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Wednesday, January 21, 2009 – Kingdom of Anchovies (a dispatch from the South of France)

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. Here's the village's website and a bit about the place.  It's very French, and a bit Catalan, and not Paris.  It's a good place. 

Kingdom of Anchovies

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

When I woke up, as the TGV slowed for Nimes, the sky had evolved from cold gray flannel to frivolous, tinged with faint blue, sporting a municipal palm tree. Two hours later Perpignan station seemed like a place intending to be better and then the local train appeared as a high-tech streetcar. The station at Port Vendres did not have a matching quay so the first step was deep.

There were no signs pointing the way, but it was downhill and included stairs. There are a lot of stairs in Port Vendres and when I found the hotel, across from the yacht harbor, there were two flights up to the room - with a view, 50 percent extra. The owner asked me not to bang the door.

The first time out and back, the door banged. Nobody noticed. I had dinner in a cool, modern restaurant beneath the hotel. I tried the menu for 15 euros. The salad was enormous, including bits of fish and mussels. The main dish, a fish named bar, was delicious with more fish bits hidden in a ball of saffron rice. The fruit salad, as dessert, was huge.

Thinking of having a light lunch on Monday, I chose a cafe next to the restaurant, and ordered the grilled sardines. Part of a menu including a salad to start, the five sardines were like small trout. I went back on Tuesday, trying to be even lighter, and had tapas of grilled chorizo and fresh anchovies, with a huge salad. In the future, one tapa will do it.

The town is quiet. I slept through the morning rush-hour if there is one. A container ship unloaded on Monday and left, and another came in late Tuesday. Most shops were closed Monday, and some are closed for the season. The real estate agents are open and three of them seemed optimistic and I returned to some Tuesday. Two bedroom apartments for 650 euros are apparently not a myth.

There are a lot of old folks wandering around. It appears that there are various retirement facilities, hostels, residences. I saw a large room full of them playing bingo at the Maison du Culture. I was told that Port Vendres is poor and has too many stairs for most oldsters; they should go to Argeles where it's flat. There is a cinema, but no art galleries and no concert hall, practically no boutiques and none with a name. You can spend money on food and booze and that's about it. There is a bus service along the coast, but it is not wonderful I was told. A ten-minute walk, even up stairs, puts you out of town.

There's a couple of supermarkets, and a fruit stand that opened Tuesday had pomelos three for a euro. Oranges are varied and cheap. The fish market is open on Saturdays. There are slightly fewer boulangeries than banks. All the restaurants have fish. Some of them have tapas too, and these are about three euros each. No need ever to try pizza.

In this season it is apparently easy to rent a vacation apartment for a couple of weeks. I got a list from the tourist office, beside the restaurant and cafe downstairs, that lists apartments in a building overlooking the port next to the hotel. Street signs are in French and Catalan. The sailboats' rigging tinkles faintly. The gulls are well-mannered. News shops have all the papers but you can ignore them.

It's a small town. It's quiet. The hills look like Spain. I can see the Mediterranean beyond the port from my balcony.

    - ric

Text and Photo Copyright © 2009 - Ric Erickson

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