Mediterranean Moments - Page 2

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Near the end of the trip, we found ourselves at the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains. A few hundred miles past Leala's turf, we had only a map and four separate opinions to guide us. We spent one morning walking around yet another quintessential Mediterranean village, Collioure; the narrow, winding streets bursting with orange, pink, and blue houses, weathered seaside castles, and another street market. In the unseasonable heat we were tempted to swim here but didn't have our bathing suits. I couldn't quite convince myself to be so local as to buy a 12-Euro Speedo. There were cameras on hand.

In the afternoon we drove to Céret, in the foothills of the Pyrenees and listed in guidebooks as a former home of Picasso and other noted artists of his time. We found the cobblestone streets and squares curiously quiet, an eerie albeit interesting phenomenon of traveling during the shoulder season. Not lingering, we drove on to a gorge—this region has several—and walked through the narrow, towering rock walls on a meticulously engineered walkway suspended over a rushing river.

To get back to our hotel, outside of Perpignan, we could have gone back the way we came, mostly on the highway. But the map showed a small squiggly line, winding through hills and paralleling the highway in its overall direction. Loving a mountain drive, I voted for the squiggly line and met no objections. I figured we'd get some good views and I'd get to have some more fun behind the wheel. The daylight was fading so we had to be quick. With some trouble we found the beginning of the squiggle and started a steep ascent into the pine-covered foothills. Driving fast, racing daylight, I could only steal quick glances of the views over the hills to the sea. Soon enough, nary a quarter of the way into the squiggle, the only light left was coming from the headlights.

Around corners and over hilltops, we spotted parts of trees, boulders, and cliffs. We passed through the occasional village composed of only one, maybe two, shabby buildings with windows glowing; each village clearly marked with road signs upon entrance and, 50 feet later, exit. For the next two hours, as I weaved around sharp corners, through these outposts, my human cargo grew restless and nauseous. The scolding was a silent one, punctuated by an utter lack of enthusiasm for the adventure I was leading. But I wasn't phased; I swooped around corners and over hills like I knew what was coming next—all the while imagining myself to be a resident of one of these towns, silent and content, making my way home among nothing but the dark trees and rocks of the Pyrenees. A good life, I thought: scenic views, slow pace, and adequate signage (wouldn't want to confuse my private village with Jacques', just up the road.)

Back in Maury, the closest town to our countryside hotel, my green-faced cargo recovered quickly. We ate at the only place open in the small, serene village. We'd found it the previous night; while creeping through the steep, narrow village streets we had come upon two old women, ecstatic to see anyone, let alone be afforded the opportunity to direct us to an eatery. At the small bar, we were eating among what must have been most of the off-season population of the village: about five guys and two very popular girls. Of course we garnered a bit of attention ourselves—clearly not from around these parts—in the form of curious stares. But by the end of our second night there, the bartender was giving us free beers. Still, he refused to turn the Satellite TV to the NFL game. "Zeez eez Frahnce," he said, "we watch zee reel football."

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