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FRANCE PAGE: FALL 2017 AND BEYOND

I've been a busy boy, posting several times a month on my main page, then organizing them into groups - Reviews, Politics, and such. This page is a continuation of my commentary on our life in France and my pictures and descriptions of our time here. As the title notes, the first post on this page was published in the fall of 2017. Newer posts have been added above so you'll read the newest first. If you want to peruse earlier posts,go to FRANCE PAGE THROUGH SUMMER 2017.

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USUAL AND UNUSUAL TERRACE BLOOMS: SPRING 2018

 Growing up in the northeastern United States, spring was a time of great anticipation. Winters were long, freezing cold, and the vistas were brown and grey when not snow-covered. We waited for the early signs of spring, the first flowerings - crocus and lilies and daffs and iris. They tend to pop up as soon as they can, sometimes between snowfalls. Spring is short and plants in cold climates learn to take advantage of every opportunity to get on with it.

Here in the south of France, things are a bit different. Winters are chilly and earth tones do invade the fields and vineyards, to be sure, but the cold is relative and the brown winter landscapes are broken up by greenery of all sorts.

For our terrace, winter is a time to protect and defend, to trim and even cover when necessary. And this winter, even covered, a late killing frost wreaked havoc. We lost an annual or two that often survive the mild winters here. One of Cathey's treasured succulents succumbed. Our potted fruit trees and shrubbery show damage. And we've had to perform radical surgery on our bougainvillea.

But in spite of all of that, spring brings blossoms. Some to be expected. Some new to this Jersey boy's experience. Take a look.

There's nothing odd about a budding azalea, except maybe that it was a cheapo bought from Lidl last year and still going strong.

Can you guess what that blossom is from?

Yep. A bay tree in a pot. Full of bay leaves and blooming away.

This pansy lasted  all winter.

The rosemary in the kitchen window felt the freeze and decided that it was time to bloom.

This succulent that we bought in Spain decided that the freeze signaled time to both bloom and bud out.

Serious bloom spikes.

Another window sill succulent doing its thing.

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10,000 STEPS AROUND QUARANTE WITH PICS


When you live in the rural south of France in a village of 1,500 souls that's off the main road to anywhere, the countryside is right at your doorstep. Walk a few minutes in any direction and the accoutrements of modern living fade away. In a place with as rich a history as our little corner of France, you may even run across a 1,000 year-old church back in the woods, the exterior in amazingly good condition, with no signage to point the way. Is that an old Roman road leading up to the restored walls of an abandoned windmill? Could be.

The season for group walks approaches. Over the winter, I mostly walk alone. Short, brisk walks along a manicured path maintained by the village along the old railroad bed. Just to get the blood pumping. But as the weather warms and friends begin to open their holiday homes for the season, I begin walking in groups at a more leisurely pace to more interesting destinations. My brisk 2.5 miles in about 45 minutes becomes 10,000 steps in about two hours depending on the stops to take in the sights. Here's one route that starts and ends in our little village of Quarante with a bit of scenery and a bit of history along the way.


It doesn't take long to go from town to farm. In this direction, horses. In a slightly different direction, donkeys.

On a clear day, the Pyrenees. Maybe I should cloudfund a better camera.

We live with views like this every day, everywhere.
It looks like snow in the vines. They call them rockets. They are supposed to be edible but they are also a diuretic.           Best to leave them alone

Just in from a colder climate, Sue is enjoying the weather.

Another in my series entitled "Bathtubs Among the Vines".

The bubbling Quarante at the low point of the walk. It's been all downhill so far. From here, uphill.

Home is thataway.

The grounds of Domaine Peche Laurier. How would you like to be married among the plane trees in front a statue of Mary?

Out of nowhere, with no sign pointing the way, this ancient chapel. We're not certain of its history.

Not quite completely restored.

But surprisingly intact.

Yep. Thataway.

The base of an old windmill. Grounds well kept but again, no sign.

And again, more investigation as to origin required.

Could it really be an old Roman road? They were certainly in the neighborhood.

And it's right across from the windmill and right next to a cistern.

From here, it's an easy downhill walk along a blacktop back to the village. A little more than two hours. A little more than 10,000 steps. One of the first of many walks to come. I'll try to keep y'all posted. For more walks, and my take on life in France in general, check out my France Page HERE.

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TRUFFLE MARKET, VILLENEUVE-MINERVOIS: QUICK TAKE WITH PICS

Our visit to the truffle market in Villeneuve-Minervois this year during the third week of January was at least our fifth such pilgrimage and we've enjoyed each and every one. You see, truffles have a very particular taste and aroma. Not everybody gets it. Cathey is particularly sensitive and particularly appreciative. Foodie heaven. I can smell the aroma and I can taste the taste. But, like opera, my appreciation is on an intellectual level. My soul is not moved.

The same gent has been the arbiter in each of our visits. He takes a small snip of each truffle and checks the aroma. Aroma is pretty much all that counts. It's a pass/fail test with no argument. We call him The Nose.
Meticulous records are kept. Even the snippings are carefully bagged.
Cathey watches The Nose carefully. She looks for subtle signs indicating the best batch. This year, she picked this gent's truffles as the most fragrant. Can you see Eric Clapton?
We save the truffles in a jar with eggs in the fridge until ready to use, changing the paper underneath daily. A mandolin is used to shave the truffle as thin as possible, opening up the greatest surface area. Cathey likes hers on tagliatelle with a simple cream sauce. I like mine with the eggs that have been infused with the scent of the truffle.




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FOIE MARKET, RIEUX-MINERVOIS WITH PICS

TRIGGER WARNING: A Foie Market is where a French family goes to buy their special holiday foods if they're looking for the good stuff fresh from the producers - the Christmas goose, the duck breasts, the foie gras. I've taken pictures of it all. That means that there will be pictures of dead animals and their body parts. Be warned.

As you can imagine, the French go all out for their holiday meals. Christmas and New Year bring out the best. There are any number of foods that might grace a French family's table at December's end. Smoked salmon. Caviar. Lobster. But you can be almost certain of three things. There will be oysters. Supermarkets feature displays of oysters packed in special little wooden crates for a couple of weeks leading up to the holidays. There will be a bird - goose, duck, capon, pintade (guinea-fowl), even turkey. And there will be foie gras. And if you want your bird and your foie gras to come fresh from the producer, you go to a foie marché. 

Our favorite foie marché is in the rural village of Rieux-Minervois, about a half-hour drive to the west and north of us. In the big, drafty salle polyvalente (village hall or community room), folks shop shoulder to shoulder for their favorite holiday comestibles, in particular their foie gras in all of its incarnations - raw and uncooked, ready to slice and serve, stuffed into smoked duck breasts. For those of us who enjoy foie gras, it's a heady experience. 

And since these are poultry farmers meeting their public at the height of their season, every conceivable poultry product is on display. You can not only buy the whole, fresh bird. You can buy all of its parts - necks, breasts, legs and thighs, carcasses for stock, fat trimmings for rendering or for making cracklings called fritons. And there are the variations - smoked, dried, confit.

Of course, since it's a French market, there's other stuff to buy. Cheese. Sausages and smoked meats. Olives. Baked goods including spiced bread for the holidays.

We start with a picture of cheese to prepare the faint of heart for what is to come.

For the first time, we found stands set up outside the hall.

Packed. From the way that some stands looked, there had already been lots of shopping by 10:30 when we arrived.

The French call then macarons, not macaroons. Meringue-based, sugary, with almond flavoring, and colorful.

Foie gras!

The French do duck in all of its configurations

ALL of its configurations...

Christmas geese. Already picked over.

Spice bread.

The French are particular about lots of things, including beans.

Olives. Of course.

Charcuterie. Of course.

Duck fat. Of course?

Carcasses for stock.

Lots of carcasses.

And oysters to eat starting at 9:00am. Because, France.

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UZES MARKET DAY IN PICS

By the time that 11h00 rolled around on a chilly November day, the Uzes market was packed shoulder to shoulder. I cannot imagine what it would be like on a Saturday in July. As many of us who live in the south of France full time have learned, the best time to go anywhere that a tourist/vacationer might spend the day is either before June or after September. In July and August, you take your life in your hands.

That having been said, the Saturday market in Uzes sprawls over a good portion of the town, has its share of both treasures and schlock, and deserves a visit.





















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 VOX BIGERRI, QUARANTE: CONCERT REVIEW 



I get it. Not everyone will make tracks on a Friday night to hear a group of Corsican men sing polyphonic music a capella even if the concert is free and takes place in an historic 10th Century abbey. There was a time when I might have passed on it myself. But The Southern Woman That I Married has managed to refine my tastes over the years. Even if certain genres don't touch my soul, at least I can be appreciative.

Take opera, for instance...

But this music does touch my soul. There's something about a minor key lament that strikes a chord. And when presented with confidence, skill, energy, and even joy, I can't help but be carried along with it. It's not music for every day listening, to be sure. You don't bop around the room to this stuff while you're dusting the furniture. But in the right setting - and L'Eglise Sainte-Marie in Quarante is a most proper setting - folks like the five men who comprise Vox Bigerrie can keep an audience of one hundred or more locals spellbound throughout an hour-long concert.

A quick word about polyphony, keeping in mind that I'm no expert. Basically, polyphonic music is music in which two different melodic lines are sung simultaneously. Most of us are used to single melody lines or melody lines enhanced by chords based on that single line. So polyphonic music can have an overly complex, even discordant sound to the modern ear.

Play the video above. If you like what you see and hear, head over to YouTube for more. The videos that Vox Bigerrie post are different, creative and enjoyable. Just as they are different, creative, and enjoyable as a performance group. If you have the opportunity, see and hear them in person. Wonderful stuff. And check out the annual Festival of the Troubadours of which this concert was a part HERE. The series of concerts lasts from June through October and the venues span the entire region.

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