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Monday, July 4, 2011

Bmag July 5th 2011 - South of France

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be a wine and olive-fed writer based in some exotic location like Morocco or Italy or France. So, I’ve come to the small French village of Calvisson, population 3000, just to the south-west of Nimes and 20 minutes drive north of the Mediterranean Sea, to find out.

In truth, the Howsons are here to stay with my mum and step-dad, who have recently retired and moved from Brisbane. The village they have chosen is hundreds of years old and well off the beaten track. There’s not much English spoken but Mum and John studied French for five years before they came and the locals can tell. Try some French on them and you will be rewarded with a little English and somehow you manage to connect.

It’s 11am and I’m sitting in a secondfloor bedroom window with a notepad and coffee. The stone walls of this fourteenth century terraced house are so thick I have plenty of space in the window to plonk myself down and write. It’s 32 degrees. The sky is blue and without cloud. The sun is hot but a breeze flows up the street and it’s very relaxing just watching people walk past. Look, it’s the postcard image of a man carrying two baguettes! The streets in Calvisson are so narrow I could almost hold hands with someone across the road. There’s a musty stone informed smell everywhere but somehow that adds to the romance.

By 1pm I’m sitting outside the bar in the main square. With shops closed from midday until 3pm, this is where locals are drawn. A round of five drinks costs me just $10. I choose a shiraz from the local winery. Light, but perfectly refreshing on this warm summer’s day. The bar is such a focal point that whenever you go past you look to see who’s there. I might not have met them but I already recognise the regulars! You instantly take a liking to the barman, Roget, who’s dressed in white and has the sort of well-worn face you just want to photograph. His eyes smile and both his nose and bushy moustache are pronounced. Almost cartoon-like. I suspect Roget likes a drink himself.

Now it’s 3pm and I’m on the beach at nearby Aigues-Mortes. It won’t be dark until 10pm, quite the novelty for someone from Brisbane! I’m on a sunlounger, under an umbrella, with a waiter offering me a drink. This time, I opt for a juice d’orange.

At 5pm I’m in a café in Nimes just metres from a 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre. Christians and lions once “met” inside these walls. The history is breathtaking. I down a pint of lager. On the way back to Calvisson, I pick up a couple of baguettes (or as we would say, “French sticks”). These are consumed with a dozen cheeses, sensational rosemary-dipped olives and a bottle of wine – this time a merlot – again from the local winery.

It’s 8.30pm and we’re at a street party thrown by the “high quarter” of the village. It was still light as we walked the 300 metres to a covered market square where 100 or so locals are eating and drinking at three long rows of trestle tables. The Howsons don’t speak any French but, in no time, Nikki and I are in a Conga line. And leading the celebrations, dancing next to the DJ on a stage too small for the two of them, is the barman Roget! He is the life of this party and of the village!

It’s 11pm and this time I’m writing at the dining table in mum’s kitchen. Again, glass of wine in hand while Nikki contemplates a gin and tonic to finish off the night. At this time of year, there’s something happening every day in Calvisson. Last night, it was a bonfire – with tapas and wine – to celebrate St John. Tomorrow, we’re invited to a luncheon and a dinner. That’s after we’ve been to the fresh produce market in the morning. Frankly, I don’t know how all these writers find the time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). There are too many olives to eat. And is that another cork being opened? Sorry, must go…

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