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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 20 novembre 2000
Uzès, France


A little tour of the Uzès countryside…
Un petit tour de l’Uzège…

Amidst of the chaos of not having a president and a week full of classes, we decided to take the opportunity on a beautiful Friday to get out into the country. Heading north out of town, we started the excursion with lunch, of course, and visited the beautiful medieval perched village of Lussan (see right) to prendre le déjeuner at the newly opened Auberge de Lussan. What a lovely spot! The restaurant/inn is run by two local women. Our lunch, 55 francs each, was a plat du jour of tender veal roasted in a rich Noilly-Pratt cream sauce that we wished we’d had a spoon for! After dessert (baked chèvre with olive oil and herbs for one of us, scrumptious gateau aux poires, pear cake, for the other) and coffee, we set out to take a walk in the woods.
     We’d read of a beautiful canyon, called Les Concluses (see right), just a few kilometers outside of Lussan, with well groomed hiking paths that lead down into limestone canyons filled with caves, waterfalls, and wonderful flora. The Aiguillon river which cuts through and created this very special area can be seen rushing below from the heights as you set out, and then up close upon descent into the canyons. Unfortunately a strong wind was blowing, which put the brakes on a long visit, but we intend to get back there for further exploring. It is stunning!


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Meantime, while the sun was still shining, we continued our little tour, heading a bit west to drive through the pretty town of Goudargues, where the Cèze and Aiguillon rivers come together. The town built a series of canals from these two rivers that gives the place a charming feel. As long as we were nearby, we decided to take the less direct route home and stop by La Roque-sur-la-Cèze, a fairy-tale like village with waterfalls and whirlpools created by the rocks (roches) in the river Cèze. The pictures here don’t do justice to the beauty of the spot, and we saw ample evidence of the power of that river from past floods, the most recent being fall 1999. Not a place to be when the waters are running high, but also not to be missed, particularly on a quiet afternoon with no crowds.

After a final stop at a small vineyard in Belvezet, just north of Uzès, where we bought a few bottles of Puech St Martin cabernet from the madame of this family enterprise, we headed back into town just as the sun was setting (around 5:30 here right now). What a beautiful country this is. A lot of the area reminds us of the Texas hill country with its limestone, live oak and cedar…but they don’t talk like Texans here!

Pictured left:   a one-lane bridge over the Cèze river; La-Roque-sur-Cèze perched on a hillside; the Cèze and les roches.

 

Waiting for Godot…or Gore…or Bush
En attendant Godot…ou Gore…ou Bush

The presidential elections in the US have been top of the news for several weeks, with the vast majority of French papers preferring to use it as an opportunity to highlight the various shortcomings of the American way of voting…not unlike their analyses of the American way of life. One of the more striking things is their continual reference to our president as “the most powerful man in the world” – something we tend not to see from our own national perspective. Little is made of the “balances” (or imbalances) of power in the press here; rather the focus is naturally on how the president of the US is perceived and judged by the global community. And there is absolute shock that popular vote vs. electoral vote is even an issue…why would you elect someone by vote and then let the electoral college have a go at it? Lots of interesting discussion here…as well as at home, we assume.
     Meanwhile, after having posted our absentee ballots on time, we were able to sit back and watch what we thought was going to be a very close race with a toss-up winner. Imagine our surprise, after having gone to bed too early for solid returns, when the 6AM news on Wednesday morning here (midnight on the East Coast) said that the race was still too close to call…no wait, looks like it’s George W. Bush…yes, folks, we have a president! Off we went, to start our day, classes, running errands, in many ways grateful that we were here and not there to absorb the news. After lunch, we took a break to check in on how things were going back home, and lo and behold, no president!
     Harry’s Bar in Paris has been holding a straw election for US President since 1924. Serge, the bartender there, takes the vote from his post behind the bar and allows only American citizens to participate. This year, Bush took 451 votes vs. Gore’s 357, and according to Le Figaro, Harry’s Bar has always predicted the winner, with the exception of Ford-Carter in 1976. What will this year tell? Damned if we know!

FRENCH NOTEBOOK
Wanna bet?
Les ingénus au PMU

For American horse racing fans, including those of us stranded in France, the annual Breeders’ Cup races are the equivalent of the World Series to baseball nuts. There aren’t three people in our part of France who know or care what the World Series is about. But there are a considerable number of French horse racing aficionados who find the American Breeders’ Cup races an interesting betting proposition. A few such French bettors kept us company on November 4th at the P.M.U. (off-track betting facility) at the Café du Midi on Boulevard Gambetta in Nîmes. By the time the races ended, just around midnight here, we had torn up a lot of failed betting slips (Spain at 60-1 in the Distaff? Gaak!), been invited to dinner by the proprietor of an Algerian restaurant which is “only temporarily” closed, got an explanation of the “unfairness” of the American tax collection system on big payoffs from a gentle former South Vietnamese green beret, watched as the self-described “chief” of an African tribe attempted to collect the prettier of us as his fifth wife, and performed at least one act never before seen in the annals of the, admittedly somewhat seamy, Café du Midi.
     The excitement of the Breeders’ Cup races reaches far, even to this side of the Atlantic, even to the French, even to Languedoc. (The land of 300 different cheeses sent half a dozen horses over to compete, and none ran with much interest.) The principal French horseracing paper, Paris Turf, had all the entries, lots of “color” stories focused on the historically bad performances of the English horses shipped over to America, and the usual French, infuriatingly sketchy, past performance data...

Click here for “the rest of the story”


Le nouveau Beaujolais…
Le nouveau Beaujolais

The annual celebration of the first Beaujolais wine of the season has taken the world by storm in the past twenty years, but it’s been going on forever here in France. Although we’re far south of the Beaujolais region itself, that didn’t stop us from joining in this local rite of fall. We joined Viviane Aubert, one of Joe's professeurs de français, and scores of others at le Grand Café on the Boulevard here in Uzès.
     Just after 7PM, Julio the bartender, dressed in Beaujolais-logo’d straw hat and apron, uncorked the first bottle of the highly feted red wine and began pouring for the crowd. A small tasting board had been set up, with patrons providing potluck snacks to accompany the wine. All free to the public for that night only, while supplies lasted! We left at 8:30.
     At the same time, the celebration of les Primeurs 2000, a more localized “first of the season” for the new vintage of Côtes du Rhône, was just getting into gear, with an array of activities including fireworks over the famous half bridge in Avignon, an antique car rally from Nîmes to Pont-St-Esprit, special dinners centered around the new wines at hundreds of restaurants in the region, and tastings and presentations at most every town market. A special “for the trade only” event was held at the Pont du Gard near Remoulins the evening before the actual launch, which is always the third Thursday in November. It’s quite exciting to see the hubbub surrounding the annual debut of one of the most sacred and important products of France, le vin!

 


Viviane & Joe ... Julio ... Joe & Julio
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Short takes...

Faits divers...
 

Turkey? What’s that all about?
La dinde? Qu’est-ce que c’est, Thanksgiving?

We’re aware of the lack of interest in turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and such here in the land of good eating. As we move into the traditional short week of Thanksgiving, no one seems to know that we’re supposed to get Thursday and Friday off, a nice long weekend to launch the holiday season. What’s the matter with these people? Don’t they have any attachment to the Pilgrims and other ersatz symbols of our “American heritage”? Guess we’ll have to make our own celebration and invite the natives to see what it’s all about…well, maybe next year…this year we’re going to Barcelona…maybe they know about Thanksgiving there…we’ll let you know!

Weather continues, despite strike…
La Météo en grève, mais le temps continue...

La Météo, the team of weather scientists and such, have been on strike here in France since last week, for such issues as the 35-hour work week and overtime pay (and, we hope, access to better information). We were surprised last week when we opened to the weather page in the local newspaper to find that there was neither a forecast map nor a three-day prediction. The editors carefully explained this to be the result of la grève de la Météo. The meteorologists are on strike! Actually, we’re still wondering where they get their info since it rarely matches with what occurs, nor does it agree across various reports. Meanwhile, the weather itself continues to happen. Things have cooled off considerably, down into the low 40s at night, only up to mid 60s when the sun shines, low 50s when it rains. We have it from good sources that there is rarely a freeze until after the first of the year, and that the coldest weather is in January and February. But then again, how good are these sources? (At least they’re not on strike)! We’ll have to see… 

What’s in a name?
De quoi un nom?

As you may or may not know, France has for hundreds of years had the tradition and the legal requirement of naming its children after saints – Pierre, Jean, Paul, Louis, etc. for the garçons, Anne, Catherine, Thérèse, Marie, etc. for the jeunes filles -- with all sorts of bureaucratic brouhaha over recognition of those sorts of names. Well, the latest data is in on most popular names in France for 1999, and the winners are…Thomas, Alexandre, and Nicolas for boys; Léa, Manon, and Camille for girls.  The 1998 favorites were Kevin and Elodie, now designated “les étoiles pâlies” (fading stars). The names Thomas and Léa were given to more than 9,000 newborns in 1999. Voilà!

Amazon.fr, the French version…
Amazon.fr, à la Française

Amazon.com has come to France as www.amazon.fr. It’s up in the air if that’s good or bad, since the jury’s still out on Amazon.com in the USA as far as many people are concerned. Meanwhile, a recent piece in the business section of Le Figaro, one of France’s major dailies, labeled Amazon.fr as the Coca-Cola of the internet (Maria, cousin, what do you make of that?). France already has a popular online bookstore, Fnac.com, sort of the Barnes & Noble of France, with more than 400,000 registered visitors to their site in September, but Amazon.fr, after being up and running only two months, has had more than 200,000 visitors. Will these visitors register, and will they buy? That’s the question. Meantime, we’ve created a link to amazon.fr’s home page if you want to see what’s doing in the French world of reading!  At last check, the Harry Potter books (in translation of course) were right up there at the top of their list.


Gobble, gobble, gobble!  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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