Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paella in Carcassonne

A fountain and square? Definitely not the traditional view of Carcassonne. The usual shot of this town (about an hour to the north-east of us) shows imposing stone walls, battlements, turrets and a  fairytale silhouette. Right now, this undeniably picturesque spot is jammed solid. Someone told me the other night that friends of theirs, seeing the scrum inside, had abandoned hope before they'd even crossed the drawbridge. 

   I'll be the first to admit that the tiny streets and ancient beamed houses within la cité (as the old walled town is known) rocket you right back through time--out of season.  But, any time of year, the "new" Carcassonne is worth a visit. Dating back to the Middle Ages), it's a bastide town, i.e. built on a grid system. It's very easy to navigate although challenging to drive through as the streets are one-car wide and all one-way. Here's where we come for the day to shop (there's a Monoprix on the main street) and to hang out in the main square over a two-hour lunch. 

   More prosaically, today's mission was to hunt for tiles for the ground floor of the house we've just bought. We need 90, or maybe, 95 square metres. Quite a lot. Which is how we ended up in the industrial area of Carcassonne at a place called Carro Price, taking photos, trying to calculate the total sum and wondering if, in any case, as often happens in France, they only had one box of the sample of display--about enough to cover a coffee table--that they were teasing us with.

    But before that, there was considerable fun. Carcassonne is throwing a three day feria this weekend, a salute to Spain complete with bull fights, bandas and, inevitably, paella. We found ours on a street near the market. Once we had successfully nailed a table in the shade, Peter went off for servings (scooped out from a metre-wide pan) and glasses of rosé. Signs everywhere said that, in the interests of safety, all glasses used outside would be plastiques. Wise. Even at 1 p.m., people were already having a rollicking good time.

   Paellas vary hugely in what's in them and how good it is. Even though served from a roadside stand, this was one of the better versions, loaded with mussels, chewy cubes of octopus, fiery chorizo, and a chicken leg apiece that was tender enough to be cut with a plastic fork. All served on a chic black plastic plate. 

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