Early March and spring rushes in to relieve the chill of a long, hard winter. My almond trees are spreading their delicate petals to the seeping warmth and the Rosemaries have suddenly exploded into a riot of pale blues. The sun is hot now, despite the still-cool air, hot enough to eat lunch outside – and on the spreading pavements and boulevards of Cahors that is exactly what they have been doing.
Outside one of my favourite cafes – just beside Gambetta’s statue – a party of English tourists noisily settled into a large table for eight, excitedly rustling their maps and expressing wonder at the glories of the architecture. Dressed in pale creams and beige linen, newly streaked hair perfectly groomed, they pushed their up-to-the-minute shades into their hair and looked expectantly at Florian. He was busy juggling beers for a pair of regulars, stopped en route to the bar to kiss my ears, and shimmied in without seeming to notice his suddenly expanding clientele. Long years of experience.
I settled down in a pale shaft of sunlight with La Depeche and the under-waiter. He’s too young and perhaps too shy for a kiss, but he always shakes my hand and asks tenderly after my health. I ordered my omelette fromage, succumbed to a glass of rosé and sat back to breathe in the exquisite sensations of spring in the south of France.
Back on the table for eight they were reading the menu and discussing the possibility of ordering a bavette.
‘I think it’s some kind of omelette,’ said a man in sandals and a foppish bow-tie, ‘you know, one with bits in it.’
I smiled, sipped my wine and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of early season.
My omelette arrived, fat, moist, oozing with melted cheese and garnished with enough lettuce to feed a family of rabbits for a week. I lost track of progress on the other table for a while. I was hungry, the sun was warm on my back and life was to be enjoyed.
A tramp with four dogs, five dreadlocks and a disarming expression wandered through the tables and stopped at our party begging for enough money for bread – by which he meant tobacco. There was a general rustle of pockets and purses, a few ‘well really’s’ and he wandered on his way, well pleased.
I had finished my lunch and was sipping my coffee by the time they had finished their aperitifs and ordered their repast, it was one o’ clock and I was due to meet my son from the Lycée. At that moment the phone vibrated against my thigh and he hove into view on the other side of the fountain. I ordered another coffee and naughtily consumed my square of chocolate – two more months before bikini weather. Alexander shook hands with Florian and slid into the chair opposite me, just as the lady with the beige silk top waved imperiously for attention. Lucien skated out with the extra coffee, shook hands, and deposited it with a practised flourish and a ‘voila m’sieur,’ then disappeared into the heaving restaurant.
‘Well really’, said the lady in the beige silk top.
The market was packing up as my son and I arrived back at the car. Great crates of early season spinach and a few bunches of the prized globe radish jostled the last of the cabbages and cauliflowers, that’s it for the winter staples; we won’t see them again for another eight months. Soon it will be all thumb-size courgettes, slender young haricots verts and tiny, tender carrots. The asparagus is waiting in the wings and so are the early strawberries, the famous, fragrant Garriguette, queen of the strawberry tribe.
One sweet kiss from her scarlet lips transports you straight to the south.
© Amanda Lawrence 2010