le 7 mars 2001
of Spring, Part II
In the midst of fruit trees blossoming, violets and wild
orchids springing up on the roadsides, and trees swelling with new buds,
we have had a typical south of France occurrence: the end of
February/early March mistral has arrived in full force along with a quick
snow/sleet storm. The mistral has been blowing 40-50 miles per hour,
bringing wind chills to below freezing for several days. To top it off, a
storm arrived on the last morning of February, blanketing the region with a
mix of sleet, snow and ice. Here in the Uzès area, the snow was beautiful
and short-lived. Not so over in the eastern portion of Provence
where thousands of people were stranded on the A8 autoroute between
Aix-en-Provence and Saint-Maximin, and thousands more were without power
and water for several days. We've got a few photos in the Armchair
Gallery, if you'd like to see more snow in the south of France.
Fortunately, the weather here is a variable as the
French temperament and we expect a return to balmy weather.
Meanwhile, la neige est belle!
PS: Still awaiting those first local asparagus...we'll keep you
Snow on rue Saint-Théodorit
Nice's Carnaval includes a most
colorful Parade of Flowers.
Gras à la française
à la française
The French love to celebrate Mardi Gras, or Carnaval, as it is more often
called here, with the usual parades, masks, festivities and general bacchanalia. The
city of Nice on the Cote d'Azur is internationally known as a most
flamboyant of carnavals. Our curiosity was piqued...just what are
carnaval and Mardi Gras in France all about?
As in New Orleans, the festival has its roots in
religion. Traditionally, during the period leading up to Lent (and
particularly the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), people have always had their last
blowout before going into Lenten mode. (Lent is called Carêmes
here in France.) This practice started in Italy, then made
its way over to France (if the Italians can have fun, so can we!) during
the 11th and 12th centuries. Eventually Carnaval
crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the French Catholic enclaves there, thus New
Orleans and French Canada have strong Mardi Gras traditions.
Interestingly, as a reflection of the going into
a period of “fasting” from meat, the word “carnavale” has its
roots in “carne”, meat…and Mardi Gras, as “fat” Tuesday,
reflects the last celebration of eating fat (meat) before Lent. Voilà!
And laissez the bon temps rouler, because after Mardi Gras is Ash
Wednesday, mercredi des cendres. Of course, we’ve been fasting
from beef for months, for reasons we don't need to mention again.
Les Etoiles Michelins
The world of French restaurants revolves around the assigned Michelin
stars that are published annually in the French food lovers’ bible,
le Guide Rouge, or the
Red Guide. Started in 1900, the Red Guide rates the best and brightest and
is considered internationally as France’s most reliable food and hotel
guide, taking no advertising and deploying a clandestine team of
inspectors who are on duty year-round. This year’s edition, on sale March 1,
sells for 135FF, approximately $20.
We're thrilled to report that a local restaurant, La
Table de l'Horloge in the nearby village of San-Quentin-La-Poterie, has
earned its first Michelin star. We had a lovely Sunday lunch there several
months ago and have to say that it's well-deserved. That makes four
restaurants in our region, the Gard, with a Michelin star.
A total of 21 restaurants received the highest
three-star rating this year (one less than last year); 75 two-stars; and 410
one-stars. The only restaurant promoted to a three-star rating is La Ferme de
Mon Père in the skiing resort of Megève. This is the second three-star
restaurant for chef/owner Marc Veyrat, who is self-taught and bases his
cuisine on herbs, roots and wildflowers from the Alps.
And shock this year! Alain Ducasse, the grand master of restauration
gourmande, has lost a star for one of his three-star restaurants, the
Louis XV in Monte Carlo. His response? The classic Gallic shrug. But fear
not, his other temple of haute cuisine, the Plaza Athenée in Paris,
continues to rank right up there with a full constellation of étoiles
Michelins. In fact he holds the 100 year record for operating two 3-star
restaurants simultaneously. Right now, Veyrat’s restaurants don’t
count for this record because they’re not open year-round. Perhaps
M.Veyrat should consider extending his seasons to make his way into the
Michelin's just published
Le Guide Rouge France 2001, the book that puts the stars and the numbers on
French restaurants and hotels.
A sunny winter afternoon at the
Jardin des Fontaines in Nîmes...where friends gather to chat.
|A Day in
Un Jour a Nîmes
A visit from a dear friend from Texas who is studying photography prompted
us to get back into the day-trip routine, with some great results.
We spent a day in Nîmes and took in lunch, of course, then the
fabulous Roman monuments (the Maison Carrée, the Colisseum), and topped
the afternoon off with a lazy afternoon at the city's spectacular Jardin
This public park is host to an array of
interesting statues of Roman gods, an extensive collection of plants, swan
and duck-filled canals, and a reconstruction of the Temple of Diana left
behind by the Romans when they "owned" the city at the beginning
of the first century. It's a great place to take part in the French scene,
playing boules, strolling children, walking dogs, taking pictures,
or simply sitting in the sun with friends for a nice chat.