le 12 mai 2002
on the rocks
Saint-Victor-la-Coste, un village perché
Driving through quiet nooks of Languedoc-Roussillon, you
often see the crumbling ruins of castles perched atop rocky hills in the
distance. We love to find castles, and have found one well worth a visit
in the beautiful village of Saint-Victor-la-Coste, just northwest of
Avignon, southeast of Bagnols-sur-Cèze. This medieval châteaufort
and village was an important fiefdom of the Sabran family, who were
descended from the powerful counts of Toulouse. The castle is in the
process of being rebuilt by the Sabranenque Foundation, who in addition to
sponsoring the reconstruction of several medieval monuments, offer an
opportunity for unique “restoration holidays” for the hardy and
industrious. Their website provides details on the restoration at www.sabranenque.com.
overlooking, un chateau perché
over the Rhône valley in the Gard,
with restoration in progress...
| But you don’t have to
sign up for hard labor to get a look at this impressive example of a
fortified castle. You can climb to the heights on your own on a
well-groomed path that leads upward from the village’s 13th
century church. Stonework, windows, arches, doorways – and views for
miles in all directions of the Rhône valley and its vineyards – await
those who venture upward. The village around the old church and its plaza
is a charming collection of quaint homes built into the lower walls of the
castle. Cats, vines, flowers, and trees all intermingle to create a scene
that is tranquil, picturesque, and a perfect place to stroll with a
camera. If you’re hungry, the town’s bar and restaurant just next to
the mayor’s office offers a good workingman’s lunch for about 10
euros…entrée, plat du jour, a bit of cheese, dessert …add wine and an
after-meal coffee and you won’t be disappointed.
a castle, cats, vines, flowers
the table, everyone
À Tables, tout le monde
An ambitious twice-a-year festival (spring and fall) has come toUzès, À
Tables, Journées esthétiques et gourmandes, a celebration of food,
wine and the table. An eclectic group of wine and food experts come
together surrounded by the works of the region’s finest tableware
artisans for a week of cooking classes, wine tastings, demonstrations and,
of course, a festive dinner, all in the historical Duchy d’Uzès. Some
events are free, some are paid, but the result is a clever and beautiful
array of delectable experiences for those who attend. Among the stars of
the show are chefs and sommeliers from some of the finest restaurants in
the region including Christian Etienne (Avignon), La Table de l’Horloge
(San-Quentin-la-Potérie), l’Olivier (Serviers) and La Bégude
Saint-Pierre (Vers). Amidst the wine-tasting or cooking sessions, you are
dazzled by beautiful tables set with ceramics, glassware, porcelain,
textiles, and flower arrangements created by several dozen artisans and
We were fortunate enough to be able to attend an
olive-oil tasting session with Françoise Puget. During two hours, a group
of enthusiastic novices explored the scents, tastes and sights of some of
the region’s finest olive oils. We tuned up our noses first by trying to
identify 20 discrete scents that one might encounter when smelling olive
oil (or wine for that matter). The group fared moderately well with those
various odors…and moved on to a blind tasting of five different olive
oils. Each was different, whether because of a different processing
method, a different type of olive, or a different mix of olives. What a
range of tastes, some better than others, but all delicious. And we
thought wine-tasting was tricky…More info at www.atables.com
The Duchy in
Uzès is dressed and ready...
for a taste of olive oil...
...warmed by hand before dégustation.
printemps, ramènent l'hiver,
Pancrace, Servais et Mamert"
"Of winter's return in spring beware,
with Pancrace, Servais et Mamert"
accurate is this admonition? May 11-13 of 1897 saw three consecutive
nights of devastating killer freeze across France, and to this day
frequent frosts occur during the early morning hours of mid-May.
Nonetheless, in the 1960s the Catholic Church decided that these saints
were perhaps too pagan in their earthy affiliation and thus retired them
from the official French saints calendar. Speculations of global warming
might cause many to discount the dictum of the saints de glace, and
today most agree that north of the Loire river and higher altitudes are
most likely to be adversely affected by frost up until these dates.
Nonetheless here in the 21st century, even in the south of
France, until mid-May, you won’t see much more planted than a few
pansies (pensées), primroses (paquets), and peas (petits
pois), unless protected by a greenhouse. It’s not nice to mess with
Mother Nature, Saint Mamert, Saint Pancrace and Saint Gervais…
out for those frosty saints!
saints de glace!
In April and early May, when warm days, sunshine and
provençal blue skies make us itch to get going on the garden, we get
frequent warnings about the “saints de glace,” always spoken
with respect and a slight wagging of the finger. First thought: ice cream
saints? Great, I’ll take them as my patrons! But no, for many centuries,
the Saints Mamert, Pancrace and Gervais (or Servais), whose feast days are
respectively May 11, 12, and 13, have been the Saints of Frost and Freeze.
This trio of big names in the French gardening world rarely show up in
mid-May without bringing a bit of winter during the spring. These feast
days provide the swan song of winter, until which tender plants should be
held back from planting.
Primrose in the
Two weeks after the stunning first round results of the French
presidential elections, the second round vote is in. Jacques Chirac, the
incumbent RPR candidate, has swept the country with a record landslide. But the
apathy of the French electorate continues, with a more than 20 percent
abstention rate, still well behind their normal turnout. Waiting in the
wings are the candidates for the legislative elections, scheduled in two
rounds in early June. Will the RPR right prevail? Will the left keep
control causing another era of cohabitation? Will LePen and his cohorts
make inroads in legislative seats? Stay tuned...or check in with the International
Herald Tribune which has followed these elections with great fervor
Bring your carte
and your carte d'identite...
head for les urnes to cast your vote!
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