Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Madonna ear-worm, borderland indecencies and Amateur Anthropology Day.

We felt a twinge of regret as we left Loupian. Why do some places resonate with you yet others, more interesting or beautiful don't?  It is a bit of a mystery. There is no doubt, the more often we visit the area around Meze, the more we like it, which I will take as an excuse to post a few more photos.

Reasons to be cheerful -

Lovely Loupian....

There's been a church on this spot since the late Roman era - vines too, probably

ancient streets

Wayside rock roses the size of peonies.
Vive La Republique!

We declare the outdoor kitchen - a success!

Title: Bewildered man, wine bottle and orange bucket...

Shopping trips are not a chore...

Down the via verde, through the vineysrds

along the road by the Etang de Thau
photo stop
Meze  central square
Deux noisettes wth a harbour view
savour the blue day - leading to...

The rosé glow of contentment...

Our avowed purpose to always visit new places is suffering serious 'mission drift' at the moment. The whole journey along the Languedoc Roussillon coast to the Costa Brava will cover familiar territory, and although our specific destination - San Pere Pescador - is new to us, the area immediately to the south towards L'Escala and Estartit we know well from beach  holidays we took when the kids were still at home. 

It's somewhat sobering to reflect that the first time we came here is now almost two decades ago. I realised this because as soon as we crossed from Languedoc into Rousillon, beside the silver grey Etang de Leucate glinting to the left and the cloud-wreathed bulk of Pic du Canigou filling the windscreen, I was immediately assailed by a ferocious ear-worm consisting of a series of viral descending cadences from Madonna's 'Ray of Light'. More often than not these aural assaults occur inexplicably. In this case, however, its provenance is specific. The first time we came here was  Easter 1998,  Madonna's one off foray into electonica had recently been released, so 'Ray of Light' became the soundtrack of this particular journey south, and snippets of it featured on the resultant holiday video. So, there is a certain Pavlovian inevitability around this afternoon's annoying ear-worm.

The road to Spain - where's the sun?  (Madonna in head - quite annoying)
Thinking back to those Easter trips, squeezed into a two week break, the mileages we did were insane. For a start, it was a 2500 mile drive round trip from home to the Pyrenees Oriental. We did not stop on arrival, we have pictures of us in Perpignan, Collioure, Empuries, Girona, and we even managed a day trip to Barcelona. Laura was still in a buggy, where did we get the energy from? 

Slow going near the border - the motorway is being upgraded to three lanes.

Viva Espagna!
Even back then I remember the Spanish border town of La Jonquera as somewhat god-forsaken, full of discount cigarette shops and supermarkets selling knock off designer goods and cheap booze. These days it seems to be sliding from the slightly tawdry towards the distinctly sleazy. 

The A9 motorway which runs past the town connects the south coasts of Spain and France to the industrial powerhouse of Italy's Po valley. It's one on the key trade routes of Southern Europe, consequently La Jonquera is ringed by acres of lorry parks packed with trucks, many from Eastern Europe. So, guess what business always flourishes where footloose males gather with time on their hands thanks to the European working time directive and HGV regulations? The fact that one of the bigger discount stores has re-branded itself as 'Europe's biggest sex toy superstore' might give you a clue. We have travelled long enough in Southern Europe to find the occasional pockets of roadside prostitution unsurprising, but it tends to be small scale and low key - a short stretch of an unlovely main road with a few disconsolate looking women perched on picnic chairs by the verge. The business in La Jonquera is neither low key nor small scale, the working girls hunt in packs. Whether it is the effect of group solidarity or pressures of open competition, they seem unusually emboldened, adopting a distinctly theatrical approach both to their attire and business promotion.

By way of illustration - we opted to take the N1 to Figueres to avoid tolls; the outskirts of La Jonquera are mix of run-down housing blocks and waste ground containing big advertising hoardings. A youngish woman was standing at the corner of a weedy entrance to one the vacant lots. She was fairly unmissable, dressed in a dayglo pink sports bra, skimpy black Lycra shorts and knee high criss-cross laced boots. However, just to make doubly sure she caught your eye, she half stepped off the curb as vehicles approached, then twirled around to show-off her shorts' thong back and bare bum by performing slow motion gyrations reminiscent of the moves you get in that genre of American R&B music videos which feature incomprehensible gangsta rap lyrics, and a chorus that exhorts us to ''moov ya bahdy 'n shayk ya boody'.  As we rounded the next corner Gill glanced up from perusing Goggle maps on her phone to note another gaggle of lovelies gathered in an abandoned petrol station. "It must be prostitution Wednesday," she observed wryly.

Which brings us to the matter of  one of the long running private jokes that help us wile away the hours we share trundling along in our trusty aged Ford Transit. Others we have mentioned previously include - French Man and French Woman of the Year (coinciding with Racial Stereotyping Appreciation Day), The Roundabout Random Monstrosity Award, and Suicidal Overtake of the Month.

Beautifying a 'rond-point'' near Peripgnan - it's a contender
However, these  provide merely momentary amusement but little long term solace to counter the pervading sense of low level cultural bewilderment which assails the weary traveller. We have rationalised our confusion by concluding the reason why we have no idea the what is going on is the result of local high days and holidays involving arcane native rituals which we, as foreigners, remain blissfully unaware. Once you have reached this conclusion, you can apply the same amateur anthropological approach to explain weird stuff back home too.

For example, why is it that every Thursday our local Morrisons becomes inexplicably busy with customers on mobility scooters, the seriously bewildered, and the visually impaired? There can be only one explanation, the local Social Services have declared Thursday as 'Community Inclusion Day' but overlooked to tell the public. Similarly, as we all know there comes a point sometime in the third week of February when, despite Met Office warnings of the imminent arrival of the next ice age, a certain type of chunky British male decides to swagger about in voluminous checked shorts. This only makes sense once you understand that it's  first day of the British Chilblain Society's sponsored Shorts-wearing Month, and that only through an unfortunate co-incidence does this worthy event partially overlap with Dagenham Cleavage Week.

Last week Gill discovered what we had taken as a particularly infantile private joke is in fact much closer to the truth than we imagined.. Always keen to find entertaining reading matter for her Kindle, she downloaded  a free book written by George Mahood called 'Everyday is A Holiday' . George too had become intrigued by the strange world of 'special days'. However, instead of fantasising about them he conducted serious research into the phenomena. Judging by the resultant sniggers and guffaws his serious research had turned up hilarious findings. Bubble Wrap Appreciation Week, National Curmudgeon Day (one for me), Inane Answering Machine Message Day, really do exist, all officially approved by Chase's Calendar of Events. the American publication which has been tracking and recording named days on a worldwide basis since 1958.

George decided he wanted a day of his own. As an insomniac he felt that night was underrepresented in this international almanac of days, so he set about to create 'Stay Up All Night Day.' I understand his attempt to have it approved by Chase's Calendar did succeed. Sadly, any attempt to seek official sanction  for Jonquera's Prostitution Wednesday is doomed to failure, as everyday is, it would seem hereabouts.

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