Friday 1st May
Well, it’s May 1st (rabbits rabbits rabbits) and it’s raining with a chilly wind thrown in for good measure! Don’t care don’t care don’t care! The whole world has turned emerald green with splats of poppy red and dandelion yellow and once the sun comes out, late spring and summer will be fantastic as always. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, the superstition of saying ‘rabbits rabbits rabbits’ “has spread to most of the English-speaking countries of the world, although like all folklore, determining its exact area of distribution is difficult. This superstition is related to the broader belief in the rabbit or hare being a “lucky” animal, as exhibited in the practice of carrying a rabbit’s foot for luck. Some have also believed it is representing a jumping into the future and moving ahead with life and happiness.” So ‘rabbits rabbits rabbits’ to all who are reading this. May your month of May be excellent and your jump into the future happy and successful!

Anyway, on to more unpleasant stuff like THE BIRDS!! Would you believe it? They haven’t given up. They sneak through the sheet at every opportunity with bits of mud and twig and the nest is beginning to take form. Oooooooh YES! YES! YES! Just popped out to take a photo and the sun is out – the sky is blue – will continue this later!!

Thursday 7th May
Well yes. Quite a bit later actually! I’ve just come back from the dentist – again! He really is a very nice man but I could do with seeing a bit less of him. I set off on my bike, not paying due care and attention to my advancing age and the fact that the temperature was in the high 20s in direct sunshine, and was quickly sweating away merrily like a little plump pink piggy! By the time I arrived in Laroque chez le docteur Raspaut, I was doing a fair imitation of ice in the sun. Poor man – I really can’t have smelled too great and I may well have left a damp patch on his torture chair, but he never gave any indication that this was not completely normal for all of his clients. Anyway, a bit of good British sweat never did anyone any harm did it?<br>
The weather has been beautiful – that early summer feeling that brings out the white hairy legs sticking out of slightly too tight shorts for that first airing of the year. Today I went to my yoga class at Mas Pallagourdi in the hauts de Céret with Marian. For some reason, another bike ride seemed quite acceptable to my addled brain, even after the sweaty disaster of yesterday, so off I went. NEVER AGAIN! Have you ever been up to the hauts de Céret? My little short legs were pumping away in granny gear and I just wasn’t getting anywhere. By the time I got up to the top, I was once again lobster red, breathing like an old puffing billy and swearing that my biking days were over. The ride down would have been a great compensation of course but no. It started raining, would you believe, and my sunglasses, which double up as distance glasses, don’t have windscreen wipers do they? And it’s still raining! Already planning my next biking extravaganza. More tomorrow with photos!

Saturday 9th May
Sorrrrrry! Every time I sit down, either my phone rings, the doorbell goes, or the sun comes out! So it’s actually Monday today and I’ve forgotten about most of the great stuff that I did last week but here’s a bit of a resumée. Oopps. There goes the phone!

Monday 11th May
I spent half an hour with the builders (nudge nudge, wink wink) on the Le Boulou bypass ‘deviation’ which has started up again. As they explained the technicalities of the project, I allowed myself to drift off to a land where Flakes and Twirls grow from the trees and red wine lakes abound. Bloody boring in fact, so all that I will add here is that the Le Boulou bypass IS finally going ahead, will link the RD 900 (Le Boulou Nord) and the RD 115 (Le Boulou Ouest) passing under the motorway linking the vallée du Tech with the coast, and should be finished in 2010. The photo is taken from the site, looking towards Le Boulou.<br>
The world has turned red! Cherry stalls are setting up in every nook and cranny of the Céret area – 4€ for a small panier and 8€ for a large seems the be the general price, and very nice they are too, tho’ the last time I paid that much for cherries was in Marks and Spencers for the ones that an elf must polish before setting out on display! Of course, round our way, they are kind of free (in that everybody helps themselves straight off the trees) so I know it wont be long before I start getting a bit bored with cherry pie, cherry tart, cherries in liqueur, cherry pasty, cherries on toast, baked cherries, fried cherries, grilled cherries, cherry paté, cherry sundae, cherry quiche, cherry rissoles, cherry pizza, coq aux cherries, cherry burgers, cherry stew, cherries à la king, cherry casserole, cherry fritters, cherry purée, barbequed cherries, braised cherries, steamed cherries, cherries with spam…….
The weather is moody as a sixteen year old – hot and sunny one minute, cold and damp the next, wild and windy followed by calm and quiet. The vines are shooting up and change in size and colour from day to day, and the figs and almonds are coming out. The air is sweet fennel and mint and the wild flowers are at their most beautiful. Hmmmmmm – soooooo nice.
On Sunday, we cycled into Amélie as Olivier had to check something out. The main road there was a bit hairy – I really don’t like cycling on busy roads if I can avoid it, as I do tend to go off into a dream and forget to ride straight – but coming back we found an old railway track which took us off road from Palalda behind Reynes and into Céret centre, over the river, following the old line all the way. Fantastic, and absolutely ‘à refaire’.
Rode past a sign on a play area next to a boule ground which I was really quite impressed with! ‘Don’t pee on resident’s walls’ – for dog’s or humans I wonder?
And talking of animals…. the birds! We have done everything possible to prevent the swallows from nesting just outside our front door but they have foiled us at every turn! Finally, Oliver nailed pieces of wood to the walls and attached green netting. It’s worked really well, and the birds have headed for our chimney (which is fine – I just couldn’t take any more mud and poo on my doorstep) BUT Her Royal Hairiness, who is going a bit blind due to her diabetes, can’t see it and keeps blundering into it, yelping in confusion, and trying again, yelping in confusion, and trying again, yelping in confusion……… You can’t win can you?

Tuesday 26th May
Would you believe it? It’s nearly the end of May! How did it happen? You can’t even close your eyes for a minute these days without it suddenly being a week later!
Anyway, the weather has been rather lovely recently, warm and dry, quite damp with low cloud in the early morning, but delicious by midday. Today, the wind came up quite suddenly when my Dad and I went topless into La Jonquera. We quickly put the roof back up! He is in his usual fine fettle – a walk around the Fort de Bellegarde this morning, a short drive into La Jonq to replenish the gin, a very brief after lunch nap and onto yoga class chez Marian in the Hauts de Céret, where he happily joined in with the stretches and breathing exercises, tea, apero, dinner….. and he is now sitting in the lounge having an intelligent conversation with my husband, whilst I rest my tired mind! He’s too clever by half, my Dad. Likes to talk politics and culture and what is wrong with the world whilst I am quite happy to discuss the weather, what’s on telly, Cadbury’s chocolate and why I can’t seem to loose any weight!<br>
Had rather a nice time at the cherry festival on Saturday. Met up with a lovely group of people and did lots of talking, drinking and people watching. Apart from the fact that I was sweating like a pig for most of the afternoon, it was a delectable way to pass a sunny afternoon. I do have photos, but will continue this tomorrow…… and those of you who were there… afraid, be very afraid!<br>
You can stop holding your breath – most of you are safe! I’m afraid none of the photos quite represented the young, dynamic, attractive and lively crowd gathered around our tables – in fact this is the only one which vaguely represents the fun of the afternoon, due to the very loud bandas which battered our eardrums all afternoon. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. Me, I love the idea of them, but once they get going, they give my lugs a right old pounding and I remember why I prefer anywhere but the Pablo on cherryfest day. However, I will no doubt be in the exact same spot next year, wondering why I’m doing it again!

Sunday 31st May
Last day of May and it has ratted it down all day! To add insult to injury, I’ve been in bed all weekend with food poisoning (and I swear I didn’t have a drop to drink m’lud.) so am still nursing a fragile tummy and feelling rather sorry for myself. At least if I had had a drink or two, I would have deserved it and taken it like a man!
On Friday, before my dive into the depths of poorlytummyland, I took my Dad along to see Rivesaltes camp – another fascinating example of man’s inhumanity to man. Five km from Rivesaltes town, situated on a rail route, 40 km from the Spanish border, and therefore considered a strategic position, the army occupied 612 hectares in 1935, with the intention of constructing a military base. Three years later, it became the Camp Joffre and in 1939, at the start of WW2, a military transit base, becoming a refuge for Spanish refugees fleeing the Franco dictatorship 1940. Funnily enough, the lady giving us a guided tour of the camp pointed out that the camp was considered luxury by the Spanish refugees from the Retirada who had up until that point been interned on the beach of Argelès surrounded by barbed wire, without huts, toilets, kitchen or any medical facility. In fact, the beach camp was one of the great ‘hontes’ (shame) of the people of Argelès, who allowed 465.000 people to be kept in such terrible conditions between 1939 and 1941 so the move to Camp Joffre for the spanish refugees was a step up. Not so the victims of WW2 under the Nazi régime.
Southern France became a major haven for Jewish refugees attempting to flee to neutral countries, whether legally or illegally.
After the signing of the armistice, France was split into two and the « zone libre » in which the Pyrenees-Orientales was included, came under the administration of the Vichy government. It was at this point that the sad and sinister history of the camp Joffre began to unfold.
Gradually, the camp became a place of internment for families of gypsies, Jews and Spanish refugees. With a capacity of 8000, it was not long before the camp was overcrowded, families were separated, and conditions deteriorated enormously. In 1942, under German pressure, the camp became a ‘Centre national de rassemblement des Israélites’ – a ‘sorting centre’ for Jews who were then sent on to the death camps such as Auschwitz, via Drancy. Two thousand five hundred and fifty one Jews are recorded as having been deported from Rivesaltes – four hundred of them were children.
When the south of France was liberated in 1944, Rivesaltes was reopened until 1948 for collaborators and traitors, and in 1945 housed German soldiers and prisoners of war. In 1962, the camp at Rivesaltes once again became a ghetto; this time for the hundreds of thousands of Algerians or ‘harkis’ who left French Algeria at the time of the battle for its independence from France, believing themselves to be arriving in a safe haven. Many had fought, or were families of those who had fought alongside the French Army, during the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962. Many of these families did not leave the camp until its closure in the late sixties. The camp retained a military presence, despite the fact that much of it is in ruins, until quite recently, being used to detain ‘étrangers en situation irrégulière’ – illegal immigrants etc

Much of the camp still belongs to the military, and its future is uncertain, but a part has been bought by the Conseil Général and is to be conserved and turned into a museum in the future. Very sad and atmospheric. Just a load of ruined barracks to some, and a handful of ‘stèles’ (memorial stones to the various groups of individuals interned over three decades) – not very exciting. No emaciated bodies lying on the ground, or bony hands reaching through barbed wire and yet……and yet………

Another reminder how lucky are those of us who have never known hardship.

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