What is it that symbolises the Mediterranean for me? The olive tree, of course. It grows all around the Mediterranean, as well as in other parts of the world, and this kind of climate is the only one it thrives in. People in the Midi, as in other Mediterranean countries, have a special attachment to it. It‘s such an important tree that it deserves a post all to itself – and I‘ll do this one day soon. For now I‘ll just say that I think it is the most beautiful of all trees and I can‘t imagine now living anywhere where it doesn‘t grow.
Then there‘s the smell of thyme as I crush its leaves when I walk through scrubby garrigue, the flowers at the side of the road in springtime, the taste of it in cooking, leaves sprinkled on tomatoes, on goats‘ cheese. We grew it in Wales, too, but without the heat of the Mediterranean sun it was never the same.
Summer begins properly for me when we hear the cicadas – they‘ve just started here in the last week. Their chattering begins when the temperature reaches 26 degrees C, and as the sun rises in the mornings and reaches higher up a hillside you can hear each tree being ‘switched on‘ as the cicadas sense its heat.
And oleanders. Their flowers in different shades of white, pink, red, are all coming out now, lining the road at the entrance to villages, in gardens and parks. They‘re all beautiful (although poisonous), but for me it‘s the pink ones which are the real oleanders – the ones we had in the garden when I was a child in Libya.
And the Mediterranean sea itself: