The bells are sounding ‘midi’ – firstly 12 notes and then a continuous succession of tones coming in the bathroom window, along with the aromas of the neighbour’s Sunday lunch. In keeping with traditions and the rhythm of life here, I have come out to take an apéro at Bar Pablo (a homage to Picasso) – a table in the sun as the weather is mild. Breakfast was a warmed croissant aux amandes; the patisserie display brimming with the gâteaux they are famous for, especially elaborate today. The plane trees that lie just outside the ramparts and arches that mark the medieval centre of the ville are now golden, and leaves crunch underfoot. Christmas lights are being installed – not yet lit, but there as a reminder that this year has passed at an accelerated pace.
We (Célestine and I), officially moved to our new home on Tuesday 11th, after six weeks living out of overflowing suitcases. Each day here has been full of discovery as we find our bearings and establish some kind of daily ritual in this environment. The cuisine is finished (the first room to be painted and arranged), and the view is surprising: gum trees, a huge walnut tree next to figs, olive groves and cypress on high terraces, two peaks of Mt Canigou, vegetable gardens- and especially welcome flocks of birds, resident chickens below the window and curling plumes of smoke from chimneys. Nights are cool but temperatures vary greatly and it is much warmer than ‘life on the mountain’ – the terrace floods with afternoon sun and the 2nd storey invites morning light that travels over the rooftops.
After six weeks of ‘hard physical work’ cleaning, clearing, repairing, plastering, building, painting and unpacking, there is a slight sense of order, along with the spirit of hope and a sense of relief, and ‘emergence’ after such concentrated efforts. It is as if ‘life as normal’ was overturned – everything has been in suspended animation between worlds and is only now starting to fall into place (I have entered into a new domain, not only that of town vs. country with the change of season, but ‘French administration and the social system’ as I step out on my own, with a daughter, leaving all that is familiar and the comfort of a relationship with a local for the ‘unknown’). In choosing this place (rather than having and ‘racines’ or family history) I have followed my heart and instincts rather than anything more tangible.
In 1998 I walked these streets as a photographer, recording moments that I now look back on with amusement – in black and white – for I was transfixed by the same street I now live in! Details have changed – there is a new fountain – yet habits remain and the iron benches that line the street outside the Mairie (Town Hall) are still the perch for elderly residents who gather each day. The artist Albert Woda still has a galerie window and I can journey back in time to when I bought the etching that has travelled with me, to and from the Antipodes. The difference is I am now privy to a glimpse of Céret that tourists (like me) never get to see: the hidden gardens that lie beyond the stone facades, and the annual rhythm that defines life in this region – the ebb and flow of this ‘Catalan’ enclave that is intrinsically linked with the frontier of Spain and lies 40 minutes from the Mediterranean coast, where the Pyrénées touch the turquoise waters of the Côte Vermeille.