PAINTING AND POTTERING IN PAZIOLS
Earlier this month, we were invited by some dear friends, Michael and Liz Hone, to spend a week at their house in Paziols in the South of France, about thirty miles north-west of Perpignan in the rugged foothills of the Pyrenees. This is the history-rich borderland between France and Spain, the stronghold of the Cathars and Albigensian Heretics and, even today, the roadsigns and place names are in both French and Catalan, as though the region still can’t quite decide which country it belongs to. After a fairly nightmarish journey (M25, Stansted, Ryanair) we emerged from the cramped, armpit-scented aircraft to be greeted by the gentle, temperate heat of the Mediterranean in spring, by the prospect of wide, stony fields and vineyards surrounding that quaint little airport and, far in the distance, so faint it was almost indistinguishable from the silver-blue sky, the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees still capped with snow and rising to the summit of Canigou, the highest peak in the region.
The little town of Paziols lies about thirty miles north-west of Perpignan up winding, mountainous roads bordered by poppies and toadflax, miniature wild gladioli and flowering rosemary bushes and commanding giddying views over plunging valleys and soaring outcrops. We paused on the journey for a better view of Canigou and its attendant peaks and, as soon as Liz switched off the engine, the air was filled with the song of no less than three nightingales positioned in various olive trees around us and all belting their little hearts out. They seem to sing all day and all night in that part of the world which makes you wonder when they get any sleep, unless they do it in shifts. The trip turned out to provide a number of ornithological 'firsts' for me – the flitting, fabulously-coloured bee-eaters which migrate up from Africa to nest in holes in the river banks, a black kite and – soaring thousands of feet above our heads – a golden eagle. But I digress. The Mediterranean sun also hit us as soon as we stepped out of the car and it seemed very strange to be standing in that dusty, arid landscape surrounded by cacti and the rasp of cicadas and be looking at snow, albeit at 10,000 feet.
One of my greatest pleasures while we were there was to get up at sunrise and go out to sketch the ancient vineyards on the hills surrounding the little town. Many looked as though they had been there since Roman times (and probably had) but, with more centralisation in the vine-growing industry, improved productivity and the decline in the global supremacy of French wine, many of smaller, older vineyards on the more rugged slopes have been abandoned. The ‘souches’ (literally ‘stump’ in French) still remain, however, many almost lost among poppies and wild grasses and providing a wonderful gift for the artist with their gnarled, tortured shapes. Here are a few examples along with (forgive me) some holiday snaps.
The Real Thing
Another overcrowded street in Paziols. The air was filled constantly with the twitter of nesting house martins and the scream of swifts
Vineyards and mountains
The stunning Señora Yevad, bowered in wild flowers
Our gorgeous hosts, Liz and Michael Hone. Paziols in the distance