The missus and I have just got back from out holiday in Puybrun, the small village in the Aude which I’ve used as a setting for a couple of my novels.  Several of my friends have places in France and indeed one of them has lived the ex-pat life for years.  However, outside the realm of fantasy, neither of these courses appeals to me.  I wouldn’t know what to do after the second week.  Ditto the missus.


We spend our holidays quietly.  I cook most of our meals and drink a couple of beers and one glass of wine over the ten days.  We go walking in the beautiful countryside, keeping an eye out for flowers and butterflies, and visit markets within a 20 mile radius – as much for the characters as the stuff on sale.  In Esperaza we see Santa Claus stretching his knotty legs, smoking a fag and combing his fingers through his beard.  On his time off he seems to be a bit of an old hippy.


We dance whenever possible.  A little jive at Esperaza on the day after Bastille Day, before the firework display.  The same by the lake at Puybrun where a night market is held every Wednesday during the summer.  We bop in a dark corner after night has fallen and the market is a circle of light provided by the food stalls.


At Arques we have hopes of a traditional bal musette, when, as we park the car we hear the strains of an accordion knocking out Viva Espana!  But in fact the music is soon replaced by one of the naff show bands that work the circuit of country gigs in the summer.  The line-up of these bands is much the same.  A smarmy male singer you would cross the road to punch.  A chanteuse whose ample curves are slipping and overflowing her dress.  And a couple of bimbos who prance about the stage in their bras and contrive always to look the same even in their numerous costume changes.  Once the French have munched through dinner and the tables in the square are cleared, the space is given over to handbag-dancers, kids and dogs.  A demented old fellow is giving it his all.  He looks like Dr. Harold Shipman in shorts, dad-dancing and totally pissed.  No, it isn’t me, and I don’t intend my description to be a snide comment.  There is a charm about these occasions, when everyone and his dog is in a good mood, and everything is happening in a magical pool of light in the dark countryside.


At Mirepoix on a Monday morning it is raining, but the tourists are browsing the craft stalls under the arcades of the mediaeval market place.  In the centre of the square is a cast iron halle, where people are sheltering.  Taking advantage of the occasion and a ready-made audience, a trio of violin, guitar and bull fiddle are busking gypsy jazz and some standards.  The missus and I want to dance, but it doesn’t seem the right time.  It pleases us that the hat on the floor is filling with coins and it occurs to me that only the musicians are praying for rain.


Our cottage is spacious and has a tiled floor.  The missus and I clear the furniture to one side, and at some point each evening, usually during intervals of cooking, we dance the tango or the rumba to the music of the superb Little Rumba Band.


24 July 2014