En vacances – hunting plumbago in Collioure

The closest thing I have to actual gardening this week is bunch of lemon verbena and Argentinian verbena I grabbed and stuffed in a pocked of my suitcase.

It is sitting on my desk here as I type. Tasty. A taste of the garden. But oh so far away from where I am now.

I have yearned, really yearned, to come to this seaside town for ages. And at last I am here.

People who grew up by the sea but now live in landlocked landscapes have this absurd desire to fling themselves into any ocean they can find.

For me that was a train journey down the coast of Southern France and ending up at the dinky little train station that alights at the old fishing port of Collioure.

A quick walk down the gentle sloping hill and I was home. Well, for four days at least.

Practice saying it out loud. It is heavy with vowels and evokes so much for fans of French art.

This is the birthplace of an art movement called Fauvism.

One mad summer in 1905 two painters Henri Matisse and André Derain came for three months and painted amazing canvasses of colour and drama and light.

Of the town, of the view of the sea, of the boats, of Collioure life. They created forty five canvases, sixty drawings and countless sketches during that amazing time.

I dutifully bought the little booklet and went on a tour of the town with the art installations and a wealth of artistic education.

I didn’t even know that the word fauve in fauvism was a pejorative term created by an art critic who saw the two painters’ exhibition of their summer body of work back in Paris. He described them as ‘La cage aux fauves’ – the cage of wild beasts. But now it denotes an exaltation of pure colour.

And here in Collioure you can see why.

Here is ‘my beach’ the Place de Port d’avall.

It is adrip with tourists of course. I am one. But there is room for all.

And the beach where I swam is the same one that Derain and Matisse painted so dramatically.

It is my morning homage to the sea. And art. And just being on a holiday at last.

Naturally I couldn’t resist plodding up and down the alleys and roads of this gorgeous town in the late afternoon and morning. Madly snapping and savouring the saturation of colour from the buildings.

Gardens so far are not the gobsmacking delight. But they are trying.

And of course I did find enough plumbago in town to make me smile. My plumbago summer. Now there’s a novel that doesn’t need to be written.

There are window box initiatives. Free seeds from the local library. (I helped myself to a packet.). And if I can muster the energy after my long swim tomorrow, I shall go off in search of the garden at the Dominican convent that I missed finding today.

I also missed finding the house of the novelist Patrick O’Brian (but put in a good hour of hunting among the rather chi chi retirement villas up in this part of town.

Am I showing my age? I fancied moving in.

In O’Brian’s day it was a bare hillside with few houses and just vines.

I had to be content with the recreation of his working office that used to be in a cave up in the hills among his vineyard.

It’s now in the library smack bang in the centre of town.

I have a weekend more to explore. And eat more seafood. And immerse myself in the sea.