Roujan and Beziers

This morning alarm wake up of the eight o’clock chimes from l’Eglise de St Laurent just a literal stones throw down the street is becoming a lovely habit. When that first peel  rings out followed by a complicated series of chimes the meaning of which are a mystery to me  it is time to click on the little kettle here in my milky aqua blue room and pull the curtains back to reveal the morning. Once again the sky is blue, peppered with popcorn clouds and the conifer outside the window is still so there is little breeze so far.

Today I’m making THE LIST of things to do and see.. it’s a Virgo thing, time already seems to be fleeing. 

Off into Roujan this morning to check out the Bureau de Tourism tucked away in a tiny back street. It’s closed for the holidays but in the meantime Ali and I walk through the old town..and this is seriously old, medieval and older, back to the 9th century. Since I was here in 2004 there is a now a walking tour of the town through eleven centuries, complete with signage..all in French mind you. That’s  for another day as today I have to dig deep into the memory bank of shopping French and turn back up the main street past a beautiful old  vignerons house covered in leafless vines hanging with now dried purple black bunches of grapes. This is shuttered window country with blue, rust red, green, ochre and turquoise colours glowing in the building stone and Juliet balconied doors hang above tabacs, grocers, butchers and bakers along the way. Madame Frank and I decide on three rather than four filet de poulet and after a long rather convoluted conversation decide that the chicken legs do not need cutting into smaller pieces for the tagine tonight.  The village is a tad light on coriander and things Moroccan and North African so we leave for Beziers after lunch and siesta and drive through picture postcard after picture postcard.

 Plane trees arch overhead sunlight filtered in patterns on the road . Now leafless, limbs and branches almost touch with scruffy nests listing drunkenly in the upper branches now the leaves have fallen. Smoke twists in sleepy spirals from piles of prunings amongst the acres of vines still waiting secateurs and seeing those acres stretch horizon wards it is just amazing to think that each vine is pruned by hand and the task ahead. 

Beziers is the second largest city in the Herault and fourth of the Languedoc. The heraldic  logo is a jousting knight on horseback and speaks volumes to an ancient history dating back 2700 years from  the Palaeolithic, through the iron age when it was a principal fortification of the Mediterranean coast , the Renaissance and into the present .  We drive through a maze of streets into the Algerian quarter at the heart of which is a cobbled ‘place’ surrounded by tall, some shabby but all elegant balcony windowed houses increasingly bathed in a rosy orange glow. Partly the slow arrival of evening and partly the illumination of a huge fair and fun park gleaming  and screaming noisily in the centre there is an energy and edginess that is very different to that I’ve experienced so far in Roujan or Pezenas.  A surprise as always at every turn with funky little design and art galleries across from the police station decorated with massive trompe l’oeil wall and a collectors paradise, windows bulging with Tour de France memorabilia  and a particularly lurid book of the exploits of the Marquis de Sade.

In a steep, narrow side street we find a small door amongst the Halal butchers and apartment buildings and a treasure trove of tagines and turmeric, harissa, Moroccan oranges and pomegranates , mint and coriander in string tied bunches.

Into the evening and the fair is in full swing, the scent of kebab meat starting to permeate the air  while smoky eyed boys talk into phones or hold earnest conversations in doorways.

Back in Roujan the tagine comes together in a swirl of cinnamon and preserved lemon dunked with pieces  broken from a crusty round of bread, a gift from the Beziers  grocer.

Meat, Bread and Wine

All those vegetarian readers either look away or gird the loins as while there are references to things green or dug from the earth, the rest is pretty much of the red and white protein variety with the necessary grain and fermented fruit to make up the food groups.

 Today was bringing together the parts of the equation for Christmas lunch on Sunday with a walk to the village to collect a pork roast (slow cooked for 24 hours) and a forage for the elusive parsnip which along with a brussel  sprout  is an essential part of a British Christmas meal. Both love or hate vegetables the parsnip is a particularly elusive beastie here in the Languedoc and will be missing from the platter though well compensated for by goose fat roasted potatoes…do I hear the arteries groaning already??

 Roujan is spectacularly well provided with boulangerie and boucherie. The former amongst a few thousand artisan bakers in France taking immense pride in making and baking exquisite breads and pastries, the latter preparing and displaying selections of poultry and cuts of beef, pork and sheep tucked in amongst which are sausages, pates and parcels of ready to eat confits and hanging above which are rabbits and plucked geese and ducks.

 Not the pallid albinos of quick turn around growing but milky caramel skinned and happily plump.. and just in case pudding hasn’t been thought of fresh made crème caramel and gateau de riz, rice pudding.

 Butchers, like the bakers and the grocers, also sell wine and a range of glass jar preserves and today I find black stoppered  phials of Madagascer  vanilla pods for the secret santa gift.

 Come noon the louvres are lowering, shop doors being locked and a trio of pastis drinkers at the cafe are walking home for lunch behind shuttered windows in stone houses some of which in narrow arch way entranced lanes are almost close enough to handshake a neighbour at first story height. The greengrocer covers his display of Spanish oranges wrapped in tissue paper decorated with a red and blue elephant, endive, courgette and eggplant and closes for lunch and siesta.

Returning home we lunch on orange glazed ham, flute.. a baguette of sorts..and pickle and then  doze on   a sunlit sofa until it is time to collect the Christmas wines from Domaine La Croix Belle in the village of Puissalicon.

Ali and I taste three delicious whites in the cool pebble floored ‘cave’ before stocking up with reds, whites and bubbles. Tonight while sipping on a Le champ des Lys the fire is crackling and a chance to cogitate on a thought of Lillias Campbell Davidson in her Hints to Lady Travellers. This time on continental travel she muses ‘The traveller who insists on living and eating as if she were still in England….will cause general disorganisation to the whole system.’

Ooh dinner is on…ham, mashed tatties and baked beans!! Great disorganisation to the whole system.