Who can resist a place with the slogan: Party is life! Such is the official theme
of Narbonne 's summertime - Tempos de L'Ete - La Fete, C'est La Vie. Toward the
end of June, an enormous colorful 'panneau' on the Cathedrale St. Juste was posted
near the mayor's office announcing 'Tempos d'Ete' (Summertime). Colorful triangular
banners have sprouted across the city streets proclaiming In Narbonne La Fete C'est
La Vie! Banners flutter on the city street lamps and adorn the Cathedral. A schedule
of free music and dance events is posted everywhere. There's also a website, www.mairie-narbonne.fr,
where you can check out festivities. The entertainment is varied, from rock 'n'
roll and jazz to grand organ concerts in the cathedral's fantastic central hall.
The organ itself is a sight to behold, a couple of stories tall, about 20 feet
wide, and it fills the enormous vestibule. Playing it must be a thrill. The events
start on July 1 and continue until the end of August.
Summer in Narbonne also has cicadas, sea breezes, chilled rose wines and midnight
jazz at outdoor cafes and bars. In June, colorful medieval festivals filled the
Via Domitia next to the Cathedral St. Juste. Tourists galore started to pour into
the city, boating on the canal and riding the little white train that takes them
site seeing. Often they wear T-shirts declaring their last stop - one entire family
of tourists is sporting Venezia ( Venice ) on their shirts. The 14th of each month
a lot of impromptu brass bands spring up in the streets, about a couple of dozen.
It's an explosion of brass throughout the city. They play different genres of music
in the town center and stroll around to play for various crowds. Who are we to
argue - let's party!
Such is Narbonne in summertime, and more. So many outdoor events are going on
that it is difficult to keep track of just the free ones. Then there are dozens
of other happenings that one can pay to attend. There are events at the stadium,
the theatre and the concert halls, some as little as five euros and up to fifty
or more for a celebrity act such as Johnny Hallyday, one of France 's most lionized
pop stars. Nearby the beach town of Gruissan has frequent outdoor concerts featuring
the big names.
In addition to the official city events, the local restaurants and bars
post their own calendar of happenings, so there is something entertaining to do
every evening. Living in the center of the city has its advantages - the music
wafts into the windows and we let it lure us down into the streets to discover
the latest jazz or rock group. Sometimes they start quite late, just around our
bedtime but we are usually enticed enough to forsake the pajamas and partake. One
of our favorite places to listen to music is Le Centaurée, a canalside restaurant
and bar. During
the winter we watched the rugby games in the cozy saloon. Summertime finds them
stretching their real estate across the road and along the grassy park toward the
Canal de la Robine. At least 100 new place settings are added and the bands set
up near the canal's balustrade.
The Narbonnaise crowd the tables where they can
dine until midnight or just order a bottle of chilled wine. An excellent bottle
of rose is only 9 euros, including tax and tip. We have been there often enough
to merit a welcoming handshake and smiles from the owners. Of course, in France
that only means that you have been there more than once! Restaurant owners take
pride in one's fidelity to them.
As summertime bursts upon us, the festivities are accompanied by - what else
- a heat wave. Our energies are seized with incredible languor and desire to do...nothing
Heat can be a challenge, but then what is summer without some heat? The temperature
soars over 100 Fahrenheit, 38 Celcius. The best way to deal with it is to give
in. Resistance is futile. Narbonne is graced with some of the most beautiful beaches
in France . Around noon , just when the temperature peaks we go to the beach, sit
in the shade and bath in the still icy-cold gin clear waters. Wait until around
6 or 7PM . The temperature comes down again. We emerge on the city streets only
in the evenings. After two sultry weeks even our toes are tanned, despite sunscreen
and an umbrella, and we are full of salty air and sunshine. Oddly enough, the heat
is a tonic when combined with sun, ocean breezes and cold salt water.
Finally, cool air breaks through with a steady breeze and the temperature falls
back to the low 80s. Our brains can function again and life continues to be good.
What was that entertainment schedule again? We're ready!
Our first foray out into the midday sun is to see the Tour de France go through
our neighborhood. Lance and company are traveling through our neck of the woods,
so we are excited. An ideal spot near the town of Ripaud is located; we can drive
almost right up to that part of the route and walk over to where they will ride.
of the Pyrénées at Gruissan Plage
It's my first time seeing the Tour and I have no idea what to expect. We camp
next to a bridge over a rocky waterway. Sunbathers lay on the water's edge below.
The water is filled with big fat trout that look like they could be plucked out
by hand. It is a peaceful setting of hills and crags above a stony brook. That's
about to change quickly. It's 11AM and the Tour should pass through around 2PM
. Hundreds of people are about - our spot is no secret. The entourage for the tour
starts to speed by us around noon . It is like a high speed Mardi Gras parade.
The various sponsors have created giant truck displays complete with dancing girls,
huge sculptures and loud megaphones. They toss out all sorts of goodies, from key
chains to replicas of the biking jackets their cyclists are wearing. Celebrities
wave from the vehicles. The crowd is now elated.
Tour de France sponsor
(Belin) and the cyclists racing by
The poor gendarme (policeman) tries in vain to control the multitude as people
leap around on the route. Suddenly a large shout comes from the road above us -
the riders are here! They arrive in a whoosh with a huge cry from the crowd and
all is a blur for two minutes. I am so close I can smell the sweat and the rubber
tires as they go by. And then it is over! Until next year.
We've had a couple weeks of gentle summer now and are gearing up for August.
We're ready to go back to the beach, but it's not quite hot enough with the temperature
hovering around 80 and even lower. We even put a light summer blanket on the bed.
August in France is usually a scorcher so we are preparing. Several beaches are
within a half an hour drive from Narbonne and we are checking them all out. Some
are deserted and look like the Caribbean with straw umbrellas and tranquil shores.
Others are more Miami Beach , loaded with people, restaurants and action. Take
your pick, there's a smorgasbord of beach life around here. Luckily, the Narbonne
beach (Narbonne Plage) is our favorite so far, only a 15-minute drive from the
center of the city with easy (and free) parking and never a traffic jam in sight.
White Train for visitors to see the city . .
Anticipating more real heat ahead, we're soaking up the balmy breezes while they
last. Another beachside discovery we make is Leucate Plage ( Leucate Beach ). This
is just like California back in the 1950s, before development set in. A deserted
looking tin roof building sits on the sand all by itself. It houses the most delectable
food fragrances so we go in to look at the menu. Le Pilotis carte du jour is entirely
made of seafood, butter and garlic, so it is hard to resist. On a Sunday, whole
families plant themselves on the open-air porch, shaded by awnings. They lunch
for hours, lingering over gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp, Spanish style) that
steam with garlic butter and are served with grilled vegetables and a salad. We
try something we have never had before - whole calamari, purplish-pink and tenderly
grilled along with some mussels. With a small pitcher (or two) of cold rose to
accompany it, it might very well be Heaven.
The music and dance revue
on Bastille Day
Yesterday was Bastille Day. In addition to the fireworks at the sports stadium,
the city set up a public Vegas style music and dance revue in the center of town.
Look at these photos! Quite a grand production, worthy of a five star resort. There
were showgirls, light shows, trombones, horns and saxophones playing. Two drummers
and several string players. A couple thousand Narbonnaise turned up, several entire
families despite the late hour. The show started at 11:30 PM and ran until 2AM
. It would have gone on longer, but a light drizzle appeared and it was stopped
for safety reasons. No matter, it was a really big show at just under three hours
running without intermission. Party on Narbonne !
A Note about Wine
You may have noticed we aren't talking much about white wines or red. Rose is
southern France 's summer drink. Served very cold and often in a bowl of ice, a
'pichet' (pitcher) comes in whatever size you wish, quarter litre to whole litre.
The average price is a fraction of what you would pay in the UK or USA . For example,
four euros for a 'demi' (50 centilitres) is common, even less if you are ordering
your wine with food.
Despite its pale pink color, rose wine is composed of red grapes that have shorter
contact time with the skin on than red wine. Thus the color is not deep red or
purple but rather a robust pink to peach color. The very palest roses, those that
are called 'gris' (grey), are in contact with the red grape skin for only a matter
of hours after the grapes are pressed. The deeper colors are obtained with longer
contact and fermentation with the grape skins. In southern France many of the most
popular roses have a light ruby color.
Previously considered a wine for the uneducated, rose is coming up in the world
and wine lovers are starting to appreciate its unique character and place at the
dining table. Although it is served cold, like white wine, the flavor is quite
distinctive from white. Because it is entirely up to the vintner to decide on the
length of contact of the skins with the wine and thus the depth of the color of
the wine, rose is a wine that can be complex to comprehend in its entirety.
That distinction narrowly missed being severely compromised here in the European
Union. Government toyed with the idea of allowing vintners to mix mostly white
wine with a small amount of red to obtain 'rose' and call it rose on the bottle's
label. Since white wine is composed of white grapes, not red, this would make a
mockery of roses; their distinctive flavors muddled and real roses would be lost
in the confusion. In the USA and Australia , white wine is already added in small
amounts during the rose wine making process.
Happily, the EU refrained from passing the bill and we can rest assured that
roses remain truly 'rose'. Our favorites are made nearby, in Corbieres. The red
Corbieres grapes are delightfully robust and fruity so they produce excellent roses.
.....on to Autumn