Bon ! Vous et ici! (Good! You are here!) Welcome to another bright day in the south of France! The early winter is mostly sunny. Occasionally we get a small share of the storms that sweep across Europe but are spared the worst of it (unless a freaky snowstorm drifts across the mountains from Spain). Most of the time, the winter is only cold and not freezing.
The start of winter has been exceptionally mild. Across the Roussillon Plain, the Poplar trees blazed with the last golden leaves, dancing in the breeze, until mid-January. By the village church, pink flowered mallow plants bloom in the grass and the giant rosemary bush by the cemetery is stunning. The fragrant purple blooms are a-buzz with bees, totally unaware that the rest of the country is shivering in the cold and snow. According to Le Meteo (the weather report) on most days, this cozy corner is the warmest spot in France. My husband is getting the car so that we can drive into the city for a bite to eat. Oh yes, bring your hat and coat for we are planning to eat outside. Let’s take the back roads to avoid the highway.
You can see clear signs that winter is here as we follow the winding country road to Perpignan. The Plane trees flanking our route are bare – the mottled bark sheds in irregular patterns that are like a giant grey and white jigsaw puzzle. The sun slants between the bare trunks creating a natural strobe-light until we come out of the trees. (this is the winter scene) Now there are silver green olive trees and straw-colored bamboo along the irrigation canals. Leaves still cling to the oak trees but they have been blown as fragile and faded as an old paper bag. The majesty of the Plain sweeps away to distant foothills on three sides of us. The soft colors of winter – green, grey, silver, and beige – lead your eyes to the crisp view of snow-capped Mount Canigou off to the north. The beaches are quiet for the crowds have flocked to the many ski resorts. That series of white rectangles you can see on the distant mountainsides are actually ski runs outlined by trees.
The road takes us through Villeneuve de la Raho, where you notice the decorations from Christmas are still up. Traditionally, they should come down right after Epiphany, on the 6th of January but, bien sûr, (of course) some will wait a lot longer than that! We zip around the roundabouts and head out of town. The road dips and winds through sparse grassland. It’s windy but very attractive with stands of wild Pampas Grass blooming like feathered wheat-colored paintbrushes. Ahead of us, we see the highway that we have avoided and beyond it the city, with its round red brick tower and tall apartment buildings that are mainly student residences. (the residences are plain, here is the attractive Place Arago!)
We pass under the highway and drive into the University district. Students are everywhere, dressed in fashions from grunge to chic. They cross the road wherever it suits them and we politely slow down to wait for them. Some smile and wave in appreciation. Most are too busy with their phones to notice. We leave the university district and now we are in the city proper. You laugh at the sight of a drive-through Boulangerie (bakery) with cars lined up waiting.
A few corners later, we arrive at La Place de la République. Our street becomes a ramp leading down to the parking garage for it is beneath the large open plaza. The garage is warm but as we emerge to the plaza, we feel the breeze. The winter wind brings the cold weather but also pushes away the clouds that plague the rest of Europe. They suffer and shiver while here on the Roussillon Plain, we bask in the sunshine and eat lunch al fresco. Speaking of lunch, do you see the café? Yes, Le Petit Mocha, the on the other side of the garage ramp with chairs and tables out front. There is quite a crowd, but we find our spot, look over the menus, and relax in the warmth of the sun. With the buildings to shelter us from the wind, it feels almost spring-like. (see the café on the other side of the garage entrance)
Let’s enjoy the good weather and each other’s company. “Garçon! (Waiter!)” calls my husband, with a smile, as he teases the owner who knows us well. How wonderful that you joined us here. “Vive le Vent!” (Long live the wind) as the song by Francis Blanche says, for giving us this sunny day! The early winter may be cool, but the warmth of an afternoon spent with friends is a tonic against all ills. Later, we’ll shop in the golden light that bathes the city, (as seen here at La Place de la Loge) So, until the next time, “Gardez-vous au chaud!” (keep yourself warm) Ā bientôt (see you soon) and just wait until you see the golden wonder of Mid-Winter in the South of France!