I have a soft-spot in my heart for this village. When first visiting France, I met a woman from Leeds, England named Yvonne. We shared a room at the hostel in Carcassonne and spent time exploring the city and looking at properties. She bought one of the houses we looked at as a vacation home. When we parted, we stayed in touch through email and snail mail. She made me promise to let her know when I would return. When my house in California finally sold, I grabbed my Carte d’ Sejour and headed back to France. Yvonne met me and gave me a key to her house to stay while house-hunting for my own home. Her place was located in the heart of the old village with its door directly across from the église. Each day, I took walks along the beautiful Canal du Midi (another post in the future).
The day started out grey but the sun had other plans as you can see from some of the photos.
Just off the main road (old center of town) you can find the art gallery of English artist, Kathleen Burlumi. Kathleen teaches painting and drawing and give lectures (in french and english) on the work of her late husband, David Burlumi.
The harvest from the vineyards is safely bottled and most will go on sale next year. Yet in the wine region, we have festivals to toast the new wines. It is an opportunity to taste the fruits of this years harvest. It was fun to experience this with friends, Yvonne and Pauline, who had flown over from London for a long weekend of delights. This particular event was in the village of Trèbes a short 7 km from the city of Carcassonne. The population at the last census, 2008, was over 5,500.
As with any event, there was music (bands and DJ), dancing, and of course food. There were plates of mixed cheeses, Charcuterie – plates of assorted sausages and hams, each served with pain (bread) then of course you can have foie gras which is served with a special bread which contains bits of dried figs. Also on offer was grilled brochette of canard (duck) served with spiced apple (Amazing!)
We took a cab from Carcassonne on the first night so that this Designated Driver could safely sample the delights of the event. However, the next day I drove us back to the village to make a few more purchases and explore the town. However, that will be another post!
The small village of Saint-Jean-de-Barrou is only 5 kilometers from my village. If you like to stretch you legs, it can be a gorgeous walk. Whether you decide to take the road or walk through the many vineyards.
Saint-Jean has a population of 260 and a small shop for groceries and a boulangerie. One enterprising villager even makes pizzas during limited hours/days. There is no cafe but there are lots of friendly people and a playground for the children and a charming picnic area for all who come.
This is a shorter post than planned. However, a storm keeps knocking out the power and I am heading out to meet friends in another part of the department. Now on to the large wine festival in Carcassonne and hopes that the storm does not last all weekend.
Last week a friend, Jan, and I took to the road for a bit of exploring. We drove from my village down through the village of Villeneuve, Tuchan on one of the back routes going in the direction of Perpignan and Spain. These were windy, narrow and hilly roads. The sun was shining but not too hot. In other words, a perfect day.
We were in no rush and just looking forward to spending some time in the sun and discover what lie in the area. After driving through a number of smaller villages, we arrived in Estagel. The village has a population of 1900 and several shops, restaurants, cafes and markets. While not quite as large as its neighbour, Rivesaltes, it does not lack for anything. Filled with beautiful architecture, charming shops, cafes and friendly people, this village also boasts numerous displays of art.
The statue in the center of Estagel is of a famous son, François Arago ( 1786-1853). He was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician. Arago was awarded the Copley Medal in 1825 by the Royal Society and in 1850 the Rumford Medal. The Arago Medal was instituted in 1893 by the Academy of Sciences and craters on both the Moon and Mars plus a ring of Neptune have been named in his honor. Upon his death, François Arago was interred in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
One might imagine that things get rather quiet in a small rural village after the tourist season draws to a close. Yet, that is not the case. As early as late August, the vignerons begin the harvest. There will be some unfamiliar faces as young people from all over europe arrive to help get the raisins (grapes). From before seven in the morning until the last shards of light fade away the streets are a hive of tractors, grape harvesters and vehicles filled with pickers on their way to the vineyards.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine-producing region in France. More wine is produced in this one small department than in the entire United States. There is a wide variety of grapes grown here such as Grenache, Syrah as well as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While Languedoc wines cover a rather broad spectrum, from white to red; sweet to dry and of course sparkling which pre-dates Champagne (but that will be another post and another time). The region proudly cultivates the vines on over 700,000 acres here along the Mediterranean cast. It is thought to be the single largest wine-producing area in the world.
The Languedoc-Roussillon is arid, warm and brimming with sunlight. The rugged terrain of herbs, brush and resinous plants infuse the wine with their scents and flavours. It is the ideal terrain and climate for growing grapes. While the quality became secondary to quantity for a time in the early twentieth century the hard working vignerons (vine growers) committed themselves to turning it around with remarkable results.
In the photo is one of our local wine producers, Remy, who makes a lovely collection of organic wines and also grape juice. If I am lucky, I can buy a few of the days pickings that did not end up in the vats. Gait is a manager for Remy and has the “honour” of having the buckets of grapes from all the pickers loaded into the large container on his back. Being quite tall, he must bend to allow the pickers to dump the fruit into the container on his back which quickly fills. He follows around all of the people who are cutting the clusters of grapes and then transports his container when filled to the trailer which will quickly be transported back to the cave and on its way to the vats. While it is true that large machines harvest a vast amount of the grapes, a number prefer the hands on approach. Additionally, some of the terrain is such that this is not a viable option.
The perfume of fermenting grapes begins to fill the air as fêtes de vins fill our weekends with tastings, dances, music and more. They last well through November even though the last grapes have been harvested. While these photos are all taken at Domaine Sainte Juste, there are a several wonderful options in just this small village alone (pop. 700). There are many more just a few kilometers away.
Remember, you can always click on the photos to enlarge them.
Just outside the city of Narbonne, on the Mediterranean, is the beautiful beach village of Gruissan. Besides being my favorite swimming beach in the area, it also plays host to numerous events such as this Medieval re-enactment .
For the fifth year there is on offer a weekend commemoration of the Days of Heritage. Participants in the ceremony and most of the vendors that I observed were dressed in period costume. All kitted out with bows, arrows, crossbows, swords, shields and more were the twelve troops of riders, knights and of course their ladies fair and other members of their communities. The Trencavel family faced off the armies of the Knights of Templar. The Cathar or Albigensian Crusades lasted from the 11th to the 13 century. The Cathars having their own beliefs and not conforming to the dogma of Rome were tortured, slaughtered and believed to be annihilated.
The Days of Heritage is a vibrant pageant of troubadours, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters, twelve troops of riders, knights in full regalia. Across the estuary, spectators crowded in to watch the story unfold. It was clear as the re-enactment of XIII century events that the loyalties of the spectators were with the Cathars and not with the Inquisitors. There were no cheers for the victors and the silence of spectators during the battle was erie.
Visitors quietly dispersed and moved into the center of the town where there was exhibition of Medieval life and vendors selling items related to the re-enactment and more. There was a woman making chain maille (a type of metal fabric used in several historical periods) and soldiers gave tips on sword-fighting.
Of all the things I have seen in my visiting and living here in la belle France, the most unforgettable moments were spent in Atelier Cézanne. A magical experience which left me in a trance like state with the hair standing up on the back of my neck. It was as if the master had just stepped out and would return at any moment.
After returning to California, a friend asked me to write a poem about Art and France. My first response is that they could not be separated. Art is the loom that the tapestry of France was woven upon. The following poem was the result of that request and has been published previously in an anthology.
“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.” – Paul Cézanne
“There are two things in the painter, the eye and the mind; each of them should aid the other.” – Paul Cézanne
“Don’t be an art critic. Paint. There lies salvation.” – Paul Cézanne
Meditations on visiting Atelier Cézanne
One hundred years
After his death
The doors to his shrine
Open to the masses
I but a privileged pilgrim
A witness – I inhale deeply
The plethora of scent
A wicker basket
Darkened by harvests of the past
A long shelf balanced
Across the western wall
Dusquenoy’s cupid keeps company
With the three skulls of death
From the northern exposure
A burst of light
Color spreads wantonly
I am humbled in each direction
Le choeur fantôme
Intone hymns of praise
Peaches, apples and summers long ago
And talk of the fields they have known
Stars they raised up to
Rain, love of sun
Dreams of freshness of an old apple
Home is Aix-en-Provence
He paints their secrets
With celestial vision
Méditation en Visitant l’Atelier de Cézanne
Après sa mort
Les portes de son sanctuarie sacré
Ouvrent au public
Pas un pèlerin privilégié
Mais un témoin
Profondement j’ai à inhaler
Un plethora de parfum
Dans un panier noirci en osier
À cause de
Plusieurs récoltes passées
Accompagné de trios cranes de mort
L’ange Cupidon de Dusquenoy a pose
Sur un rayon qui
À travers le mur occidental est allongé
Grâce à l’ exposition boréale
L’éclaircissement a rayonné
Un jet de lumière don’t la couleur
S’est répandue gratuitement en effet
Le choeur fantôme
Entonne l’hymne à féléciter
Les fragrances , les pêches, les pommmes
Le long des Étés
Sont connus des champs
Les étoiles au ciel despersées
La pluie, l’amour du soleil
Les reveries de la fraicheur d’une vieille
Pomme au passé
Est son pays
Il peint leurs secrets
Avec la vue céleste
Traduit par Le Si Dong
Previously published in Flowers of love/fleurs d’amour Anthology Vietnamese International Poetry Society Volume XII 2008
Next month I shall celebrate my fifth anniversary of living in la belle France. I arrived on October 31, 2007. The time has gone so rapidly and so much has happened. The first three months were focused mainly on house hunting. Never did I imagine it would take so long. It did give me the opportunity to see a number of different villages and types of house. While many interested me and one in particular in Les Martys which is situated in Montagne Noir (The Black Mountain) I was not convinced. Something held me back. An agent in Carcassonne (friend of a friend) showed me a few houses but we struck out. Then one day as I passed her office, she waved me inside and said she had a property to show me. Maryanne navigated and I drove.
Something I had not told anyone was that I had a date set when I would start looking out of the region I was convinced was where I wanted to be. That day as I drove closer to the sea than I had considered (thinking it was out of my budget) I tried to keep an open mind to what she would be showing me. It was January 16, 2008 and the birthday of my youngest son. I had been sure that I would have been successful by that date.
Maryanne read her printout from the internet as I navigated the main road then later
some small windy roads. The thought in my head was that even if this turned out to be the house, I would never find it again. We arrived in the village, parked and walked about waiting for the seller to arrive and let us in. We parked by the stone wall which stands between the house and le berre de rivière (the river berre). Leaning over the ancient stone wall, I saw the bridge (shown above) and felt a tug on the heart-strings.
We didn’t have much time to look about when Monsieur Pollard arrived and we began our look around the house. It is a town house with small rooms and spread over four stories. The top one being the grenier (attic).
The house had been empty for over two years. The structure appeared sound which I later had verified and while small it gave me two guest bedrooms which was more than adequate. The house is over 300 years old and the original tiles remain in all the rooms and stairs.
The kitchen contained a sink (typical of homes in France) and remnants of a chimney which could be replaced should one choose to do so. Any purchaser would have to kit out the kitchen on their own.
The village itself had the requisites that I had been wanting and more. There is the boulangerie, cafe/bar, post office. Yet there was so much more. The village has a piscine (swimming pool), tennis courts, a small market, flower shop, coiffeur, notary, bibliothèque (library) even a botanical garden. There is also a man who brings in fresh seafood every Thursday and a Wednesday morning market offering fresh produce, fresh goat cheese and more. The foyer hosts first run movies each Tuesday night and often additional films especially for the children. There is even a campground with cabins and facilities for those with tents. The tourist season here is quite busy so if you think that camping is something for you, I would urge you to book ahead. If camping is not your thing you can rent a house or stay in the small hotel over the bar. There are also several chambres d’hotes ( bed & breakfast).
Needless to say, if you like a place in the dead of winter, it can only get better. I made an offer the same day and it was accepted. Despite everyone telling me that it would take over three months to close escrow, two months to the day of viewing the house I had the keys and moved in three days later when my bed, fridge, stove and washing machine were delivered. Since then I have picked up a few more pieces. That feeling that I got when I first saw the village have grown. Getting to know the people has been the icing on the cake. I have never felt so at home anywhere.
The Brotherhood of Universal Cassoulet Academy ( La confrérie de l’académie universelle du cassoulet) an organisation dedicated to promote the dish and preserve its traditions. Each year, during the festival, awards are bestowed upon those who have contributed significantly to the ideals of the organisation and its furtherance. Oaths are made, and awards presented.
All about the center of town the bars/café’s and restaurants are in overdrive preparing for the nights festivities. Last minute preparations for feeding thousands of people each night and sound checks for the numerous stages is a show of its own. Near the main stage is a tent with emergency medical workers set to help should anyone needs assistance.
It must be a daunting task to feed such large numbers at once. There are two large venues where dinners were being served. The one I attended was able to seat over four hundred people at a sitting. Last years total served over the six nights of festival were over 50,000.
The cassoulet was served on trays which included a small black-lidded container filled with Pâté de foie de canard, large portions of crusty baguette, dessert- tarte de pomme and un verre de vin rouge. The cassoulet dish was yours to take home and perhaps make your own cassoulet.
Traditionally, cassoulet would consist of a mixture of 30% meat (usually duck and pork). The pots in which the dish were originally prepared were made of clay and called cassoles. Tapered with a pouring lip to assist in remove excess fat. The tapered sides were created so that the top was the largest area where a crust could form leaving the remaining dish underneath to remain moist throughout cooking.
While cassoulet sounds like a rich and heavy dish, it is healthy, filling and predominately a winter dish. It is often served with a simple salad and fruit of light dessert.
The self-proclaimed origins of Cassoulet goes to Castelnaudary. During the 100 year war, legend has it, the people of the town gathered and prepared a cassoulet to nourish the defenders with each family bringing what they could to add to the pot. After the meal the enemy was routed and the town spared. If you should dine on Castelnaudary Cassoulet today it would have pork and duck confit.
1.3 lbs. Dried Haricots Lingots (white beans)
1.8 lbs/800 gr. bacon
1 kg / 2.2 lbs boneless pork cubed
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs boneless lamb cubed
8 pieces canard confit (duck leg quarters preserved in duck fat)
1 garlic infused sausage cubed
1 pork rind
14 oz tomatoes diced
8 oz carrots sliced
7 onions diced
10 garlic cloves
2 oz olive oil
1 bouquet garni
3 whole cloves
thyme, salt and pepper
Note: If using dried beans soak overnight and rinse well. If using canned beans drain and rinse.
Place pork rind on the bottom of casserole dish/dutch oven and spread the beans on top. Layer the bacon then onions pricked with cloves and bouquet garni, 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the carrots. Season with salt and pepper, add enough water to just cover all ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.
Note: If using canned beans, cut simmering time in half.
As the beans simmer, fry pork and lamb pieces in a large skillet with oil. Add 4 diced onions and two minced cloves of garlic. Add thyme and layer with cut tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water, cover and simmer for an hour.
As the beans are done take out and discard bouquet garni and the onions (with cloves only). Remove the rind and cut into small cubes if you plan to put them back. Add duck confit and cubed sausage and all ingredients from the meat skillet and all liquid.
Mix together well and simmer for twenty minutes.
Best served very hot and easily re-heated. This recipe will served eight very hearty appetites.
Déjà’-vu is not an uncommon feeling even on ones first visit to Arles. As you meander the winding streets and find yourself at the foot of the colorful houses and enjoy a cafe in the squares, it is as if you have wandered into a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.
This captivating city perched on the Grand Rhône River bears the footprints of previous occupants, During the Bronze Age it was a Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony then in 49 BC the Romans settled in and its prosperity and political standing soared when the powers of the day backed Julius Caesar. Caesar had never experience defeat throughout his illustrious career. Marseille had made the error of not supporting Caesar choosing to back Pompey the Great. For this error in judgment, Marseille was seized and pillaged. It cost them the power that is associated with being the region’s major port.
Along with power came growth and within the next century it accumulated both an amphitheatre which would seat 20,000 and a 12,000 seat theatre. The citizens were invited to partake in the entertainment of the day which included chariot races and contests among the gladiators. Amazingly, these two structures are still intact and in use. However, the gruesome sports of the past have been replaced by events such bullfighting (in France, the bull is not killed) and concerts. Regardless of the change in what is offered there is still the air of excitement when the season begins again each spring. The venues are packed with locals and tourists alike.
While Arles was memorably rendered by one-time resident Vincent van Gogh. Sad to say, not one of the 200-odd canvases Vincent painted here, in just over a year, remains in Arles, but the town has made him a starring attraction nonetheless. From the re-creation of his bedroom to exhibitions in the former hospital where he had his ear stitched up, there’s a whole lot of Vincent to enjoy. Don’t miss the Van Gogh trail, a walking tour of sites where the artist set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night.
TheCertifiablyTRUERavingsOfASectionedPhilosopher: Don't be afraid to think you might be a little 'crazy'. Who isn't? Check out some of my visualized poems here: https://www.instagram.com/maxismaddened/