Another Excellent Month in Marseillan, France

Featuring Darrell, Fran, a rented house on Rue des Droits de l'Homme, food and wine, a port, some July events, and
various glimpses of the surrounding towns and countryside.
A slideshow of maybe 150 pictures.


A couple videos                                                                                         Slideshow


July 6, 2011
Hi, friends,

My journal pages say that we are now (gulp) half way done with our French adventure.  Hard to believe.

This is just a small report for friends and family, with the extra weight of saying that it may be about all that I report this time--with the exception of another "report" towards the end of our trip. Somehow this time I have no inclination to document our adventure in photographs (haven't taken a single picture, even in circumstances that would have sprung me into click-mode on any of our other trips to France)  It is not that there have been fewer striking opportunities and memorable scenes.  Quite the contrary: the France we love still provides daily opportunities, daily scenic wonders: rather it is my mood and mindset.  I just feel like soaking it all up on my own terms without thought of "saving" it for later revisiting.  Of course part of this decision comes from the fact that we spent a month here in 2009, and documented the hell out of it (see and a lot of our days have been spent revisiting favorite places from that wonderful month: the walks beside the Canal du Midi, the restaurants in the Marseillan port and town, the waterfront in Setes, the vineyards in the area, the weekly markets just 100 feet from our front door, our fantastic rental house just inside the city walls, and so on and on.

The truth is that little has changed here, thank god.  The food is remarkable, especially the local seafood specialties (daurade, bulots, squid, oysters from Bouzigues, thon from Setes, espadon, and any number of other fresh options).  The markets still provide farm-fresh vegetables, cheeses, and perfectly ripened fruit.  And the WINES!  We have both been reading The Accidental Connoisseur by Lawrence Osborne, which turns out to be one of the more entertaining and funny travel books around---all about the evolution of the wine battles and theories of wine, considered as a cultural and economic force in France (even a very informative chapter on our region, Languedoc), Italy, and California.  The guy is very wise on the matter of the battle between "international" wines vs. the terroir enthusiasts (purists), and in telling a very informative story manages to make us laugh every page or two, while exposing our deeper insecurities about wine, and poking fun at various kinds of wine snobbery.  Recommended!  As usual, with reading projects, this contribution is Fran's.  (She is again reading Balzac and Flaubert on this trip--much of that after I fall out evenings after her wonderful dinners and the wonderful wines we've consumed therewith...) My excuse: I'm older.  (And I drink more...)

Our flight was as uncomfortable as ever.  Our pickup of the rental car (4-door Renault Clio) and subsequent drive across all of France to the Mediterranean was a bit grueling and
uneventful:  Village lunches, dinners near the hotel.  (A memorable encounter with a 20-year old girl in Bourges, who was charming and direct as can be imagined in pressing us for recommendations for American writers she should study--while serving us a nice tagine in a restaurant without any other customers before our bedtime.  We'll stay in touch by email.)

The rental is as perfect as we remembered it: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a garage under, a fully-equipped "American" kitchen, laundry, a patio for grilling and lounging, ringside seat for hundreds of swallows wheeling endlessly around the church tower just out our windows, a TV mostly French channels--I like the Art channel. WiFi internet access, and an air- conditioner!If you ever want a perfect rental, you could not do better on this coast (call us or email us for contact details). You can walk to the port, and drive in 10 minutes to the beach, and walk to all shopping for food, wine, books and newspapers, and the markets.  The owners speak English, and the concierge is a sweet lady, Manuela, who speaks fluent French, German, and English, while solving any problem.  Could not be better.

I've attached a couple shots of our dinner tonight--we grilled daurade fish, and Fran made nice veggie accompaniments.  Delicious!  It is now 10 pm here, and I'm starting to fade.  Maybe continue this in the morning...Today was very hot (86 degrees), but tomorrow is supposed to be 73.  Better for us Mainers!

So, here I am back on Wednesday morning: before 6:00 am our time, which means, probably still Tuesday night your time!

It IS decidedly cooler, and that is good, since we have tentative plans to drive up into the hills today to Rocquebrun (see former travel pix) to lunch and walk, and get a change of topography.

We have been to the beach here a couple times--a bit of an ordeal for me, since I have sunburn allergy, so have to take precautions, an umbrella, etc.  But the sea is so beautiful and the water is moderately warm, especially for Mainers.  There's also the topless factor: maybe 10-20% of the women don't bother with more than their bikini bottoms, and I've never been one to complain about nudity for women.

Again this trip we lunch most often in either the Bar Relax or the Boulevard restaurant: both have terrific "home-cooked" lunches with 2-3 courses and including wine for around $13 per person, and both are a few hundred feet from our house.  We get our fresh fish, meat and veggies at any of 2-3 markets we can walk to, but drive a mile for heavier staple items to the new Carrefour hypermarche.

I'm sure that this is more than enough news from me in this corner of the world, so I'll wrap this up and hit the Send button.  Time to make our breakfast!

Hope you are also having a wonderful summer, good times, good food, good weather!
Love to all,

Darrell (& Fran)


July 7, 2011

In the interest of "fair and balanced"...a lover's complaint regarding la belle France:

1) France is adopting American mistakes with Gallic enthusiasm: BigBox stores galore, "hamburger" fast-food joints at every expressway exit, "business" hotel chains of total sterility and utter lack of functionality, supermarket staleness and frozen "food," horrible game-shows, sit-coms, commercials, and "news" banter shows on TV, "museums" for every useless collectible, tourist "attractions" that attract only dolts and brainless dropouts, faddist "literature," "self-help" books, rude encounters, aggressive and out-of-control children with no manners in public spaces, excessive tattoos, branding, wine-snobbery, crowded parking lots, and the DRIVERS (deserves a new category).

On the other hand I do rather like box wine and screw caps, even for very good wine, and find that the choice between multiple stop-lights (US) and ubiquitous round-abouts (Fr) is a sort of toss-up.  In spite of the steering hyper-activity, round-abouts (with GPS) DO seem to allow smoother navigation between point A and point B.  And sometimes supermarkets are VERY handy, especially for visitors with short stays. (I'm remembering France 50 years ago...)  Also the French seem to be ahead of us in public WiFi access, and I still think that the French institution of the cafe to sit and drink without hassle for as long as you want is a major component of civilization.  Ditto the desserts and wines and coffee.

2) Drivers: they are rude, dangerous, on your bumper always, and the worst are the motorcycle guys (all between 14 and 28?) who zip and weave on any highway at speeds previously reserved to drag-racers and space-rockets.  The toll-road system is wonderful in general: trucks are pre-programmed to set speed-limits and stay in the right lanes.  Speed limits on express highways are usually 130 kph. Tolls, exits, service areas are well-thought-out. Signage is good. You need bills/change for the unmanned toll-booth machines, but on big roads, all are manned, and easy.  On the other hand back roads can be dangerous, incredibly narrow, poorly marked, without guardrails, scary, and subject to wandering farm animals, tractors, and so forth.  Parking is almost always an issue in the small town centers, but can usually be solved. Driving in the ourskirts of Paris anytime, or near any city at rush-hour means bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles/LongIslandExpressway style.

3) Food: Mostly remarkably good, but there has been a drift towards utter laziness and misrepresentation.

Two or three times this week we've encountered lunch dishes that were just assembled from cans: "pizza" with canned olives, "salad fraicheur" with canned grapefruit slices and canned tuna, and other abominations. We saw little of this in our April, 2009 stay here, and think that the high season for tourists brings out the frauds. (Understand: mostly the food is wonderful: today at lunch I had a neighborhood bar's pork chop with ratatouille and frites, with mustard sauce, plus a bottle of wine for $11.00.  Couple days ago we had duck leg with caper sauce and veggies + wine and creme brulee for $13.00 each.  No complaints in general--just in particular cases of greed and graft.)

OK, justice is served.

We note that we only have 8 full days left in our wonderful rental, before we have to drive north towards Paris again. We were sad to find out that the Brad Mehldau/Josh Redman jazz concert in the outdoor theater facing the sea in Setes is sold out for August 15.  We are looking forward to the local festivities for Bastille Day just before we leave, including the boat jousting tournament, which is not a joke here, but a major training/athletic competition designed to soak the rivals in medieval fashion.  We still have a list of museums, cathedrals, and restaurants to visit (a Juan Gris show at the Paul Valery Museum, the Narbonne cathedral, etc.)  Truth is we still organize our days around our own version of sensuality: good food, slow-cooking, long lunches, lots of wine, naps, walks, and quietness.  In spite of all, we love France.

love to all,

A couple videos                                                                Slideshow