“Allez! Allez! Allez!” Smiled a fisherman as he stood on the grassy river bank.
Pedaling through the crisp morning air, I feel the brilliant tint of sunrise spilling its caramel hues along the River Hérault. Fishing boats gently awake from a languid sleep on the water, as the dappled greens of Van Gogh’s Plane trees soak up the sugary light. French shutters open their eyes to the world, and inhale the refreshing scent of brine from the sea.
Morning in Agde is my favourite time of day.
I relive this sort of peaceful heaven every time I accompany the children to school. The older ones fly ahead while I follow behind my youngest who is just mastering his bike without training wheels. I am grateful for this. The slow revolutions of our wheels gives me time to savour the reality of our life here in Southern France.
The elderly man who yelled out his French “go” was holding his fishing rod in one hand, clapping at us as we passed along on the bike path running parallel to the river. My children smile at him and nod their helmeted heads. They’ve become familiar with this reaction from the French, understanding now their national love for the Tour de France. This wasn’t so a month ago when our children would turn bewildered faces to strangers who would stop and cheer enthusiastically at our bike train.
A month ago, a woman stopped her black Peugeot on the street to yell out “Bon!” and “Champion!” as she fanatically clapped us along. Contemplative walkers have done the same, as they ambled down the path with their dogs.
Built on the banks by the Oriental Greek Phocaeans on the river Hérault, and coloured with 2,000 years of history; Agde boasts to be France’s second oldest city. Classic oleander trees decorate the greenery with a bright palate of deep fuchsias and dazzling whites. Well worn bike paths spill into cobbled roads of Agde’s Old Town. In the evening, narrow medieval streets are illuminated by the twinkling brilliance of 18th-century lanterns. No wonder every summer, crowds of tourists are drawn to this nautical town filled with its lively cafes, ambient restaurants, outdoor markets, and large historic fountains.
We’re living a mere 4 km away from the Mediterranean where eleven popular beaches bask in the sun. The summer heat lingers here, and humidity becomes you, making you comfortable in your own skin. This may be why silver-haired women walk around with a bra-less confidence under their tank tops with a “je ne sais quoi” sensuality.
With the ring of our bike bells, we pass along.
Eavesdropping on the conversations in French, I feast my ears on the gentle roll of ‘R’s spoken by the watchers-by fishing on the river vista. They speak too fast for me, and after several riffs of my wheels, I comprehend too late.
To the locals here –the smell, the sights, this sense of place- is ordinary life. But for us, our extra-ordinary adventure for our family of six has just begun. The novelty of our French reality has tinted our la vie en rose with a sense of wonder, and hope for a successful school year filled with learning and self discovery.
Thousands of miles away from our home country of Canada is here where the irony lies. I can’t help but feel naturally and inexplicably home.