Clients often ask me what it is about the area that I love so much and the usual answers include the wonderful climate, the scenery, the relaxed way of life etc, but I have recently come to realise that what I love best about life here is that it is constantly surprising me. No two days are ever the same, and here are just a few examples of events over the last week.
On Monday I went to visit an old stone Mas in the countryside. Having driven down a bumpy track to reach the main gate, the owner was standing outside (with a horse) gesticulating for me to drive left and around the garden to reach the main house. Literally, through the garden and along a garden path only just wide enough for a car to pass between the fence and the shrubbery. Upon reaching the house I realised that there was no possible way of turning the car around and spent the whole visit worrying about how I could possibly reverse back – but needn’t have worried as she just told me to drive over the lawn in front of the house.
On Tuesday I was taking some clients to see several village houses and we suddenly came across a “Route Barrée” sign. I followed the direction of the “Deviation” arrow and found myself at a t-junction with no clue as to where to go next. I tried going right but the road headed down into a river bed with a few inches of water in it so turned round and went in the other direction, through a car park and a camp site and ended up back at the “Route Barréé” sign again. Luckily another car arrived and we followed it along the river bed back to the main road, and continued our journey. On our way back, the “Route Barrée” sign at the other side of the village had a “Deviation” arrow pointing directly towards the roadworks. Getting through the village then involved going down a steep farm track, turning sharp right (which could not be done in one go and involved turning the car round first) and then driving up a steep track to join the main road. Luckily the clients thought it was amusing and I am only pleased that on this occasion we hadn’t gone in separate cars.
On Wednesday afternoon I drove into my driveway and a large golden retriever that I had never seen before came out of the front porch to greet me, shortly joined by two terriers and two border collies (one of which was mine). There is actually a logical explanation for this. I had given a set of keys to a friend who had volunteered to do some painting in the house and she had mentioned that she would be bringing ‘the dogs’. Vicky is mad about animals and always seems to have a house full of waifs and strays which she tries to find good homes for so while I was expecting her to bring her own two dogs to play with mine, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a grand total of 5 dogs running around the garden even though it felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone at the time!
Thursday brought two driving-related incidences which amused me. Firstly I encountered a triangle warning sign at the side of the road with just an Exclamation Mark and no other clues. I slowed down and after 2 kilometres came across some roadworks with a traffic light system in place. Although I could see no oncoming traffic, I was very impressed to see that the red traffic light had a Countdown timer in place showing that the wait would be 2 minutes. This was obviously far too much for the driver behind me to cope with and I had to laugh as he accelerated past me and then had to pull into a vineyard to avoid colliding with a very slow-moving 2CV coming towards us on the green light! And later in the day I was driving back between St. Paul de Fenouillet and Estagel and noticed that either the local council or some graffiti artists have a sense of humour – on the tarmac on the road I saw big signs saying “Rappel 90km”, then another warning of a speed camera in 7km, then at the 7km point the white markings said “Sourire” (smile) followed by “Cool”!
Friday’s strange moment came when the dog started barking and I spotted an old lady in the vineyard at the bottom of the garden. To set the scene, this vineyard is on a bit of a plateau, only accessible from the main road via the farm on the left, or through the gate in our garden, so to see an old lady there was quite unusual, to say the least. I grabbed the gate key and went through to say ‘hello’ (and to find out what on earth she was doing). She must have been 90 years old and was wearing one of those floral housecoats and was putting something from the hedge into a carrier bag. It turned out that she was collecting wild asparagus and we discussed recipes and life in general and it was only after a very friendly conversation involving the words ‘pueblo’ and ‘amigos’ that I realised we were talking Spanish! She and her carrier bag then disappeared down the escarpment on what I had always assumed was just a Sanglier track!
The title picture for this blog is just a typical example of the ‘strangeness’ of life here – why does the local garage have an Eiffel Tower flying the Catalan Flag? – Why not!
NB If anybody is interested, this garage is featured in a lovely film set in the region starring Omar Sharif – J’ai Oublié de te dire. Well worth tracking down and watching.