Rollicking Road Trip Through France: Chapter 12
If you are anything like S, you’re asking – just as he did about 3 hours after we arrived – “so, why are we here”?
It’s true. Aigues-Mortes doesn’t have the name recognition of Aix-en-Provence or Avignon. No argument there. But what the name lacks in recognition, it makes up for in spookiness. It means “dead water” and refers to the stagnant water that surrounds the area. And it just sounds cool? Like it belongs in a fantasy novel…the impregnable location where some long-lost mystical relic was last seen. Or something.
Anyway, why were we there? Well, after chateaus and vineyards and cute French villages, I thought we should have a change of scenery. And Aigues-Mortes is certainly that. It was hard to believe we were still in France. In fact, parts of it felt much more like we were back in Louisiana.
Aigues-Mortes is a medieval walled city in an area called the Camargue, a natural wetland area where the Rhône meets the sea. The city within the walls is well-packed with shops and restaurants, but the real magic of this place is on top of and outside of these walls.
Walls of Aigues-Mortes
The amazing thing about this place is you can walk on top of the ramparts along the entire city, giving us tremendous views of the city below and the surrounding land.
The wind was crazy intense up there, but it was also a really peaceful walk.
Wild Horses of the Camargue
This area is famous for these wild white horses called the Camarguais. They are gorgeous, hardy horses that are indigenous to the area. We took a 2-hour horseback trail ride in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a town about 20 minutes southeast of Aigues-Mortes right in the middle of the Rhône river delta. It was just us and our guide and it was awesome. She spoke exclusively in French, so communication was pretty funny, but we managed and had a great time. We walked through rice paddies and creeks. We saw bulls, wild horses, donkeys, and flamingos. After being out for a little while, she even let us trot a few times during our ride.
There was one part where we trudging through really muddy section. My horse in particular needed a lot of coaxing and I immediately thought of Atreyu and Artax. Hadn’t thought about that tragedy in a long time. So sad. You’ll be glad to know, we all made it.
Salt Marshes of the Camargue
This area is also famous for salt. There are huge salt marshes surrounding the area and about 500,000 tons of salt are collected annually. I could never get a good picture of this, but right outside the walled city, we could see gigantic salt mounds off in the distance.
The water has this really cool, bizarre reddish tint to it. We thought our eyes were playing tricks on us, but it’s a real phenomenon. The water has a very high salt content and apparently, some salt-loving organism produces a red pigment in the water. At times, it can get even more vibrant than what we saw.
A Word on Salt
S and I have a lot of faux arguments – ya know, those hilarious “discussions” when you argue really passionately about super trivial topics – the merits of a movie, the best candy bar (and why it is not Heath), why it’s dumb to dislike mango, whether someone is attractive, etc. But, many years ago, we had a real argument on a seemingly trivial topic: Salt. Neither of us have ever forgotten it and we reference it not infrequently. Let me set the scene:
Location: Austin, TX, the kitchen of our fabulous apartment.
Time: Circa late 2004
Background: We recently moved to Austin for grad school. We had an amazing apartment. The master bath was a serious slice of luxury. The kitchen was the nicest one I’d ever had up to that point. So I was excited to start using it a bit and was starting off with the only thing I was really familiar with: curries. You must keep in mind though that at this point, both of us were real novices in the kitchen. I hadn’t cooked much other than Ramen noodles and eggs he hadn’t yet gone through his French phase, Japanese phase, gnocchi phase, or bread phase. Those delicious years were still far off into the future. So most everything we knew was from how we grew up.
Ok, now, back to the kitchen. One lovely afternoon, I am stirring a chicken curry on the stove, adding salt, tasting, adding salt, tasting..etc. I asked S to taste it to see if there was enough salt. Dun-Dun-Duuuun!!!!
- S: The salt doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s personal preference. We’ll add it on our plates as desired.
- M: WHAT?!?? HUH? What are you talking about?! I know. Way to escalate. But I was truly baffled.
- M: Of course not, you need salt in order for the thing to have flavor. It has to be IN the food. I’m not trying to make it salty, I’m trying to make it taste!!
- S: No, it doesn’t have to be in the food. Why do you think people have salt shakers on their tables? Salt makes things salty and people have different preferences, so they add what they want. I distinctly remember watching my grandfather – a lover of salt – douse his food in it as soon as a plate arrived in front of him even without tasting it. See? To each his own.
I realized then there WAS something weird between our homes, and I’m not sure why I never fully appreciated it before that moment. We didn’t have salt and pepper shakers in my house. Salt and pepper were always IN the food. If something wasn’t salted correctly, it was wrong. I’d definitely seen people salt food after the fact. I’d thought it was weird, but not so weird as to mention it to anyone. Until now.
- M: WELL, I distinctly remember that if my dad ever uttered the phrase “uppu lethu” (meaning ‘no salt’) after his first bite, my mom would rush to the pot and quickly start the “correction” process. Insufficient salt was a mistake.
- S: Ok, what about eggs? On our countless Denny’s and IHOP trips (the romance, I tell you), there is never any salt in those eggs. You ALWAYS have to add salt to them at the table. See, people need to add what they want.
The man has a point. He’s totally right on this, and it is something that totally plagued me. I have never understood that. Still don’t. But again, never happened to me growing up – an omelet or scrambled eggs was always pre-salted.
- M: I don’t know. The world is a screwed up place.
I come up with a better rebuttal.
- M: Ok. Explain desserts. Why is salt so frikkin vital in baking then? It’s always included in dessert recipes – and it’s IN the batter. Ever see someone sprinkle salt on top of their cupcake??
I know this was ridiculous, but I was going for colorful imagery.
- M: The salt is there to make things sweeter and more flavorful.
This one was where I started to convince him. I actually don’t remember how this ended at this point. But it was a real argument and we were both steadfast in our positions. We disagreed for days and then after some googling and reflection, he started to come around to my side. So much so though that I’ve got my own in-house salt-loving organism now (come to think of it, he comes with a little red pigment himself). He is now highly sensitive to salt and highly critical of things that aren’t salted sufficiently. Far more than me.
In fact, I’m much better being the pepper to his salt.