, "I've been re-managed."    "Yes, you have."   "Could have been worse. Some days I get de-managed."    His smile softens like butter. He knows. We share membership in the world's second-largest secret society: husbands. The largest, of course, is wives and widows.   David and Linda are bibliovores, like us: books are food. Essential. Delightful. Our favorite form of gluttony.

And no author sets a lengthier table than sea novelist, Patrick O'Brian: deceased on January 2, 2000; cad (he walked out on his first wife one day, without explanation, and never returned); creator of the Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin maritime epic, a literary voyage and fictional friendship lasting 20 volumes. The New York Times called the series without fear of contradiction "the best historical novels ever written."
Table talk has turned to O'Brian. David and Linda adore his hardtack adventures (and encouraged my first nibbles). O'Brian lived and died in Collioure, a small anchovy port and summer resort, hemmed in by rocky headlands, about two hours from our door. A further 20 minutes puts you in Spain.
Looking straight up at the Mediterranean sky: the three-story lightwell above our kitchen sink. The entire kitchen was once an alley, centuries ago.
Imagine the Pyrenees as an ample leg, with its toes dipped into the Mediterranean. Collioure nestles between the littlest toes, near the start of the Côte Vermeille, "the loveliest stretch of coast to be found in Languedoc-Roussillon," according to one guide. The terraced vineyards thereabouts are famous for Banyuls, a sweet, intense wine traditionally aged in barrels or bottles left outdoors. Banyuls is the perfect drink with anchovies, as it happens. Collioure is Catalan in character and cuisine. The Knights Templar owned and fortified the port in the 13th century. But the region's only been under the French flag officially since 1658. And although it was Spain's to deal away in a treaty, the Côte Vermeille has never seen itself as Spanish either: it is the ancient land of Catalonia.    O'Brian was not Collioure's first well-known artist-in-residence. Matisse and other Fauvists ("wild beasts") discovered the pretty, sun-smacked town in 1905 and made it famous, a bit too famous come July and August, when it overflows with visitors like a stopped-up drain.   In the fall, Collioure re-emerges from its human tsunami. But we won't be going. The weather's turned gray. The kind of gray that erases all the gem-like qualities from out-of-season resorts.    The lunch conversation swings on the tide: to renters. David and Linda are salts: they always have some sort of boat. David sculls for exercise on the tidal rivers around New London, Connecticut. They own a charter boat based in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Which is a semi-sweet deal: they spend the winter on the boat, and the charters pay for its mortgage and some of its upkeep. Most of the time the charters make little to no impression.   But their last charter was the exception from Hell. Two couples who drank heavily, broke every courtesy and contract rule, never picked up a bit of their trash, and ended up in a fistfight on the docks. Simone and I exchange a glance: here come the renters.
Back To List     print the content item
Copyright © 2005-2013, Our House In France
Site credits & acknowledgements.