on heeding H. & the laughing patroness we hie to the life-size talking crucifix of the bus-stop: Collioure to Perpignan & back, just

It would have been a pretty tale of Collioure and the Spanish Gothic, its lightness as opposed to its oppressive heaviness in the North, a relief, presaged by reliefs yesterday, undone, done up. Hard to say.

Instead it was more bureaucratically sanctioned bad service, sanctioned, because, it seems that anybody behind a desk can and does here get away with it, telling whatever to whomever happens to reproach them with having not delivered, not communicated, in their own or any other language, speaking only that special language reserved for the interface between the mechanism and its delivery, in the most grotesquely aberrant uses of the word information. Or, naturally, of the word service. There is little of either service or information to be had from the bureaucracies ostensibly set up for their delivery.

What makes me wonder is that F. can have called this lax attitude Latin, when it is infinitely preferable to have someone in officialdom stating that they don’t know or don’t care. Perhaps wrongly, I would have identified this as Latin.

No. The sanction I refer to is that by which the I don’t know and don’t care turns into the I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT …

H., let us call him that, the man at Hotel de la Loge, proposed that we travel to Collioure, saying, If you’re going to do anything… Over breakfast. Recall the special figs of the region that are able to be picked for three months only, and floured are served, and taste like dried figs. I don’t know if that is after all special. Let us call it special.

Such endearing eccentricities: the garden statue in the middle of the breakfast area, the colours, alarming, the tea box, brought forth with ritual, full of tea-bags, the charming solicitude of host and hostess, the only attendees in the hotel we’ve seen.

Collioure, Collioure. As you climb the staircase you will see two aquarelles, the first two are of Collioure. It is Catalan. It is fishing. It is commercial. …

To get there take the bus, 1 or 2 to the station, costs only a euro each, then 5 euros each to Collioure.

We did. Thinking, what a great rehearsal for when we get out of Perpignan, hopefully having secured somewhere to stay in Barcelona.

In the morning we made sure we could stay an extra night. Here.

Yes, laughed the patroness. This will give you more time to find somewhere!

Funny these wistfully contemplated places. Carcassonne was like this for the people in the Loire. Barcelona has been like this for the people in Languedoc-Roussillon.

The average age on the bus was perhaps 60; the collective age would’ve run into the hundreds. There was the old geezer, on a single crutch, at the bus-stop, desperately gesturing for the bus to come near. Supposedly so he would simply fall in.

I have to say the bus-driver was well-presented and among the most pleasant of his breed we have encountered. He bunny-hopped the bus forward. But old geezer still had some way to lurch before lifting himself in.

A la gare: Dali called it the centre of the world; let it be. They are so badly informed in all other respects, why not?

She, the person responsive to our questions, said a number of alarming things. Manifestations, i.e. protests, can upset the children was the least upsetting. Manifestations go with being at the centre of the world or universe.

Suddenly it came upon me, wrote Dali. Perpignan station was the centre of …

She said: There is no train back but I will give you a return ticket you can use on the bus.

The bus departs from the railway station at Collioure at 16:20, despite what it says on the ticket I will sell you. Which will say that it is a train which departs from the station at 18:40.

The logic is that of the strikes.

We boarded the 12:30 train without incident. It was nice, air-conditioned. To the right, the snow-capped Pyrenees; to the left, the sea.

It arrived. We descended the little hill to a market that was just packing up where I took a snap of a butcher’s van with a picture of a horse on it, thence to the bay, with the fortress to our right, and Notre Dame des Anges to our left, then a breakwater.

On the terrace above the stony beach, with French kids smashing rocks to make red dust – presumably they were rocks made of red-ochre brick – between stones, there were variously marked comfy seats, full, many of the occupants being fat, while not hugely so, eating up large on pretty boring looking repasts. These we walked behind, arriving at the church, the afore-mentioned Notre Dame des Anges, wherein we saw a big gold altar, the richest of this region, in the Catalan style, meaning gold relief, and what was more intriguing, the bereaved Mary, Mother of God, in full Spanish mourning dress.

In the gallery of the church were two figures kneeling who could’ve been taken for real. One looked like St. Louis. Perhaps the other was St. Jeanne? Like Batman his Robin?

Then we caught a tantalizing glimpse of what was happening behind the church, a chapel on a rock, a breakwater ending in a lighthouse: the arm protecting this as a small harbour. Before exploring it, we got lunch. At an eatery run by one person, who looked to be well past her ciggy break, which announced on the sign above the counter, rather than promised, fast food.

No. With mounting hordes at her back, the solitary counter-keep and chef, valiantly kept to her limit of two orders, cook ’em, and two orders, cook ’em, and two orders, cook ’em. Wearing out the patience, surprisingly, of none of her clientelle.

Us included. The kebabs we got were ok. Sat, ate them on the stones. Mine was at least spicy.

We skimmed stones, showing up the Europeans, who hadn’t quite achieved the transmission of technique down the generations. And sunned ourselves on the stones. Then went to the chapel, snapped rusting life-size Jesus (the land of life-size Jesuses) walked out the breakwater, saw, looking back why three towers on the escutcheon: one on a hill, the other centre, the last on a hill opposite. Retraced our steps.

Rose to the fortress centre town, read that it was shut for us, all three day surrounding our stay and that below is where commandos train in rubber dinghies, visible, as were some buff young lycra-wearing men with conspicuously short hair. Commandos.

A phonecall. C., saying we have the place in Barcelona! No further need to panic! Yippee!

Up now conscious of time the other side of the bay to what else but a windmill in an olive grove used today for mushing up olives and down the other side past the gallery of modern art where an exhibition was being installed, shut for the duration. Up again conscious of time past the market to the railway station.

Where at 16:00 our bus was going to depart. We asked the rabbit-in-headlights person inside if and when. She said: There are no trains.

No. We concurred. There are no trains. A bus? At 16:40?

No. She said. No bus then but at 18:00.

From here?

No. Not from here.

By now she’d caught sight of our tickets which we were waving at her as if to summon the SNCF spirits, however vestigial, the spirits of a functioning transport system.

These are train tickets, she said.

Yes. We were given them in Perpignan (centre of the universe), told they’d work for the bus at…


18:00? We were told…


It’s strange, I wondered aloud, How information differs from place to place.

No, it doesn’t, she said.

Yes, I said. It does.

In Perpignan one was told 16:20 was our departure time…

But those are train tickets, she said.

We were told they’d work for the bus…

O…K…. to be absolutely clear… What time and where does the bus depart for Perpignan?

There is no train.


At 18:00. You have to make sure you catch it.


Does it leave from the station?

No. It goes from in town.


Down. Past the square on the left, to the right, at the round-about.

Please repeat. I have to be sure, I said.

The bus leaves Ceret at ten to, arrives here at 18:00, make sure you’re there.

We walked to the round-about, where, at the bus-stop, we read an arrival time of 17:35.

I asked, Is this true? Yes, said the lady with kids. I’m waiting for it too.

We returned to the town, had a weak and thin espresso at Le Petit Cafe, on the Terrasse. Q. made caveman pictures on rocks. Returned around the base of the royal fortress of the kings of Mallorca and waited.

Waited, stressing out, for the bus. While people gathered. Like those German teenage girls. That Northern English couple. While that black lady with her toddler had been waiting …

Jockeying for position. Then, when the bus at last arrived, a free-for-all.

It arrived after 18:00. The office at the railway-station at Collioure would’ve been vindicated were it not for the fact that once on board, having pushed our way through several layers of German girls, the bus driver would not accept our SNCF tickets. Why? Why not?

This is stupid, I said. In keeping with the minimalisation of these thing in which Europeans seem to indulge.

Not my fault, said the driver.

Where was the woman and baby boy?

Turned out the ticket was one euro apiece.

Where was she?

More and more piled on, a family who were told that there were three places after them. But those left on the side of the road would be left.

For safety reasons, said the Lyonnaise next to us.

What? one had to ask. But there was no queue! The black lady and her baby boy were left behind.

It hadn’t helped that the boy had fled up a side road and she’d been nowhere near to push in front of us, to put before us.

It wasn’t fair because everything on the side of the road had been gearing up for that. Plus the life-size crucifix over the road.

Not a bus but a coach. And: We’d been lucky. If we hadn’t got on it would’ve meant a 60 euro plus taxi ride.

The strikes! Les greves!

She’d known, the lady, with her young boy; roadside martyrs to the greve! the strike!

Plus, our tickets were four times more expensive than this, the only bus, it appeared, back to Perpignan.

The first family in front of us were intrigued by the distance: how far to NZ? The boy making the connection to rugby and the haka.

The second, Celeste and Pauline, the loudest, boldest small girls, knelt up on their seats and interrogated us – in nonsense.

They read the news according the logic of bonbecs. Lollies. Harassed. Were cheeky and funny. Loud. The whole bus looked around to see them waving as they waved us good-bye.

We got off the bus with a young couple whom I’d asked where we should that was closest to Centre Ville.

We found our way back. Told our story to H. at the desk, whose emotional allowance reached to: But the bus worked for you. I was getting into how guilty we felt for those who hadn’t made it. Especially the mum and kid.

H. had other customers. We came back to our room.

J. tried to find the way through from Port Bou to Barcelona on the Spanish side, clear of the strikes over here, on the day, in fact that the new retirement age was passing into law.

We at last heard were expected on the 28th so felt we could go out and eat. Rather than stay in and agonise over a warm wifi. At last.

The place was German-styled, the menu featuring sauerkraut dishes as well as fish dishes. The bar lit up like a disco floor when you entered, two enormous chandeliers hung from the high ceiling, with thousands of small lights, and to the side where the eating was going on, with very little room between tables, and double-rose themed lampshades on two lamps and two on massive side-brackets.

Ate mussles marinaded in a celery stock, scallops with a sweetish cheese sauce, endive and potato, and red mullet, salmon and scallop with ratatouille and salad. The waitress presiding had an Irish accent, having spend three years there, a brummy uncle and German father. She told us to leave nothing on the table for her, which we didn’t. But having not, she raced to our table as we were leaving as if we should’ve.

Back to our room once more, we opened our email only to find that the date we were expected in Barcelona was the 30th not the 28th.

Cellphone calls followed.

Out of the panic came assurances from over there we would be met at 5:30 at Barceloneta.

Let’s see.