This morning we looked out the train windows at the flamingos, still feeding happily, their heads under water. Then we passed the fortress at Salses, still in beautiful condition. It was built by King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1493, to defend what was then part of the kingdom of Spain, and turned over to the French in 1649. Then we were in Narbonne, and walking through the almost deserted Sunday morning streets. Bakeries and cafes were open, and men in berets were returning home with their baguettes and the newspaper.
We passed a Roman column in a Narbonne square. There was a museum of antiquities nearby.
The Palace of the Archbishops is the major historic monument in Narbonne. It dominates the landscape with its flyhing buttresses and multiple towers. It is actually a complex of churches and residences. We entered the Cathedral of St. Just and St. Pasteur, a wonderful church started in 1272. Before we could do much sightseeing, the 10:30 mass was beginning, so we sat down for the service.
While we were waiting for mass to start we looked at the high vaulted ceilings and the main altar built in 1694 with six tall pink marble columns. The audience sat in the nave or in the carved wooden choir stalls to either side. One rather scruffy looking man had decided to take the biggest choir stall, which looked like it was once the place of the archbishop. He sat on the edge of the narrow bench and stretched out his arms on the rails, palms upward, as if transfixed. We were a little alarmed at first, but the congregation wasn't.
The priest led in two groups, each consisting of a baby, his or her parents, and his or her godparents, and sat them in the front row. Most of the seats were filled. The organ burst into song and the congregation stood as the celebrants marched down the aisle: three priests, an altar boy, and a fifth man whom we took to be not ordained, all in white robes.
"Bon jour" said the head priest and the service began. There was a very energetic choir director who turned back and forth from choir to congregation, urging the congregation to sing the refrains.
The two babies (named Clara and Tom, as we heard) were very well behaved duirng, and after each baptism the priest gave a lighted candle to the father or godfather, we couldn't tell which.
We left the cathedral to find the rain pouring down, so we trotted back to the station and boarded the next train south. It was a good bet, because the sun was shining in Perpignan. We were ready for lunch.
Lots of restaurants were closed, but our hotel directed us to the Place Arago, where we found the Cafe Vienne, a large and bustling restaurant with an atmosphere as close as we've yet come to its American equivalent. The owner and his son stood around chatting amiably with customers while waiters rushed back and forth between the tables and at least four, and possibly five, food preparation areas.
In the front was the preparation area for huge plats des ecalliers, built on a bed of ice, and featuring all manner of shellfish: oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, lobsters, snails, and two or three more small shellfish we couldn't recognize.
Nearest to us was what we called the entree kitchen. The two sous-chefs in there worked on the entrees. These are the first course dishes - like appetizers in the U.S., but often larger and more elaborate. The counter was always piled high with dishes waiting to be served.
The bar was a formidable affair, supplying various coffees and teas in addition to all manner of drinks and wines. The bartender also stacked the cups and glasses for the dishwasher, and kept the manager's glass filled.
The plats, or main dishes, and the desserts were brought by the waiters through the swinging doors, so we couldn't tell you if there was a separate dessert kitchen, though we'd bet on it.
We tried their Plat du Jour, bouillabaisse, which was very tasty. Most of all, though, we enjoyed watching our fellow diners, from the women in fur coats to the blue-jeaned young people, to the family next to us where grandma got her meal and ate it right away, while the parents and children proceeded in a more orthodox fashion.
And of course dogs. Well, here in Perpignan it is the same as everywhere else in France: the dog goes wherever its master or mistress goes.