Ceret In the rush hour. Time stands still here.
On the way out today, we called again at the lagoons to see if the oyster sellers’ stalls were as crammed in the early morning as they had been at lunchtime. First impressions: we had come to the wrong place! For at least five minutes we appeared to be the only people there, but then we found the boats tied up round the back and their skippers shucking (think that’s the right word for de-shelling oysters) like men possessed. The stalls looked lovely in the morning sunshine, far better than when jam packed with slurping customers.
Marigold has remembered Michael Winner being at death’s door (this was still while he was alive, obviously) after eating oysters so was quite pleased to have avoided temptation.
Afterwards, we drove on and spent the whole day in and around one of our favourite places in France, Ceret.
Ceret is an old town, well established long before the Romans arrived and has huge importance in the region. It is famous for its cherries, largely because of the tradition that the first cherries picked in all of France are sent directly from Ceret to the home of the French President. Local growers, way back before the Second World War arranged this special delivery as a publicity stunt to demonstrate the viability of moving fresh produce by air – from the tree to the table anywhere in France within a couple of hours and the tradition still remains.
One of several bridges around Ceret is the Pont du Diablo, the Devil’s Bridge crossing the River Tech. At the time it was built it was the largest arched bridge in the world. You’d marine that would be fame enough, but no, there had to be a tale attached.
Apparently, the village wanted a bridge but didn’t want to pay for it or carry out the labour. So, they got n touch with the Devil, as one does, and he agreed to do all the work, in a single night, n condition he took possession of the first soul to cross the bridge.
The bridge was built and the crafty villagers, none of whom wanted to pay the Devil’s price, sent a cat across instead. It makes for a good story, but I have seen five more Ponts du Diablo in France and there are many more. Some vary the tale by sending a dog across, not a cat. It’s a pretty bridge though, much more so than the modern one that runs alongside.
Much more to see: the narrow streets are full of little squares, they dance the sadana here, the national dance of Catalonia, for this area and the sacred Mount Canigou at dominates the skyline is the beating heart of the Catalan nation. When we lived here, my neighbour would not speak to me in French, or even when I tried out my rudimentary Spanish. ‘We are not French, we are not Spanish, we are Catalan,’ she told me. We never did speak very often!
Our friends from back then have three children at school now and they learn Catalan as a first language, later moving to French or Spanish.
We wandered around, peeking into dark doorways and exploring side streets, remembering familiar sights and discovering new ones. The fountains are lovely on a hot day, especially the Pablo Picasso fountain. Picasso lived and painted here as did Dali, Matisse, Dufy and the poet and writer Jean Cocteau. Ceret is supposedly where the Cubist Movement in art began and the museum of modern art is right in the town centrepiece. The Grand Café is still here and was where the artists used to meet up. I found an old photograph of Picasso seated in the café and was intending to sit in the same place as the great man and sip a coffee. Sadly, the owner moved us on as a party had reserved all tables for lunch. We went to the Café Pablo instead.
People watching, from a pavement cafe, never ceases to delight and Ceret has much to offer. The troop of tiny schoolchildren, arm in arm and off to play games, chattering like a flock of starlings, followed by a stately matron, immaculately and expensively coiffured, on the arm of a much younger man. Her son? Well, possibly, but Marigold thought not. She has an eye for such matters.
A young girl, sixteen or so, smoking inexpertly while gazing adoringly at a lad a couple of years older and exactly the type of boy her mother would have warned her against, clambered onto the back of his motorbike, no helmets, naturellement, and they roared off leaving a trial f acrid smoke behind.
We could have sat there all day while the stories of the world passed by, but we still had to visit the museum. I’m not the greatest fan of museums, but we like to keep up a pretence of culture and I paid the entrance charge with barely a grimace.
Inside, it’s quiet, serious and just a tad forbidding. A woman in a uniform evidently borrowed from a person much smaller than herself, frowned at us as we entered and inclined several of her chins at a notice promising dire consequences for anyone seen taking photographs. The Bastille and iron masks were mentioned, I’m sure.
We wandered around, pointing out brushwork in a feigned and unconvincing manner, but it was actually rather brilliant. No dusty Old Masters here. Of course we didn’t take photographs, but later on in the gift shop I took sneaky pictures of posters etc. Not that I needed them, just expressing rebellion against the rules, in keeping with the ethos of our surroundings.
We’ve decided to stay an extra day, or two, here as we love this area of France and the weather is gorgeous. Maybe Collioure next for yet more culture, who knows?