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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 14 mars 2002
Uzès, France

Les Alpilles, world's best olive oil?
Les Alpilles, le top de l'huile d'olive?

A road trip in search of olive oil took us over the Rhone river to the Alpilles region of Provence, just south of Avignon. We were thrilled to find that the cooperative at Maussanne-les-Alpilles (near Les Baux and St-Remy- de-Provence) was open for business through the lunch hour, and we stocked up on a good supply of the greenish-gold elixir from this most luscious olive-oil producing region of France. In fact we put this particular olive oil (Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille) head to head with an olive oil from Nyons, the most commonly top-rated olive oil of France. A group of primarily French folks (and us) gathered around a table with small bowls of oil, chunks of fresh bread, and of course some nice wine for sipping, to see which oil was the favorite. In a blind test, all agreed that both were delicious but that the good stuff from les Alpilles had a much more intense, fruity and “true” flavor! So we’ll have to go back for more as we’re quickly using up what supply we have! In fact, we've just found out that this delicious oil has just won the 2002 Medaille d'Or at the Concours Général de Paris. Et voilà!



Award-winning olive oils from
the Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille,
in Maussanne-les-Alpilles

LesRoches202a.jpg (69525 bytes)
beneath the rocky foothills near Les Baux

     On the way out of the Alpilles, we chose a small road just outside of Les Baux, and were treated to a stunning view of this imposing ruined fortress atop the rocky cliffs. Quite an impressive site from afar, although a visit to the city can be more like Disneyland than an historic monument. Worth a stop...if the parked cars aren't backed up the hill outside the town and the mistral isn't blowing too hard.

LesBaux202.jpg (68218 bytes)

FrigTower3.jpg (77783 bytes)
The towering spires of l' Abbaye Frigolet
An abby and another golden elixir...
Une abbaye et un élixir d'un autre tinte d'or...

We wound our way through the hills back toward the Rhone, and suddenly came across l'Abbaye de Saint-Michel de Frigolet, a haven of serenity in La Montagnette. Starting as a Augustinian community in the 12th century, this abbey includes the vestiges of a Romanesque chapel dedicated to St. Michel and a beautiful park open to the public. Of course, being so close to Avignon (less than 20 km), the papes avignonnais had their influences here as well. In fact, this hidden and well-protected site served as a pilgrimage stop during the Middle Ages, a school in the 19th century (Frederic Mistral, Monsieur Provençal attended here), as a POW camp during WWI, and is now back to its religious origins as a monastery with hotel, restaurant, gift shop, and beautiful grounds to top it all off.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this abbey is a world-renowned liqueur, Frigolet. This Elixir of Révérend Père Gauche, concocted and produced here for centuries, was immortalized by Alphonse Daudet in his Lettres de mon Moulin (Letters from My Windmill, written in 1890). Although now produced in nearby Chateaurenard, the disgestif's formula remains unchanged, an aqua vita with a secret mélange of honey and aromatic herbs, cured in oak barrels. You can read all about the Abbey and its history at www.frigoulet.com. There's quite a story there...as with most of the abbeys scattered across France.

 



Frigolet.jpg (66977 bytes)

L'élixir du Père Gauche


French rugby team in the driver's seat!
Les bleus dans la chaise de conducteur!

At the halfway point of the annual Six Nations Rugby Tournament, France is the surprise leader. Les bleus were anything but impressive last month although they beat Italy and Wales in their opening matches. Then came the stunner: A resounding victory over heavily favored England at the Stade Française in Paris. It wasn't even close. France jumped out to a 17-0 lead and was never threatened. Throughout the game the French defense swarmed all over the confused looking, then, finally, disheartened English. The French team took a victory lap around their home stadium while the adoring crowd of nearly 80,000 screamed in triumph. The English slunk home, bewildered. A betting person would have a field day making odds on who was more chagrined afterwards:  English bookmakers who had installed their guys as 20-point favorites, or English sportswriters, who, after England's unexpectedly easy trouncing of a very good Irish national side, had anointed their team as "easily the best in the world."  Which makes the French team...??
     Next up for France: Scotland on their home turf at Murrayfield, weekend of March 23, 2002. Beware, les bleus, the Scots seem to upset someone every year. Two years ago it was the English, last year it was the Irish, and, this year? One wishes certain French sportswriters and certain French rugby fans would stop salivating over the French chances for a Grande Chalem (Grand Slam, a sweep of all the other five nations) this year. At the World Cup in Australia, summer of 2003, we'll find out which country is really best. There might even be a little team there from the host country who, last I saw, were the defending World Champions.

 

The Six Nations Tournament
Le Tournoi des VI Nations
Le Tournoi des VI Nations
as of March 10, 2001

France  la France     3-0
England  l'Angleterre    2-1
Italy  l'Italie    0-3
Ireland  l'Irelande     2-1
Scotland  l'Ecosse    0-3
Wales  les Pays de Galle    1-2


The French XV, les bleus, take the driver's seat.

 

And from our local correspondent
Uzès rugby team:  only so-so...
L' equipe de rugby uzétienne:  comme çi, comme ça

With four games left to play in the regular season, Uzès' edition 2002 is very much a mirror image of last year's team. They rank sixth among the twelve teams in Poule 8 of their division, "Fédérale 3." This division is the fifth level among France's eleven divisions. (The top two divisions, thoroughly professional, are the hosts for the players on France's national team. Le bon dieu alone knows what rugby looks like in Série 4, the eleventh rung of the ladder.)
     Uzès got off to a fast start, but has faltered of late. Some strange goings-on have characterized their coaching situation. "Les Ducaux" commenced the year with co-coaches.  Halfway through the season one resigned. Two weeks ago the other resigned, and now the team is coached by one of its former players, Sam Besson, who is also known to suit up occasionally. This past Sunday, on their home field, Le Stade du Réfuge, Uzès' Rouge et Jaune thumped Le Mourillon, a team from the Var, 23-3. The game started with extremely rude deportment displayed by the visitors, and before it was all over Monsieur l'Arbitre had kicked out no less than three of Les Maurrionais. In Monday's regional newspaper, the headline read something like "Uzès keep their heads cool, lets the other team self-destruct."
     It's probably even money that Uzès will finish in the top five or six in their Pool, thus entering the playoffs and a chance to move up to Fédéral 2 next year. It's a much better bet that they won't move up, simply because they would start the playoffs on the road and Uzès never wins on the road. They're great at home, but… And for a little town like Uzès (8,300) they play against fearsome competition:  Nice, Marseilles, Bastia, Alès, Ajaccio…huge towns by comparison.
     A little history:  The Uzès team was started in 1976.  They started, and languished, where all beginners begin: Série 4. By dint of their good play they started moving up in 1981, when they moved to Série 3. Then they made a really astonishing series of moves forward, winning everything in sight. They moved from Série 4 to Série 3, to Série 2, to Série 1, to Promotion d'Honneur, to Honneur, to Fédéral 3, and, in 1998, to Fédéral 2, the fourth rung of the eleven-rung French rugby ladder. Unfortunately, Fédéral 2 was a bit rich for a small town team (e.g., they were in with our neighbors, Nîmes, a town of 400,000) and Uzès was "relegated", or dropped down, to Fédéral 3 where they have remained, still over-achieving in an important sense. Still, one wishes they had a little more scoring power…

More to come in the next few weeks -- we're heading southward for castles and canals.  A bientôt!

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