Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Quiet Day Out ...

It comes to my mind - such as it is - that you may be unaware of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year*. So, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog ("Rubbing your face in shit you didn't want to know", amongst other things), I would like to inform you of this year's winners:

Third place-getter, The Origin of Feces. A round of applause, please, for David Waltner-Toews for this fascinating Darwinian introduction to the wonderful world of crap. Suitable for children.

Second place goes to Are Trout South African? by Duncan Brown, a mesmerising story of love and fishing on the veldt.

And a ponderous drum-roll please for the happy winners, Mats & Enzo, co-authors of How To Poo On A Date. A useful self-help guide to those delicate moments. Which is bound to come in useful at some point.

More importantly, the electricians have been and done their stuff and gone: the top floor has cables hanging everywhere like long gray wrinkly house-worms, so Cédric and Alain can get back to work up there. Being as what the occasional and unforeseeable showers that are on the menu right now in these parts make laying the concrete on the terrace a bit of a risky business.

Anyway, in keeping with the general idea that we ought to get out more, decided to head through to Beziers for the market this morning. That may have been a mistake.

Now don't get me wrong, Beziers is a nice old city, even if its inhabitants do have the misfortune to call themselves biterrois (which, to my ear at least, sounds vaguely obscene - helps if you know what the word bite** means in French, I admit) but ...

We found our way, unimpeded by the GPS of Doom (for we had cruelly turned it off) to place Jean Jaurès in the middle of town, where - according to the guidebooks, anyway - the "vibrant, bustling" market was to be found. There was one stall, with a few manky fruit and veg on display: I had to admit that I was underwhelmed. So we headed vaguely north, to what looked as though it might just possibly turn out to be les Halles, but it turned out to be the theatre instead, to my considerable disappointment.

Never mind, there'd been a sign a way back pointing off in the direction of the Office de Tourisme, so we duly turned south for a bit and followed the trail of breadcrumbs until we came to the place: which was, naturally enough, closed. Still, there was a sign up on the door with instructions on how to get to the other branch, so back north we went.

This time, by dint of persistence, we actually came across les Halles, with a little marché des paysans off to one side, which seemed promising. Sadly, by 11am most of the paysans seemed to have sold their entire stock, and what was left looked to me as though it was still there for very good reasons.

So I wrote that one off and went into the actual building which - from the outside at least - looked promising. Typical belle époque style, all wrought iron and ceramic tiles and skylights: unfortunately the inside was pretty much deserted.

Which made me sad, all over again. Still, there were a few vegetables that didn't look any the worse for wear for falling off the back of a lorry, and in any case one has to eat something, so I shoved a few articles into the shopping basket I'd so hopefully brought with me and we went about our way, trying to find where we'd hidden the car so that I'd be slightly less encumbered.

Felt better with only a man-bag and the camera, and we boldly set off in search of our dose of kulcha for the day: another bloody cathedral, to wit the Cathedrale St-Nazaire which is, as any fule kno, built on the site of the Romanesque church which got burnt to the ground when the Crusaders sacked the place in 1209. Apparently Simon de Montfort was having another bad day that year.

Seems that the papal legate was not really in a better mood when he ordered the entire population, Catholics and Cathars alike, to be slaughtered in the church in which they'd taken refuge: in his considered opinion, "God will recognise his own". Things were simpler then, none of these pesky moral conundrums.

As usual, the place was closed. Well, the cloisters were open, and the jardin des évèques which does, I admit, have a remarkable view out over the river (and is also remarkably well-ventilated by the prevailing wind, I might add) but the doors to the church remained obstinately bolted.

A shame, for I felt a pressing urge to pray and have my multitudinous sins pardoned, also the rose window looked rather nice from outside, but too bad, I shall just have to muddle on in sin.

And there's the thing, the cathedral was closed, and so were half the shops we walked past. I guess one in four on the main streets, and let's not go into the sad state of affairs in the ruelles and the alleys. Hell, even the options for eating were kind of limited, unless your tastes run to an exclusive diet of kebab'n'chips.

Also, there seemed to be sod-all people around. I mean, compared to Carcassonne or Narbonne which always seem thronged, the place was empty. Especially for a fine sunny Saturday.

Still, by dint of sheer bloody-minded persistence and a refusal to eat a kebab (don't get me wrong here, I like a kebab as much as the next man, but there are times when that just won't do) we found a restaurant that looked like it might be open, wandered in and were invited to plonk our arses at a table in the sun streaming through the windows off the courtyard.

(It was also as far as possible from the fire burning in the huge old hearth, which I'm kind of guessing they actually still used for doing grillades and such-like, when custom merited it. And a damn good thing too, otherwise I'd have melted down into a puddle of grease.)

For they too were not exactly run off their feet: there were four people, us included, in there for lunch, in a place that could easily have seated sixty.

But mustn't complain, at least that meant that the service was good, and I had an excellent steak with grilled polenta whilst Margo satisfied herself with a thick slice of steamed cod on a rice timbale, with a purée des poivrons on the side. Followed, I'd like to say, by a profiterole that I can only qualify as frikkin' enormous.

Washed down with a bottle of Corbières it made for a very pleasant meal, and quite frankly I don't really like eating in crowded restaurants anyway. Too noisy, and there's always some arsehole with an amusing ring-tone on his - or often, her - bloody cellphone.

So that was Beziers. I could doubtless spend hours wandering around the place, camera in hand and poking my nose into all its crooks and nannies, but the overwhelming impression is of a place that's dying. Or at least, one that has seen much better days.

Which is, incidentally and quite accidentally, totally true. Back in the glory days, when Ricquet built the canal du Midi (with his own money, yet - well, maybe not quite his own, technically speaking, he made his fortune as a tax farmer after all) the place was filthy rich. And of course it was the centre of spline production: artisanal at first, before the big factories were built. They're all shuttered now - demand has dropped, and the Chinese can turn them out cheaper - but there's still the "Hotel Imperator" bearing witness to turn of the century grandeur.

But that kind of faded, as the economic importance of the canal dwindled, and now it's slowly going to sleep in the sun, with the paint flaking on the shutters. I guess there could be worse ways to go.

And just saying, but sometimes I really do feel that people should run their ad copy past someone else before they go run with it and have posters stuck up and everything.

*Credit where it's due, to the usual suspects.
** So a dick, despite being eminently masculine last time I bothered to check, is a feminine noun - "une bite", whereas we have "le vagin". Go figure, it's beyond me.

1 comment:

  1. "Bezier than what?", is what I always wonder about the splines. Merely Bezy ones perhaps.