A picnic with Italiaman and the Persian Princess.

Yesterday we got up and discovered that the sun had come out. We had already planned our day. M.M’s family have little patience with ritual eating when the sun is shining. There is nothing more frustrating for me than being holed up inside in front of a roast dinner whilst the sun screams at us to come out and play through the window. So whilst the French population ceremoniously slid garlic cloves into entire flocks of New Zealand lamb and popped them in the oven across the nation, we threw a picnic into the car, picked up two friends from the bus station and hit the road for our favourite playground: the Lac du Salagou.

The day was perfect: blue sky, gently lapping water, happy kids, and fun and interesting company. Our crowd would have appeared strange to anyone passing by: Italian, Persian, French and English picnickers sitting on the red rock, all happily chomping their way through roast chicken, baguette, eggs, crudités, cheese and crisps that all taste so much better in the open air.

The Lac du Salagou.

The Lac du Salagou.

Give me fresh air, nature, sunshine, good food and good company, and I am in my element. Our guests had been brave enough to return after a first encounter with M.M’s culinary efforts over a month ago, when I had taken the colossal risk of cooking an osso bucco for an Italian. The gastronomic gods were smiling at me that day – both guests tucked in with gusto, and Italiaman informed me that his mama had never cooked it for him before. They have been welcomed with open arms ever since.

Persian Princess is beautiful, bubbly and enthusiastic. She patiently answered all the questions I fired at her about life in Iran. I took photos of her with Candide Canon, and noted that however I chose to take the photo, she was stunning. She has fabulous eyelashes – they are so long that they could double up as windscreen wipers. It struck me that attempting to hide a woman’s beauty with veils and scarves does nothing more than accentuate the beauty of what remains visible.

I had noticed that Italiaman was tightly ensconced in a huge grey scarf, and took the opportunity to ask him to explain what the symptoms of the dreaded cervicale were. The term “cervicale” is used by Italians to describe an ailment that only seems to afflict them, whilst the rest of the world has never heard of it, let alone suffered from it. I was introduced to this notion by Our Adventure in Croatia and Englishman in Italy, and the translator in me is frustrated and intrigued to see that no official translation exists for this illness. Despite relentlessly trawling the net, I have failed to find a translation anywhere. Italiaman explained that the merest draught can reduce an Italian to pulp if his or her neck is not sufficiently well covered. The pain goes from the back of the head down to the base of the neck, irradiating out into the shoulders. I asked him why noone else gets it anywhere else in the world, and he shrugged. We decided that Italians are genetically different to the rest of the world.

Rabbit football. The Italian players have been visciously attacked by a "colpo d'aria".

Rabbit football. The Italian players have been viciously attacked by a “colpo d’aria” – literally, a “hit of air”.

Next, Italiaman pulled a bag of Easter chocolate out of his bag. Once the children had dilapidated the bag, we decided to reenact a France-Italy football match with the remaining Easter bunnies and a chocolate egg. Of course, the two Italian players were blown over sideways by a colpo d’aria within minutes of the match starting, and had to be stretchered off to treat their cervicale.

The afternoon was spent in Pezenas, a favourite haunt of mine where my favourite French playwright, Molière, spent a lot of his time. Here are a few pics of our day – I hope you enjoy them.

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A colourful slap in the kipper from Mother Nature.

Today was programmed for cleaning and tidying the family cave, but I couldn’t resist sneaking into the garden to take a few pictures after the rain. I was literally gobsmacked by the amount of colour and life clamouring to be seen out there.

I’ve had fun reducing some of these photos and creating only glimpses of them. I have realised just how much beauty we miss in the simplest things, and how beautiful they can be.

Here are a few of them, with a special thought for snow-bound fellow blogger Perpetua 🙂 Have a lovely Easter!

One in a Million.

Today I got home, grabbed my camera, and shot right out again. Nature had slapped me in the face and got me thinking. Today’s lesson in life, provided courtesy of the flora and fauna of the local vineyards, is as follows: If you are tempted at times to see yourself as plain, ordinary and insignificant in the great scheme of things, think again. You are an essential part of the big picture. You’re one in a million.  Here’s the proof.  Have a beautiful day.

ORDINARY?

                                           ORDINARY?

 

EXTRAORDINARY.

                                             EXTRAORDINARY!

 

Who’s coming for a walk?

As I have said so many times before, the best things in life are free. Do you fancy a short break from whatever you’re doing? Come on! Let’s go for a walk together with Smelly Dog. The Tramontane wind has driven the clouds away leaving beautiful, luminous blue skies, and it would be a crime not to make the most of it. Wherever you are – Britain, Serbia, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, India, Croatia, Italy, Dubai or elsewhere – drag on a pair of trainers, an anorak and a warm hat, and join me in my playground: the gorges de l’Hérault in the south of France.

The vineyards are waiting solemnly for the sweltering heat of the summer. Their gnarled, knotted branches thrust out of the freshly churned earth in disciplined lines, pointing defiantly at the sun like accusing, arthritic old fingers.

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Walk through the olive yard over a soft carpet of green, and turn suddenly when you hear a loud buzzing beside your ear. Apologise profusely to two bugs who – for lack of a better expression – are full of the joys of spring, and feel uncomfortably like a voyeur as you admire the petrol-like reflections on their kingfisher blue and turquoise wings. Then wonder how Mrs Bug manages to hang on to that olive leaf with Mr Bug flapping away on her back like that. She must be one tough lady, with claws that would scare the pants off Godzilla.

Oops, sorry to disturb you....

Oops, sorry to disturb you….

The fruit trees are blossoming in line near the stone cabanon. Their branches are swaying in the wind, and they look like giggling girls all dressed in pink and lined up to square dance.

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Turn and walk up the uneven limestone lane, and look up to see a vivid yellow, sunny mimosa tree swaying in the wind. Close your eyes and breathe in its heady fragrance. Look closely at the blossom – the perfectly round balls of delicately perfumed colour perched along delicate stems take you back to the illustrations of your childhood Dr Seuss books. Look closer again, and wonder at the perfection of the tiny filaments that each offer up pollen to visiting insects. Then get taken by a childish desire to draw beaks on them and turn them into chicks.

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Drop your camera lens cap on the ground in your hurry to change lenses. When you crouch down to pick it up, bump into Billy Idol the caterpillar making his way with difficulty through the grass as his punky hair-do gets tangled up in the greenery. Maybe he’s on his way to the hairdresser’s to ask for a short back and sides.

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As you stand up, you get knocked over by Smelly Dog, who has bunny-hopped through the long grass towards you. I could swear she’s laughing….

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Lie in the grass with Smelly Dog, soak up the sun and let your senses sharpen. Take in the undefinable, fabulously pure blue colour of the sky. The plaintive cry of the buzzard. The bossy chatting of the tits and finches, the rasping smoker’s cough of the crows. The far-off sound of human voices chips into the natural concert: the wine growers must be coaching up their protégés to produce the best wine for the coming season. The distant, gut-wrenching howls of hunting dogs as they move in on their prey in the forest. The wind rustling the leaves in the olive tree above you. The smell of the mimosa and of freshly-ploughed earth. The surprising chill of the gust of wind that hits your cheek as the Tramontane reminds you that winter is not over. Not yet.

Now let’s go home for a hot chocolate. Thanks for the company. And please don’t remind me that I’ve forgotten my camera lens cover: I know. It’s still in the grass with Billy Idol.