27th August: Last night I visited the evening craft fair in St. Remy. It’s held once a week throughout the summer. There are just two more to go but already the crowds were thin on the ground. For the most part, the Parisians and all those other interlopers from the north of France have returned to their more elegant and sophisticated lifestyles. Here at Villa Glanum, the international journalists and TV producers have, along with the renowned publisher, upped sticks and taken the TGV back to the capital. ‘See you in Paris’, they shouted gleefully. You won’t see me I don’t reply.
Wednesday morning sees the main market in St. Remy. In the height of the season, people flock from all over Provence to savour the goods on offer that are packed into the tiny lanes and three squares. This morning, I drove straight into an empty space in the car park to discover that I’ve apparently gone native. Some French visitors struggling with the ticket machine mistake me for a local and ask for my help. ‘Don’t bother’, I tell them, ‘it never works’. Later, I heard the exact same advice given by the woman in the tourist office. More new arrivals in the car park ask me for advice about the market. I oblige. When my stint as tourist advisor is over, I make my way to a stall where, minding my own business, I am accosted by a woman demanding to know whether the dresses are pure cotton. The irate stall holder rushes over – ‘c’est moi’, she insists, ‘she’s just a customer’, nodding at me in a possessive and threatening manner.
I have a theory: I didn’t bring much with me in the way of clothes or footwear and what I do have now largely resembles rags. I have three pairs of shoes, two of which are going in the bin at the end of next week. Also headed for the poubelle are two nighties and a number of wine stained tops. My hair is bleached by the sun and I’ve a different coloured skin from six weeks ago. So, whilst I’m clearly not Parisian, I might, at a pinch, be taken for one of the poorer relatives from the South. One of the fatter ones.
The clothes stalls on the market have divided their goods into two sections: fin de serie and nouvelle collection. There are huge discounts to be had since last week: 50% or even 70% off the summer clothes. It’s another signifier of the onset of autumn. And it’s a good time to be a tourist if you’re in the market – in a manner of speaking – for a few frocks.
I’m not. I’m already weighed down with tablecloths, ceramics and old Tin Tin annuals; another reason for throwing my clothes away. Neither am I interested in the nouvelle collections which look as drab and dreary as they do every year. One minute it’s summer with all its vibrantly coloured linens and cottons, the next it’s bring out your widows’ weeds. Leonard’s still round the corner singing the blues. I’m hoping he’ll stay one more week for the delight of Bridget and Jane who arrive on Saturday.
This evening, I returned to the town. Specifically, to the Bar-Tabac des Alpilles where I make a huge decision that might surprise my friend, Marian – the acknowledged queen of cocktails. I will NOT take a glass of their superb house rose for the aperitif: I will have a Campari and orange juice. The waiter is apologetic: there is no orange juice. It’s another pigeonniere moment. Then, the dear boy has a suggestion: ‘shall I squeeze some oranges’, he asks? With the sun on my back and the temperature a mere 32C, this somewhat late-in-life discovery for me is sublime. I resolve to make the purchase that I’ve been considering for the last three weeks and stagger off down the hill tout de suite.