The roads at the ancient heart of Agde are narrow. Sometimes, you can stand in the middle of the street and – if you stretch out your arms – you touch the walls on both sides. When we first came here a few years ago, you had to hang your rubbish bags on a hook by the front door each evening because the tight little streets were impossible for a bin wagon to navigate. A man with a cart came by at dawn to collect them. These days, there’s a wheelie bin and a nippy little truck comes around each morning to empty it, so there’s no need to hang your rubbish on a hook any more. I miss that a bit. What can I say? I’m a Cancerian. I have an uncomfortable relationship with change.
The narrow streets are shady, even in the middle of the day, with a cool breeze off the Hérault river licking its way up towards the top of the town (we live on la rue Haute, it’s as high as it gets). The houses are built from sombre, volcanic basalt. So sometimes it’s not until you emerge, blinking like a sunscreen-scented mole, into one of the larger squares or onto the quais, that you realise it’s actually 30 ̊C.
Some of the things I love about summer here…
- The slip-slap of rush-soled flip flops on a cobbled street.
- A cloudy glass of Ricard before dinner. I am yet to try that fiendish-sounding tribute to Hemingway, the Death in the Afternoon cocktail – a measure of pastis poured into a glass of champagne. I think I’ll keep it that way.
- Rising early – as soon as the Mediterranean sun curls its way across the floor of our room – and wandering onto the terrace to gaze at an horizon stained the colour of a ripe peach.
- Sleeping late. Falling out of bed and into a fat paperback – one of the many that have been sitting undisturbed for months on my bedside table in London.
- Swifts circling the house, celebrating their shrieking dawn and dusk patrols, and the seagulls which my friend Avril says, ‘seem to be constantly laughing’.
- The house smelling of ripe charentais melons.
- Eating flat peaches and cherries at every opportunity, either in their blissfully naked state or piled into sweet tarts on a pillow of frangipane.
- Endless small, dark, cups of coffee under the awning of Le Plazza, while listening to the free concerts in the square (one of the benefits of having a communist mayor, sans doute).
- Sitting in a smart bar on the marina at Marseillan drinking an icy glass of Noilly Prat approximately 100 metres from where it was made.
- Plucking glossy, emerald green bay leaves on the banks of Hérault.
- Eating sea salt caramel ice cream on the terrace of Le Commerce and wondering how I could make it at home. This is the reason why I need to go back there almost every day to sample theirs, in the interests of culinary research.
- My mother, who can talk about the ancient Phoenecians as though they are sitting at the neighbouring table under the trees outside Le Capitaine, or at the very least about to row past us in a quinquereme.
- If I had to have one thing for lunch every day for the rest of my life, it would be a little tartine of grilled cabécou goat’s cheese on a slice of sourdough bread with a trickle of honey and a scattering of toasted pine nuts.
- There’s a beautiful roof terrace several streets away which we can see from ours. It’s filled with pots of roses, pelargoniums and pink oleander. The man who owns it is clearly a very keen gardener. Sometimes he likes to do this naked.
- The little boy from the gypsy family on the corner – who always looked so sad in his thick glasses and dummy in his mouth, trailing along behind his older brothers as they performed exuberant wheelies on their bikes – has lost the dummy and gained a puppy, a floppy-eared, beagley scrap of brown, white and black fur, which he carries around under his arm all day like a beach towel. Boy and puppy seem very happy together.
What do you love about summer where you are?
Smart doors, scruffy doors, knockers and hinges…
This is one of my favourite doors in Agde, the heavy basalt door to the Eighteenth Century bakers’ oven in the house where we are staying.