le 31 mars 2001
of Spring, Part III
Spring has truly
arrived in the south of France, as evidenced by fruit trees abloom, spring
flowers popping out all over, asparagus and artichokes in the market, and
the rising of the rivers, from north to south. A recent trip to the
Saturday market in Uzès is proof positive: local asparagus from our
friendly marchand de légumes along with his piles of artichokes and
strawberries, including those small but incredibly delicious garriguettes
(wild strawberries). Pictures are worth a thousand words, so we'll
leave these for you and just tell how good it all tastes and smells. To
quote Nan, a visiting Californian, "This is enough to turn me into a
vegetarian!" 'Nuff said! Click
here for a Market photo gallery.
Letting out the Rhône floodwaters,
near Arles and Avignon.
| Those rising rivers are particularly threatening this year,
with rampant floods throughout the northern part of France, particularly
in Brittany and Normandy. A recent train ride from Avignon to Paris showed
flooded fields and trees under water. In Paris itself, the bateaux
mouches and other touristic rides along the Seine were cancelled for
at least a week during mid-March: too much water in the Seine, the
boats couldn't pass under the numerous bridges. The Parisian streets that
pass along the Seine were closed as well, making for difficult traffic
problems (so what's new there?). Here in the South, Arles and Avignon,
both snuggled right up to the Rhône are watching water levels to be sure
that the cities aren't inundated. The picture left shows a dam, normally
quite peaceful, letting out floodwaters to alleviate the water levels.
And of course spring is the time
for a walk in the country around Uzes. On a sunny afternoon my French prof
and I decided to faire une balade to see what was blooming. What
Forsythia, cherry trees, wisteria, irises,
lilacs, the first of the poppies, and so much more to bring tears to the
eyes and joy to the heart. (Click here
for a Spring Flower show.) Along the way we came upon several capitelles
and mazets (shelters for shepherds and such) as well as an old
Roman bridge and the "hanging post" from Uzès' medieval times
where people were led for execution.
A walk in the countryside
yields a capitelle amidst a field of yellow flowers...
...and an old Roman bridge
(above) with the worn indentations of cart tracks created over the past
two centuries, as seen below.
a rustic mazet for shepherds near a peach orchard...
Lone asparagus afield...
| Meanwhile, the fields are making
progress. Grapevines are just starting to push out new leaves, lettuces
are popping up all over, and the asparagus fields are springing into
Some rows are covered in white plastic to create the famous white
asparagus (the asperges parisiennes); others are open rows and push
up those luscious stems that everyone craves this time of year.
Prices for asparagus range from 15 to 25ff a kilo
($1 to $1.75 a pound)--not bad at all! We were chastised by the locals for
paying too much at 25ff a kilo, but to our minds, that sure beats
supermarket prices in the US. And the taste -- superbe! We'll be back for more...at almost any price. The season has truly begun!
It's cherry blossom time!
Report from Le Figaro
Le Salon des Grands Vins à Paris
We try to consistently take the position that French wine need
not be excessively high-priced to be wonderful. Some hints as to why
certain French wines are highly priced appeared recently in the
Sunday edition of the French newspaper, Le Figaro. Over the weekend
of March 9-11, the annual Salon des Grands Vins took place in
Paris. Le Figaro published a
full report on French wine to accompany the occasion, including this
“The wines of the South of France: One speaks of them.
The wines of Côtes du Rhône: One drinks them.
The wines of Burgundy: One dreams of them.”
This notion certainly lays out French wine in direct
order of price, Bordeaux omitted from this particular equation. And we
have nothing whatsoever against Burgundy wines: they are damned nice
Pinot Noirs. But the price of Burgundy is astronomical. Sure, sure, the
output is quite limited and therefore the supply-and-demand curve comes
into play. But there’s more, too: The
little ditty above also represents, in inverse order,
the marketing elaborations attached to the wines of the various regions.
While some of the additional cost of a Burgundy over a Côtes du Rhône is
surely unobjectionable, much of it is marketing cost passed off to the
consumer. We are not enamored of lining the pockets of the wine
barons of Burgundy. Or Bordeaux, for that matter. We’re not fanatics
about it, mind you, and we certainly drink some of these wonderful,
over-priced wines. But for us it’s a matter of common sense:
When you buy the wines of the Rhône or of Languedoc-Rousillon, you
have the satisfaction of knowing that, in most cases, you are not being
charged a premium to keep the public relations machines of Burgundy or
Bordeaux running smoothly and hungrily. Burgundy? We’ll leave it mostly
in our dreams…
The vineyards at
not quite budding on March 23rd...
but at the
Saint-Firmin vineyard here in Uzès,
the leaves are coming out,
pictured below March 31st.