a provençal christmas
In the first tardy light of a pale Christmas eve I walked in to the lichen dell of the Ventoux to collect twigs - budded, furred and spiked, cones and berries. Later, in Avignon, we salivated in the jostle of Les Halles, where we bought live oysters, crab and crayfish, plump lychees and blushing pomegranates, fought over a pheasant, and ended up with a “Joyeuse Fête!” from our competitor, foie gras and a mallard. I gave myself up to the smelly recommendations of the cheese lady’s ‘Petite sélection de Noel’ and gathered delicate handfuls of rocket and pissenlit (yes, it does mean what you think it means). Obviously, judging by the beaming goodwill of our fellow shoppers, the French take their pleasure in the preparation and consumption of fresh food rather than the gifting of boxes of bad chocolates.
We were ready for our Christmas à deux.
On returning to our hameau we sprayed and baubled the tree, the twigs and some still life paintings, and bowled the fruit for decoration (that is, until the decorations become still life paintings). Julian cut a card star, covered it in gold leaf and placed it on top of the tree.
We wrapped our gifts – he disguising his by housing them in large triangular boxes or soft rolls, and me writing home made labels of frosted vines.
“It’s a handbag!” I shrieked when the huge triangle which contained a small tube of a luxurious creamy unguent appeared beneath the pine branches.
“But now for your big present!” said Julian, and he launched into a spontaneous and dreamily elegant jig before dinner. I wondered at the miracle of how someone next to whom you wake up every morning, whose tics and farts and humming repertoire you know so intimately, could suddenly look so exotic and I fell in love with him all over again.
We settled down with a glass of champagne to listen to the carol service from Kings College, Cambridge, on broadband, gulping down emotion along with mouthfuls 'In a cattle shed' and ‘Fines de Claires d’Oléron’. Then we moved on to crab tart and an excellent Côtes du Rhone....
I felt immensely grateful that I had not suffered the tinned Christmas of supermarket music. Nor had I felt the terrible commercial pressure of the high street, or stuffed my face with yikky pink-filled confectionary. Nor was I alone or cold or hungry.
How lucky we are, I thought, to be snuggled up in our falling down house, on top of the world at the bottom of a magic mountain.