By gerard oosterman
We then flew to Marseille where we were hoping that the Citroen car we had pre-booked would be waiting for us. Unbelievably, it was waiting for us, brand spanking new, just rolled out of the factory and ours now for three weeks. It was a tiny car, more like a jacket that you put on but frugal to drive and had everything. We had heard rumours of the airports in France being surrounded by angry farmers, fighting the world of EU protection and tariffs and unfair trade advantages, but we thought that the Marseille airport would escape the fury. The farmers were organized though and Marseille farmers with trucks and tractors had surrounded us. The airport was in lock down mode, nothing would leave or enter. Who would be brave enough to face the wrath and break a French farmer’s strike? We sat in our car, no food and the prospect of having to stay in one of the hotels at the airport till the French farmers decided to quit, go home and eat. Surely for them to sit on the tractor or in the truck would become just as trying as passengers hanging around the arrival terminals. At least the passengers had the advantage of the food canteens, cafes and convenience of hotels and shops. While I was contemplating all the above pro’s and con’s I noticed a small table-top truck driving off in front of us and crossing a part of the tarmac. I, for hitherto unknown reason, decided to just follow this truck. We went up some kerbs and crossed airport entrances when we ended on a narrow dirt track. Still this truck was in front of us. All of a sudden we came onto the highway with a sign which said Montpellier. The truck veered off and a hairy arm came out of the window and with a wave sped off in the opposite direction. This French farmer must have known we were foreigners; it was such a nice gesture. Vive La France!
The drive to Belarga and the stone cottage would have to be amongst the very best and fortuitous trips ever undertaken in my entire life. The idea of arriving at an airport under siege by angry French farmers is formidable enough to contemplate, but to escape this and then to drive (on the different side of the road) in a strange car and with a nervous disposition, all the way to the stone cottage without even once getting lost or going berserk, would have to rate as a triumph over any adversity experienced so far. Indeed, I had climbed the Mount Everest of foreign travel. The key to the house was exactly as I was promised by the Australian owner and the cottage was far better and bigger than expected. It was entirely built of stone with walls a metre thick. It had two stories above the lower ground floor which contained a huge storage and garage for the car. At the front of the first floor was a large stone flagged veranda with a kind of wood fire barbeque and generous wooden slatted seats. The top floor had a large bedroom with a high ceiling supported by hand hewn exposed timber rafters. It was all white washed except for the stone walls that had been raked and pointed in an adobe mixture of lime and clay. The exposed timber floor was bare but for a huge bed and a small wardrobe, the room was stark but very beautiful. The middle floor had two small bedrooms and bathroom. The ground floor had a small lounge room, the kitchen and large dining area and another bathroom.
Next morning, after consulting our map we were off to explore the immediate surroundings and the multitude of villages. For charm and getting a sense of history the French country side provides a never ending smorgasbord. It immediately transported me into a mode of; sell everything in Australia, forsake all the kids and friends, we are going to live here. The rapture of those three weeks is something that sustained me for years. Our friends in Australia must have got so tired of my descriptions of metre thick stone walls, sixteenth century houses like confetti, the Languedoc wineries and the boulangeries of Clermont L’Herault. The one story that my kids are almost in despair about each time I relate it to new victims is, that after visiting so many small towns and villages, we happened to come upon Pezenas. This little town is an absolute example of French middle age architecture, so charming and so unrelentingly unnerving in its historical beauty one cannot find the words to do justice. We walked the cobblestone streets of the old part of Pezenas and came upon a square in which there was a sign pointing to an upper storey of an old historical building in which the famous playwright; Jean-Baptiste-Poquelin with the stage name’ Moliere ‘(1622-1673) was supposed to have lived. On the ground-floor was a barber shop whose owner proudly claimed that this was the very same barber shop where Moliere used to have his long tresses of hair and moustache trimmed. I had nothing to lose and had my hair cut there as well!