Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ceret - market and carnaval.

Just a few pictures of the market today as the high point was the second carnaval. We got going earlier than usual as we knew the market would have to break up right on time for the carnival to get going.
We have been buying from this olive stall but discovered another one today with a different selection.
We already had our olives so will try that one next week. Today we got black olives with parsley and green
ones with garlic and lemon.
At the stall where we bought our ginger root we got behind the owner of this basket. We figure she
was making soup ... 3 onions, bunch of celery, 6 leeks, 3 carrots etc ... it took her quite a while but
we were in no hurry and enjoying the process.
Some people do as we do, walk the whole market and pick and choose where they will buy each item. For instance for our regular veg purchases we buy from the stall that has everything already in 1Euro baskets. They also have the biggest, cheapest cauliflower. The ginger root at another stall, the lettuce at another (huge selection of different kinds of lettuce, good size, .80 each) and Dad has his favorite cheese stalls. Others obviously have a favorite stall and buy all their vegetables there, they even may trust the vendor to pick it out but most examine, feel, weigh in their hands before handing it to the vendor to add to the bag. There is discussion, negotiation, laughter and annoyance, its a process.
For those readers still in the grip of Canada's freezing winter the flower stalls were
brimming today.

Masses of cut flowers and also flowers to plant in the garden or containers.

Anthonie serving the market day crowds at Le Pablo. I'm not sure how much English he speaks
but when we order he will say "Yes, yes, soon, I'm not superman" - every time.
Another guest at Le Pablo.
Lunch today included some market purchases, a fresh salad and 2 different quiches (Trois legumes which had sweet potato, onion and celery and Roqufort et noix which had a slight flavor of the blue cheese and walnuts on top). Desert was a tarte with almond cake, pears and a fig glaze.
It wasn't long until there started to be some carnival activity, both the Hippy float and the Shades of Grey rolled in and took some liquid lunch at Le France before heading up to Place Libertee  the marshalling area. We headed over to Le Pablo to get a seat at about 2:30 and ordered a coffee.
The parade, sorry, cavalcade, was lead off by a man in traditional Catalan dress
and the Catalan flag.
The Carnival was a totally different experience this weekend. To start with, although still coolish, it was sunny and no wind so occasionally actually felt warm. The parade itself was better organized, there were more floats, they were closer together and they stopped at Le Pablo and did their choreographed dances. It was almost as if last weekend had been the dress rehearsal.
Baton twirlers with the hairiest legs
followed by a band dressed as sailors.
A float and following troop depicting carnival in Venice
We had managed to snag the last remaining table next to the road but that made Dad
a bit of a target. Here he's being smacked in the head with a frozen fish.
The young man on the left was the perpetrator. Mum was having fun trying to catch the fish
 and he was having fun whisking it away from her. That was until she realized it was actually
a half frozen fish, slimy and stinky.
The tuba player decided Dad needed an earful and
these kids
decided he needed to get "creamed".
The bees managed about a third of the route. They deeked into Le Pablo for a drink and were
still in there when the parade was going around for its second time.
The parade takes about an hour and then circulates for a second time which takes considerably longer. Why? Well, the participants and the drivers are getting thirsty so there's a lot of stopping at the bars. There's a lot of friends in the crowd to kiss on the cheeks and chat with. Every now and then the whole thing grinds to a halt as one of the drivers  heads to the washroom, bar, chat with friends etc.
If your dressed as a bunch of grapes, on a float covered with grape vines
you really shouldn't be drinking beer.
We had progressed from coffee to wine and this was the only way to keep the
confetti out of it. I wasn't entirely successful.
Shades of Grey, bare assed all the way. Lots of whips, chains,
masks and hand cuffs on this float.
People on the floats threw confetti at the people watching, people in costume following the floats
threw confetti at the people watching, people on the street watching threw confetti at the
floats and each other. We were covered.
We only watched it go around once and then headed back home. We tried to shake all the confetti out of our hair and clothes before we went inside but we'll be sweeping it up for days in the apartment.
I went out again later. The floats had all finally gone (after stopping outside our apartment for
a while) and now the the bands were playing at Le Pablo and Le France, people dancing. Both
bars were full, eskimos talking to hippies, dancing girls talking to cave men, rabbits talking to
super heroes.
The confetti looks like snow on the ground. But here it will be gone tomorrow, swept up by the street cleaners.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Ceret - sea and Fortress of Salses

Right after breakfast we drove to Argeles Sur Mer and then just worked our way North up the coast. For most of the first half hour or so it was a series of marinas full of expensive boats, huge camp sites with water parks and mini golf and high rise apartments on coarse sandy beaches. There were however also palm trees and promenades and some nice residential areas back from the beach. Then we got into areas where the sand dunes separate the road and parking lots from the beach and development is mostly low rise and well cared for.
We stopped at an Etang (a lagoon behind the sand dunes) to see if there were any flamingos in evidence.
Canigou across the Etang. You can see how windy it was, even the lagoon had
white caps on it. Few birds to be seen though we believe we saw a couple of larks.
Fishing nets drying. We could see some out in the lagoon, strung between poles.
Driving on, most places were closed but eventually we found a restaurant, beside a beach parking lot which was open and obviously quite popular. We had a salad (dinner plate size, lettuce, tomato, ham, cheese and egg), 2 grilled pork kebabs with fries and more salad, a pichet of red wine to share, Mum and I had crème catalan and dad had fromage blanc (which he said tasted like greek yoghurt sprinkled with sugar) and we all had coffee. This cost 13.5 Euro (about $20) each! No wonder it was popular.
I walked down to the beach with the gusts of wind buffeting me. The spray was being picked off
the top of the white caps.
Further around the etang, a couple of flamingos in a sheltered bay. Maturity and
a shellfish diet turn them pink.
Although Salses is about 50 kilometres North of the current Spanish border, decisively in France now, when it was built, in about 1500, it was at the Spanish border and was built by the Spanish. It was an experimental design by a military architect. He had it built in a dip with low but very thick walls. He believed this would better withstand an attack and would make defence, using cannons, easier. It is quite different from earlier fortifications with allowance made to ventilate the fumes from cannon fire and defences within the walls to deal with a breach.
Across the bridge, across the moat and through the main entrance.

When we arrived Mum and I had 2 choices: take the French tour through the rooms and the ramparts with just 15 minutes in the main courtyard or wander around the main courtyard on our own. We chose the tour in French and were very glad we did. The guide spoke clearly and enunciated the most important words from each sentence with emphasis. This allowed me to understand about 50% of what she said and make some assumptions for the rest. She answered our questions in English and every now and then would give a quick English explanation.
The main courtyard had a cistern in the centre and was flanked by stables and
barracks for the soldiers.
The keep housed the officers, governor and facilities such as the food stores, bakery,
kitchens and water system fed by underground springs (still bubbling up
 and into the channels provided)
An original iron door with iron mined from Canigou. The guide said that iron ore was
mined from Canigou from as far back as Roman times and it had to be stopped or the
mountain would be gone.
The officers mess had a huge fireplace, 2 dumb waiters, some tables in alcoves
for the higher ranks and sinks with drainage. We saw the ramparts, ventilation systems to allow
gunpowder fumes to escape, the governors living quarters, a latrine.
After the tour we had 15 minutes to wander before closing time.
This massive space has still to be renovated but we could see original stone flooring, where
the floor joists would have been and doors and fireplaces for the 2nd and 3rd floors.
Fascinated by the play of late afternoon light through the arches.
Mum and I scurried across the courtyard as they were locking the doors
Waiting by the moat for us to leave.
The fortress was occupied for about 150 years  and then the Treaty of the Pyrenees made the
area French and the fortress redundant. Luckily it was too expensive to knock it down. It has been
used as a prison and a gun powder store. Declared a historic monument in 1886.
I couldn't resist the little national monument car, with little  national monuments
all over it.
Dad drove home and I navigated. I managed to take him though Perpignan at rush hour!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ceret - Picasso passion

This is "store" just re-opened. We refer to it as the Chocolate Store as it has a lovely
selection of hand made chocolates (Mum got some for her birthday when we where
here 3 years ago). It also sells bread, croissants, cakes, sweets etc and has a nice
little area to eat (inside or out).
I've been taking pictures of all the boulangeries and this is the first time that someone
has looked disgruntled about it. We tried their croissant today. Nice, but they don't make
it on to the short list.
I think we have now tried all the places to get croissant that are within close walking distance. Our original boulangerie (the one we went to from the place we stayed before) was our favorite and is on the short list. As is the boulangerie/patisserie on the side street next to the Grande Café (where we get 4 croissant for the price of 3)and the one that just reopened at the top of the old town. I had thought we were ready to declare a favourite and then discussion among the judges resulted in some disagreement and a need to revisit the small boulangerie across from the wine store, through the arches. We did however get a bit closer on determining the criteria to be considered: flaky and crispy on the outside, airy on the inside with just a slight doughy texture, a  buttery flavour and (according to Mum) buttery residue to be licked off the fingers when the croissant is gone. For Dad it also needs to be easy to cut open and doughy enough to spread margarine and marmalade on but personally I think he should be eliminated as a judge. Not enough commitment to the purity of the endeavor.
I walked in the new part of Ceret today and just got back before rain and wind hit. It was warm today though, 14 degrees. So not much in the way of pictures.
Picasso visited and painted in Ceret, along with a number of other places in Southern France and Spain. He was instrumental in founding the Museum of Modern Art here and donated sketches, paintings and ceramics (see earlier post). Ceret takes pride in its historic and current artists and specifically Picasso.
The bar at the Hotel Arcades is called Bar Pablo
even though Picasso and his artist friends and entourage hung out at Le Grande Café around
the corner. There are vintage photographs to validate this.
It may be because it overlooks Place Picasso with the two arches through the
old fortification wall.
Since we were last here a Picasso themed fountain has been added just
through the arches.
In the centre is Picassos "sketch" of Catalans dancing the sardanes with the
dove of peace flying above.
Water bubbles in the centre and flows around the edge.
Tile work around the base is reminiscent of Picasso's style.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ceret - Le Ventous, Chappelle , Curried Carrots Recipe

This is the boulangerie that has been closed up until a couple of days ago. Our first try of
their croissants was very favorable and we tried them again today, thinking it was just a
fluke. No fluke, again, they were actually better than our previous favorites. Baguette was
very good too. Of course we will continue to conduct research, its a duty.
It doesn't seem to have a name though it does have a sign that states its an Artisan Boulangerie. It
is the only one up at the top of the old town. It is very small with little more than a great variety
of bread, croissant and some things that look like raisin danishes.
After breakfast I drove up to La Terrasse de Soleil Hotel, parked and walked part of Le Ventous trail and headed towards Reynes on a section I hadn't done before.
I had to check in at the little farmyard of goats, horse and donkey. The kids had grown and were now more independent of their mothers and very curious.
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"Who ARE you?" This guy reminds me of Chewbacca. (Note the fencing. Goats are notorious
for getting out and this fence shows the mending that has had to be done over the years).
"Seriously, who are you and why are you not feeding me!"
I could have stayed and watched them all day, but continued.
The vines up here, in the hills between Ceret and Canigou have finally all been
We have seen people in the vineyards everywhere, bent over the vines. Usually just one person but in the
bigger fields, two or three. It looks like a peaceful, solitary job but backbreaking.
It has to be done by hand, can't be mechanized. Last years growth must be pruned in such a way as to leave one or
two nodules to sprout into this years growth.
A farm down in the valley, surrounded by Mimosa. The scent wafted up on the wind. It
must be very strong down there.
It was snowing on Canigou again, I could feel it in the wind.
I turned around before I reached Reynes as I had told Mum and Dad I would be back by 1pm for lunch. It was an easy walk on a dirt track and I will certainly do it again and hope to get  further.
After lunch we went back to the little church that we found yesterday. Chapelle St Martin de Fenollar. The first record of the church is in 844 and it is close to the Roman road through the Pyrenees; Via Dimitia. The frescos on the walls and ceiling were painted in the first half of the 12th century. Unfortunately I was not permitted to take pictures (avec ou sans flash, the sign said). They were surprisingly bright with deep reds and blues, primitive in their depiction of the apostles, Mary, angels, three kings, Jesus but oddly modern looking too. Hard to believe how old they are and in a tiny little church in the middle of nowhere.
As mentioned in the previous post.
Its no wonder its submersible its really just cement over a bunch of culverts.
In and e-mail Barb suggested I shouldn't just mention some of the meals we are having but have a Vicarious Travelling Cookbook. So here's  the first recipe. We had it first at lunch in Collioure, experimented a couple of nights ago and fine tuned it tonight.
Curry pureed carrots (for 3)
Steam 3 carrots until softening.
Put them in a bowl with 1 tablespoons of cream, a tablespoon of honey, a dab of butter and 2 teaspoons of curry powder.
Puree (I used a hand blender)
Taste and add more of anything you think it needs.
Mum and I decided it needed a little something more, looked around the kitchen and added a teaspoon of marmalade.
I put it back in a small saucepan and kept it warm on a low heat but last time I dished it into ramekins and served immediately.