Saturday, September 15, 2012


Part One

I must be having a dream ...

I am lying outstretched high up on a narrow shelf, shifting ever so slightly, fearful of falling off my perch and tumbling down into the water below. It is a hot night.

I quietly calculate how much of a push I can give myself to clear the shoreline  and plunge safely into the soothing cool water lapping on the soft sandy bank of the river. 

I think a flock of flamingos are gathered there in the shallows, inviting me to join them as they forage on the river bed.

Friendly white ponies with big sad eyes graze in the grasses on the nearby bank. I imagine them beckoning to me. Join us. It is peaceful here. 

But there is danger. 

In a nearby field are powerful black bulls. Should I lose my balance and intrude into their world, heavy hoofs and sharp horns may inflict horrible pain.

I drift off again into a fitful sleep.

Now I am on the edge of my bed, this time more awake and I am making some sense of the mix of images that have intruded on what began as a deep sleep. I lower my feet to  the floor and it all comes back to me. 

We have been staying for several days now in the Camargue, at Mas St Louis, a Chambres d’hÔtes, not far from Aigues Mortes.

Yesterday was a full day filled with adventures. It began with the running of the bulls through the streets of Le Grau-du-Roi.


Joanne stayed safe behind the barricades. 

Afterwards, we walked into the market where we bought a paella for lunch and ate it on a seaside bench overlooking the Mediterranean. 

After days of being landlocked in the darkness of the Midi-Pyrénees, I plunged at long last into the sea, stretching out again and again and again with each stroke in the cool, clean exhilarating saltwater.

We took a long slow walk along the shoreline, waves lapping at our ankles, sun beating down on our bare skin. The Mediterranean sea breeze was warm and cleansing.

With still half a day ahead of us. We returned to the car and drove deep into the farmlands of the Camargue, destination Les Saintes Marie de la Mer. We drove the slow route passing by vineyards and rice fields. A small car ferry at Bac du Sauvage took about ten other cars and twice as many bicyclists across the Petit Rhone.

The Camargue is the vast delta of the Rhone River whose waters fan out in the last few kilometers of the river's long meandering journey from central France to the Mediterranean Sea. Marshlands and scrub lands, tidal pools, swamps and estuaries are rich with nutrients that sustain an exceedingly wide variety of flora and fauna. The history and culture of this intriguing region of France would take a lifetime to experience.

We stopped along the way to photograph flamingos feeding in the turbid still waters of an estuary. They are delicate but gangly creatures with long stick legs, serpentine necks and big parrot-like beaks.

These flamingos are a very pale pink in colour, and when they stretch their wings as though in a great big yawn, they reveal a beautiful cerise of varying hues.

We drove on from this peaceful scene to yet another. We rounded a bend in the road and we were suddenly upon a small herd of stocky white Camargue ponies grazing in the pale green grass by the side of the Petit Rhone, the final navigable tributary of the Grand Rhone.

The long manes and tails of the ponies were wistfully blowing in the wind in rhythm with the high blades of grass that surrounded them. It was still very warm here and the ponies were protected from the sun by the shade of leaning windblown trees. 

What struck me the most was the light, that perhaps only an artist or photographer might truly understand and be able to capture with brush or lens. The colours were pale and subdued, filtered in a way that I have never seen before.

Juxtaposed with this rather tranquil scene, was the fenced-in field of bulls across the road. They also were grazing, but they were commanding. They had a different kind of presence. These big black bulls are powerful, imposing creatures. 

They are dynamos at rest. In the morning we watched them in a controlled stampede through the city to the delight of spectators seeking thrills behind steel barricades at the annual Fall Festival at Le Grau du Roi. But here the bulls were as free as they could be, left alone to please no one. 

On the way back to our abode at Mas St-Louis we stopped at a roadside Ferme Directe where we bought local produit for dinner - fresh tomatoes, a dozen huitres (oysters), a couple of baguettes (from the third and final baking of the day), Vin Rosé of the region, and yet one more local gastronomic specialty: Saucisson de Taureau. Yes, of course - bull meat sausage.

Vin de Sables is a wine of the Carmague where the vines grow in the terroir of sand.

This dry rosé has a unique taste and very good one. 

We consume some of this daily while we are here, but only copious amounts during one memorable seafood dinner shared with our friends, Danny and Rozann. That was the night of my fitful sleep. It started with deep REM but then the fantasies of a dream began. We are sleeping in single beds here. I am not used to such a small cot. Are they narrower here in France? 

I was tossing and turning all night, fighting not to fall out of bed. During the moments when I did drift off to sleep I remember dreaming of falling into scenes of where we had been during that wonderful day! 

For more travel photography with local information visit my website.

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