From The Forest
High winds have battered the region, reaching up to 160km along
the coast, and suddenly the deciduous trees are bare. It is much
colder than last December, there is already ice on the road and
snow fell at altidude, higher up our mountain road. Instead of
basking in the sun I am indoors by the fire…
12th December and there is a heavy frost, which has frozen our
water supply (last year Winter it stayed flowing until February)
– thankfully at 2pm it started running again…
In the spirit of the festive season, ‘le Fragon faux houx’ (false
holly), holly and cuttings of fir tree from the forest have been
transformed into Christmas decorations – the candle holder is
part of a gas lamp, the ribbon and bell from a Lindt Easter bunny,
and the glass icicle from the Collioure Christmas market.
In The Garden
Picked for dinner and decoration: Blettes, rosemary, thyme, tarragon,
lemon verbena for tea, cosmos, calendula, marigolds and a chilli.
Tomatoes are still ripening in the cabin, just surviving the
plunge in temperature.
Sunday 9th December. I spent the afternoon pulling the tomato
plants out of the cabin and cleaning the pots. The last are now
on a sunny windowsill and the potting shed is looking much larger
– clear of all the foliage and organised for next years seedlings.
In the nick of time, just before the frost arrived…
And still the roses keep coming… each bloom is different and
spectacular, adding colour to the table.
Exploring The Region
The Christmas market at the Château Royal in Collioure is bustling
with activity. There are geese, sheep, camels and wise men, donkey and
pony rides in the courtyard, with stalls selling hot spiced wine and
churros, while the narrow stone passages inside the château reveal a
treasure trove of artisanal products for Christmas.
The sea is much more agitated than usual, and as the icy Tramontane
cuts through the air, scarves, gloves and hats come out of hiding.
26th December. Bàscara, Upper Emporda, Spain. Each year this fortified
vilage celebrates Christmas with the ‘Pessebre’ – which can be described
as a live re-enactement of the origins of Christmas. Visitors are
ushered through the narrow pedestrian streets as lit animations tell the
story that leads to the birth of Jesus. An angel appears high on the
church tower; fireworks burst as stars and arches reveal locals dressed
in costumes representing ancient trades, as the route descends to the
river, and the three wise men on mounts are silhouetted amongst the trees
… natural mossy caverns drip with sparkling water and fisherfolk huddle
around fires, as the path leads past shepherds to a live manger (with a cow
and donkey happily eating hay), and then once again ascends to enter the
ramparts, as a grand bazaar comes alive with colour.
The light has been spectacular with cloud cover adding atmosphere,
and a few drops of rain bringing a wide rainbow that arched over
the mountain range, just before sunset. The North wind has been
trying hard to blow the clouds away – most days are clear and blue,
but today was an exception.
Mina has also been escaping the cold, but takes liberties…
Jumping up to grasp the window edge and peddling with her back paws,
Mina’s little face appears, with a great deal of scratching, as she
‘asks to come in’.
As tempting as it is to stay by the fire, frost means an outing
– surveying the garden, walking through the forest – and to Mina,
contantly scaling trees as she shadows me.
And back out, exploring the river this time as clouds roll in…
December 19th. The largest baguette I have ever seen, measuring
around a metre, part of a shared meal for our theatre group.
December 23rd. Hot sunny and 21 degrees… so lovely to bask in
the warmth of the sun again.
December 24th. Réveillon. I have been reading about the history of
celebrating on the evening of the 24th. As the Christmas tree’s
lights twinkle, I will be stepping put into the cool air only
briefly – dining next door and looking forward to discovering a
December 25th. I was woken by bells, but it wasn’t reindeer…
a local farmer’s cows broke the barrier that protects the
driveway, and even Clémentine the donkey joined in with their
December 31st. The cows have been back several times and the gate
has again been fixed. The air is crisp with a light wind, yet
days are clear and beautiful as sun pours down and Canigou
contunues to loose his snow, which now streaks down his upper
slopes. The only sound is the river running below, and the odd
bird, as calm fills the valley…