Blau / bleu / blue / glas

Whichever language you choose – Occitan, French, English, Welsh to name just four – the Mediterranean was blue today, as Food, Photography and France found the Atlantic over on his side of the land the other day. In the port at Marseillan-plage this morning there was only one working fishing boat (alongside some pleasure boats and a shoal of horrible jet skis being prepared for the tourist season). The nets, the flies and the dead crabs’ legs on the quay were evidence that this boat is useful, and I love nets anyway, so I took a few photos.

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As I said, the sea was blue, and a few intrepid tourists seemed to have decided it was summer:

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We took shelter from the sun and the wind on a restaurant terrace with a view of the port and had a good lunch – soupe de poisson with nice garlicky rouille, seiche a la plancha with persillade, a pichet of local rosé…..and only the rosé was photographed.

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Apricots again

This time in alcohol. I haven’t tried this before with apricots but I have with cherries and figs which always turn out to be delicious after a few months in their jars. When I’ve preserved cherries and figs in this way I’ve used Armagnac or brandy, but because I didn’t want to overshadow the flavour of the apricots I decided to use vodka this time, because of its reputed lack of flavour. Vodka isn’t something I drink often, if at all, and I think this is the first bottle of it I’ve ever bought – and in a very good cause!

I sterilised a one-litre preserving jar. I cut the apricots in half, discarding the stones, and packed the half fruits in layers into the jar.

I put the pieces of fruit as close together as possible and after each layer I added two tablespoons of sugar until the jar was almost full.

I poured in enough (cheap) vodka to cover all the fruit and sealed the jar. Now I’ll just have to wait at least four months before tasting them to see if it’s worked.

And then I went to the sea and swam at Le Grau d’Agde.

A perfect day

It’s always been our habit to go to the sea on 26 December as a way of blowing away the excesses of the day before.  When we lived in west Wales we often went to New Quay, and it was usually very cold and blowy there.  Today it was Le Grau d’Agde.  As we were driving towards the sea we could see Mont Canigou in the distance to the south and the snow-topped Pyrenees running westwards away from us.  It was a bit hazy from the smoke of fires lit by vine-growers to burn the prunings, but this photo – I hope – gives some idea at least of the size of this massive peak at the eastern end of the Pyrenean range, about 100 kilometres from here.  It’s 2784 metres high and there are better pictures of it here.

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Today isn’t an official holiday in France and, although the larger fishing boats seemed to have stayed in port, there were a lot of smaller ones out fishing, some quite near the shore.

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On the sea front, the street light shadows made boat-shapes on the walls opposite – something I think they must have been designed to do, but this is the first time I’ve passed when the light was perfectly aligned for the effect.

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Most of the holiday flats overlooking the sea were closed for the season but some were occupied, like this one showing a seasonal flash of red curtain.

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And then lunch…..this is something we never did in west Wales: eating steack frites outside in the sun by the beach at the end of December!  (I have a contradictory relationship with steak – I don’t think that beef production is sustainable and thus do not really approve of eating it, but there are occasions, like today and probably New Year’s Eve if we stick with the planned menu, when I abandon my principles.)

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Back home at the end of the afternoon we were treated to a rare colourful sunset over the hill above the village.  We don’t see pink skies very often because we either have clear sky or – more rarely – heavy cloud.  Tonight’s was glorious.

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A lovely peaceful day after the equally enjoyable excitements of yesterday.  Our son and daughter won’t be here till the end of the week so our family celebrations will take place over New Year, but we didn’t miss out at all because our wine-making friends invited us to join them for what turned out to be a six-hour lunch yesterday.  Among the delights, conviviality and interesting conversation, there were foie gras in two guises, fresh and conserved, a roast capon (that had been raised in the village) with duck-fat roasted potatoes, delicious cheeses including a huge piece of Roquefort, which comes from the mountains near here, and more wines to taste than I counted…..a very enjoyable fête and we still have our own family to look forward too!

A day out in Sète

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The view through the venetian blinds at the Musée Paul Valéry shows several of the most important elements of life in this fascinating town.  The poet Paul Valéry was born in Sète and is buried in the sailors’ cemetery in the foreground here.  The cemetière marin, which must be one of the most beautiful in France, looks out to the Mediterranean and the fishing boats which pass as they enter and leave the port.  This is the biggest Mediterranean fishing port in France.  The ferry approaching today, on one of the regular crossings from Tangiers, is another of the pieces of the jigsaw that is Sète, a town with a large Arab population.

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I liked the way the reflections of the water seemed to mimic the Arab script on this fishing boat in the port.  The film Le Grain et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain in its English-language version) gives a wonderful and rather sad picture of the life of the people of the town whose family origins are in North Africa.

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Some of the smaller fishing boats in the port today.

One of the reasons for our trips to the sea and the holiday atmosphere of this week for us has been our son’s visit and the holiday feel to the day continued with an excellent lunch at La Marine, one of the many restaurants beside the port.  We ate a typically Sètois menu:

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Gratin of scallops for our first course.

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And moules farcies à la sètoise (mussels stuffed with minced pork, ham and herbs and cooked in tomato sauce).

Because we’d just seen an exhibition of work by cubist artist Juan Gris at the Musée Paul Valéry, I seemed to see cubist-style distortions everywhere I looked, including this view of my son’s plate through his wine and water glasses:

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Escape to the sea

At this time of year the sea is still warm, the sun is still hot and the holidaymakers have deserted the beaches.  It’s my favourite time to spend a few hours at Le Grau d’Agde as we did today, swimming, eating a salad lunch and drinking a glass of wine by the beach.

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Most of the holiday apartments are unoccupied now, shutters closed, balconies bare of August’s colourful sunshades and beach towels, making the lines of the modern architecture clearer and starker, like this monochrome Mondrian:

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A day off

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The water at Marseillan-plage was the nicest it’s been all summer – perfect temperature for swimming (I like it Mediterranean-warm), a few small waves and not many other bathers.  Soon the beaches will be even less crowded.  September is our favourite time of year for swimming in the sea as the tourists have all gone but the water is still warm.

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Then a coffee at one of the enjoyably tacky cafés near the beach – I thought this one had nice cups.

Back at home, Lo Jardinièr made chicken in white wine and cream sauce with red peppers and sautéed potatoes.  He said it was very simple to make although he spent more time standing over a hot griddle than I would have wanted.

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The sea on the longest day of the year

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My first swim of the year at Le Grau d’Agde – the water was a bit chilly still so I didn’t stay in long but it’s good to feel that the summer has started – followed by lunch at one of our favourite cafés overlooking the beach.

On the way home we stopped at a fruit stall and bought a platter of apricots for 6 euros and 4 melons.  We’ve made jam and granita with most of the apricots, leaving plenty to eat as they are, and we ate one of the melons with tapas this evening.  I’ll post the granita recipe tomorrow – it’s very simple, but I just don’t want the apricot photos mixed in with my sea slideshow.