Walking down the streets of Pézenas is like walking through a fairy tale. Narrow alleys curve and climb past buildings with creaking shutters, opening onto grand squares where one can imagine Moliere and his l’Illustre Théâtre entertaining kings and queens in the 17th century. Cast your eyes up and you spy the gnarled visages of ever watchful gargoyles, staring down from the perches that they have inhabited since times before Shakespeare.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped back in time in Pézenas. Small French towns look like they haven’t been touched by the hands of time, avoiding the redevelopments of their larger counterparts and the vagaries of fashion. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – simple words to live by.
We’ve been in Pézenas for just less than two weeks and every time we venture into the historic centre of town we happen upon something new. A new street, a new building, a new shop, a new window, a new door. The higgle-piggle of streets and alleys hide secrets that one could spend their whole life exploring.
As impressive as the buildings and squares are, it is the small details that give Pézenas an air of magic for me. A delicate cast-iron door knocker that is shaped like a hand, complete with jewelry, a tiny heart-shaped window in a front door or, even the laundry strung along a clothes dryer outside a window three stories up. People have lived and worked in this small town for centuries and despite changes over time there is a sense of continuity that pervades.
Six weeks remain of our time here in Pézenas and I look forward to seeing how the town changes with the seasons. The doors of many shops and restaurants are kept firmly shut through January, slowly coming back to life as the temperature rises. At the end of February we will be treated to the Carnaval de Pézenas, a time when this sleepy town comes to life with parades, music and, no doubt, wine. Hopefully by that point our French will have developed sufficiently to participate in at least a cursory way, but I’m sure we’ll have a good time regardless. The people of Pézenas have been incredibly kind and patient with our broken French and seem more than happy to play charades with us when necessary, which is unfortuntaely regularly necessary.
Our decision to come to Pézenas was a complete leap of faith, we had never been to the area but it looked like a nice place to pass some time. As it turns out, we couldn’t be happier with our decision to spend our winter in this quiet little town in the south-west of France. It’s been hard and we’ve both at times felt lonely and alienated without being able to sufficiently speak the language, but what of comfort? As Theodore Roosevelt once said,
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”