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Welcome to Armchair France

 

Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 12 mai 2002
Uzès, France

Saint-Victor-la-Coste 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.

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A castle overlooking, un chateau perché

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looking out over the Rhône valley in the Gard,
with restoration in progress...

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     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.

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Saint-Victor-la-Coste...
a castle, cats, vines, flowers

 

To 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 artists.
     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

 

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The Duchy in Uzès is dressed and ready...

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À tables for a taste of olive oil...

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...warmed by hand before dégustation.

 

"Au printemps, ramènent l'hiver, 
Pancrace, Servais et Mamert
"

"Of winter's return in spring beware,
with Pancrace, Servais et Mamert"

 How 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…

 

Watch out for those frosty saints!
Attention aux 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.

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Primrose in the spring snow...

 

Chirac is back!
Encore Chirac!

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 and interest.

 

 

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Bring your carte electorale,
and your carte d'identite...
head for les urnes  to cast your vote!

 

 

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