Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

Last week as I drove south down that most characteristic of holiday routes – the A20 – from Cahors to Montauban, I gazed out at an enchanting landscape. The chequered fields and woods were newly green and the fabulous orchards of the Quercy Bas appeared in a haze of white blossom, as if somebody had shaken a feather pillow over the land. Closer to home, the vines are breaking bud, violets spread their purple mantles beneath the oaks, delicate lemon cowslips throng the verges, and every now and then I spot a cluster of deep blue gems among the rocky outcrops, wild grape hyacinths hide their startling colours like sapphires carelessly discarded. Redstarts sing boisterously from the top of our pigeonnier, cranes flap laboriously past and cuckoos call from the deep woods.

Down in the markets the change is heart-warming. Asparagus spears lie in stacked bundles side by side with innumerable boxes of that sweet, fragrant and amazingly early strawberry of the Quercy, the Gariguette. Tourists are beginning to arrive for an Easter break, they sit in carefree, laughing groups outside the sprawling cafes, shuffling maps, guides and café crèmes. Happy just to be here, sit in the sun and watch the world go by.

I ran into Cahors market late last Wednesday. It was well after midday, and the early traders were beginning to pack up their wares. I was welcomed with typical charm at my favourite vegetable stall, although Madame was knee deep in boxes and unsold salade. I bought damp spinach, pulled from the earth that morning, a bunch of spring onions, tiny, tiny new courgettes and bunches of rapé – turnip tops – the highly sought-after bitter spring greens of these parts. Perhaps just one bundle of early asparagus, I mused. She smiled and tucked it into the side of my basket, where the pale green arrows contrasted rather prettily with two golden baguettes already in residence. My mind was busy with thoughts of melted butter as I trotted out of the market and headed towards my favourite café. The lunchtime race was well underway, waiters sliding effortlessly between sunshiny tables. I collapsed into a chair and exchanged cheek rubbings with Florian. Omelette Fromage? He asked me. Am I so predictable? I suppose I am. They do them so beautifully here, soft and runny in the middle, exquisitely folded and oozing melted cheese. I suddenly realised I was hungry. I nodded and picked up a savoury slice of pain de compagne. The omelette was wonderful, as it always is, and as I sat back to warm my shoulders and admire the newly restored statue of Gambetta, a complimentary coffee arrived.
I do love this town.

© Amanda Lawrence 2009

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I Do Love Cahors! from French Vie

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