Autumn around Fitou

When I left my village last spring the earth was just waking up and bursting from its winter shell. Shoots of bright green poked from gnarly brown grapevines, and puffs of brightness blew from trees and shrubs and in window boxes. But now, though the countryside drowses off toward another winter, color still abounds here, only from a different palette.

If you weren’t paying attention now you might be overwhelmed by bleakness.

Many of the flowers that hang on are showing their age. They droop in a Norma Desmond kind of way.

But colors surround me.

Life of course exists beyond the flora of a region. Fitou and its environs are home to a rich array of wildlife.

This snail saddened me. I don’t know what the guy was going after but it appears he didn’t make it.

Then again, maybe he did. Maybe he accomplished what he set out to do and whatever that was provided sufficient satisfaction so that the only suitable next step for him was to ascend…somewhere. I could see that.

The oncoming gray season also becomes apparent within the village. Fitou has several good restaurants but most are closed already. The pizzeria is open five nights a week, though, so that’s a comfort.

Calvin and I were therefore lucky to enjoy dinner last week at Le Toit Vert, about whose “lamb three ways” I have rhapsodized online and in person in any conversation where I could manage to insert a reference. (It is a source of great pride that when you Google “le toit vert lamb” the first image that shows up is my picture. Somehow the next nine Google images are also mine but those pictures weren’t taken in Fitou.)

Calvin was in Fitou with me for a few days and on our first night we, along with my gracious hosts Hagen and Christine, dined at Le Toit Vert. I knew better than to expect the same lamb dish as in April 2013. In a way I would have been disappointed if they’d offered it; it was perfect before and sometimes it is best to leave perfection alone.

The chef that night did not disappoint. There was a first course of foie gras adorned with pomegranate seeds and kiwi. Calvin then had a mélange of seafood that he said he liked very much. He offered me a taste but I declined because I was absorbed in my veal.

This plate of veal was among the best plates of veal I have ever enjoyed. I won’t bother with a bite-by-bite description just now but will aver that anyone who could produce this plate of veal at home would be worthy of considerable praise. (Note to self: Find a friend who will go in with me on a calf.)

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to compliment the chef in person, not just for that evening’s veal but also for last year’s lamb. Praise where it’s due, etc.

Dining in France doesn’t have to be elegant to be good. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten were taken as picnics in France. It depends on the surroundings and your mood as much as the food itself.

My apartment in Fitou has a small terrace with a view of the château, which dates to the 10th century. (Presumably and regrettably, I doubt that 1100 years ago there was a bar tabac or pizzeria for the château’s occupants to come down to for sustenance or frivolity.) That terrace is a fine place for lunch.

If you were to climb up to the castle these days you would have the option to pay 5 euros to go inside. Depending on your previous exposure to medieval castles the Château de Fitou might or might not amuse you. There’s a decent exposition of torture devices that could titillate the kiddies.

The real benefit of the uphill walk is the café up there. If you turn left at the drawbridge and stumble down a stone pathway you’ll come to a café/bar place whose terrace enjoys a wonderful view of the Mediterranean. In this, the off-season, you’ll likely be the only customer and you’ll have to draw the owner’s attention from her 10-year-old son who will be sprawled across one or other of the chairs while doing his homework.

If you’re in Fitou on a night when the pizzeria is closed and you have neither the inclination nor the supplies to make your own dinner, then an option is to walk a mile or so down to the highway and eat at one of the two places offering meals for the trucker crowd. We did that. For 10 euros-ish you get the appetizer buffet and a main course. The appetizer buffet is somewhere south of what you see at Luby’s but more than adequate on an October evening in southern France.

Calvin took the Poule au pot for his main. Boiled chicken, if done well, is hard to beat.

I went for rabbit.

Sorry but I didn’t eat the rabbit kidney this time.

There are rules in France regarding closing times, smoking, pets and such, but rules in Fitou are mere concepts to be argued over. If, for example, you find yourself in the bar tabac at a time when the proprietor decides it is time to close, then you have options. You might say, “OK. Bye!” Or you might whine a little and make chitchat while you finish your drink. Or you might simply step outside onto the Place de la République and sit at your leisure. If you go for this latter option you are allowed to leave your glass when you’re finished drinking in the mailbox. It’s understood that you must stack your plastic chairs when you depart.

What new adventures await in autumn in Fitou, no one knows.

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