Time to renew our acquaintance with Mèze and its picturesque harbour. Fortunately we chose to cycle down the voie verte and give our hard-working tow car a rest. Mission accomplished, we returned to our Loupian campsite.
As we cycled back in our delightful French neighbours across from Guillaume’s pitch came over to us excitedly. A Cicada was emerging on the side of the awning of their caravan. Eleven years ago and this very area, we had been fortunate enough to witness and capture this spectacular process on film (ISO 50 Fuji Velvia). I would dearly love the chance to document it again on my modern digital equipment but this one was not photogenically placed and was half way through its emergence. Nonetheless, I snagged a record shot. Well, having been invited over it would’ve been rude not to.
Here’s where the “fortunately” in relation to our early cycle ride comes in. As we sat with lunch, Francine spotted a second Cicada, having just left its exuvia (the nymph case left behind), clinging to the front wheel of our car. I certainly would not have wanted to drive off inadvertently and squish the poor thing. How ignominious would that have been – years developing underground only to be flattened by a Pirelli P Zero after just a few minutes of adult life?
Our guest being too far advanced when Francine spotted it, I couldn’t capture the whole sequence but I did have to assume the position to snag the tail end of the event. The adult Cicadas can take an hour or two to harden off before being able to fly. The insects darken as they mature. We wouldn’t be driving anywhere until the poor beast had flown to relative safety.
As it turns out, we didn’t drive at all, electing to return to Mèze in the later afternoon. The Bassin de Thau upon which Mèze sits has a sizeable oyster breading industry, accounting for 7% of the French production. We were interested in a 55-minute cruise in a catamaran, the Mansathau, around the oyster frames out in the étang, the so-called Parcs à Huitres. [The names Bassin de Thau and Étang de Thau appear to be interchangeable. Either way, Thau is pronounced “toe”.] A sunny ride on a catamaran lasting almost an hour had to be worth the €12 each. We had a different view of Mèze harbour as we set off.
Our host and captain was from one of the oyster farming families centred around Bouzigues. He gave us an introduction both in French and English, thinking that his strong southern French accent might prove to be “une catastrophe”, before handing over to an informative video on the oyster breeding process. In the étang off the shore of Bouzigues, are dozens of metal frames called tables. From these, the oysters are hung/strung. Very young oysters are put into netted sacks to grow. When big enough, these are transferred to cords, to which they are affixed with cement, the same stuff used to build houses but for this it is mixed with salt water. The process of affixing the oysters to their cords looked manually intensive. On a long grooved support table, pairs of oysters are placed two by two. The all important cord is then strung along the top of these pairs of oysters before a dob of cement is added followed by a third oyster on top. the three are now cemented together. These cords are then strung from the metal tables out in the étang. The farmers raise the oysters out of the water for six hours at a time to starve them and encourage them to feed more when they are lowered back in. I think this basically replaces the natural action of tides elsewhere, the Mediterranean being a little lacking on tide action, and speeds up the growing process.
We had to sample some more, including sharing some unpronounceable expensive jobs at €3 a pop. They were delicious.