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Sunday, February 22, 2009 – Bugs in Paradise

Our Man in Paris is Our Man in Paris no more.  Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has ended his many years there, and now you can find him in the South of France. He has relocated to Port-Vendres (département of Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon région), a fishing village on the Mediterranean, just north of the Spanish border, where the Pyrenees drop into the sea. This is the fourth dispatch from those parts.

Vieux Port - Port-Vendres (département of Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon région)

Vieux Port - My Front Yard

Bugs in Paradise

Sunday, 22 February - It wasn't too windy yesterday but window shutters are rattling today. There are even some clouds, to give the sky texture. Last week on the way to Perpignan I saw some clouds from the bus and had the distinct impression they were painted by someone trying not to be impressionistic. It's the first time I've seen clouds that appeared to be unreal, painted 'realistically.'

When Canal+ has the sports roundup here it is all rugby. Wherever the dividing line is between France and the Midi, all the towns south of it have a rugby squad. Yesterday Perpignan's Catalans faced Bayonne's Basques, and the west coasters won. In case you happened to catch this, the home team wears red and yellow, the local flag is red and yellow and the region plasters it on buses and garbage cans and it flies from the masts of fishing boats.

Shop hours here are still a mystery. No matter what you think should be open, it is closed. Today only one of the two Tabacs was open and they were out of plain Gitanes. The closed one has them. Yesterday all the pharmacies were closed at five in the afternoon. On market day the merchants pack up right after noon. They don't stall around waiting for Paris housewives who are always running late.

Not all the folks standing on the dock contemplating the sea are wasting their time. Some are fishing. They have long poles and they flip their lines out, even in the yacht harbor, to catch undersized anchovies. I heard a rubbernecker ask some kids if they intended to have a fish fry. I looked into their bucket and saw about 15 minnows getting used to the color yellow. They didn't look like enough to feed a medium cat.

Floats and Nets - Port-Vendres (département of Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon région)

Most of the restaurants that were closed when I arrived have opened. They have their blackboards out of the sidewalk and they all have similar offers, midday menus for 14 to 16 euros. Some have menus going much higher, for those yacht owners who can't live a day without lobster. I guess I am going to have to try them all. One week I will try the grilled sardines in each place and the week after, the calamares a la plancha with garlic sauce.

A lot of cafés offer tapas. These are an inexpensive way to have smaller portions of nearly everything on the menus, plus chorizo and manchego that are not. Here again you have to pick your time because kitchens are often shut down just when you feel like a snack. One place has a sort of local caviar made from anchovies, and you spread it on toasted baguette. It's pretty good.

An Internet radio I ordered came yesterday. The mailman pushed my buzzer just as I was locking my door to go to the market. At the building's entry he was just getting ready to place the package in my mailbox - he wasn't sure the buzzer functioned. Until the France Telecom guy came Thursday I didn't know either. The postman said he had a key for the box. That's cool. Means I don't have to stand in line at the post office for small items. And that's another place that takes a siesta every afternoon.

So I got my phone line hooked up, which means that the Internet works, the WiFi, the telephone, and soon, the huge TV. I sent away for a Homeplug set so I don't have to run an Ethernet cable from one side of the apartment to the decoder on the other side. I hope these things work, although I did use the same system in a hotel. I thought it was a bit slow. Maybe it was first generation. I looked for Homeplugs in Perpignan but the Orange boutique only sold phones. Since they seldom work - no plug-and-play - selling one takes an hour and my bus was leaving before then.

That's the difference the Internet has made. You live in a small town like this, with nearly no boutiques of any kind - everything is available online. My in-person trips to Perpignan to find a used car were a total washout - they don't have the cheapo wheels I'm seeking - but there's a place called Ripoff Cars in Nice that has my dream car. I'm going to think about it. I've never been to Nice.

Yeah, you need a car here. You can rely on the bus but there's no night service. There's the train, but I haven't seen it since I got off it some weeks ago. For anything big for the apartment, like a sofa, it's too heavy to carry, and the transport charge is not skinny. A salesman added more on the bill because I don't have an elevator. It's only two flights. I don't notice them, carrying up the fake beer. I think IKEA added on an extra 150 euros to deliver a 350-euro sofa from Montpellier.

Before coming I looked at Google Earth, and saw that there is a path to Colliure over the top, through vineyards I guess. Google Earth gave lots of detail but didn't show how high 'over the top' was. And it's a low hill. Other hills around here are higher and there's a lot of them. Although the Pyrenees are close mountain climbing has never been my thing. Cars were invented for mountains. A little gas gets you up in comfort, even with the radio on.

It's like the sailboats in the yacht harbor. They look nice and sleek, with their riggings jingling, but I'm sure they are cramped and smelly and they require a certain effort to put in motion. Haul that line! Everybody to starboard to keep us from tipping over! How many weeks will it take to get to Barcelona?

Helm of Small Fishing Boat - Port-Vendres (département of Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon région)

Na na, no hiking boots, no 30-speed mountain bike. A nice car with a roof, four wheels on the ground, a radio and about 100 horsepower. Gets you to Barcelona in less than two hours. It's only about 100 miles from here. Hell, this is Europe! Say 90 minutes from here.

I guess by now you realize I have no intention of getting a sailboat. I haven't seen them yet, but there are supposed to be excursion boats sailing out of Port Vendres, going up to Argeles and down to Rosas on the Costa Brava. There are even boats with glass bottoms so you can snoop on the fish and see if the scuba divers are behaving. You pay your five euros, sit back and the motor takes you. The best way to own a boat.

But that is in the future. Before then it has to get warmer and it could be nice if the wind died. Yeah, I know. Then the mosquitoes show up. There are always bugs in paradise, never in the slick brochures. Just like the story of this winter being 'the worst in 90 years,' one story about the mosquitoes is that they have their two month's season and the rest is happy as Larry. Maybe so but some stupid mosquitoes don't know about it.

Around Argeles and beyond - away from here - there's a lot of swampy-looking land, with cane and stagnant water in ditches. I read somewhere that the region sprays the devil out of them, without totally poisoning folks, but mosquitoes are hardy. Out of season there are lone mosquitoes around. These are the ones that you hear in the night. Zzzzzzzit. One of the first items I found in the supermarket was some anti-mosquito weapons. I got enough for a season and I'm thinking of getting more. No bugs are going to screw my paradise.

- Ric

18th Century Cannon Barrel - Port-Vendres (département of Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon région)

18th Century Cannon Barrel, for 21st Century Use

Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 - Ric Erickson

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