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.

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