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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 30 octobre 2000
Uzès, France

The wines of the Rhône valley…
Les vignobles de la vallée du Rhône…
The Rhône river has been an historically important waterway in the southern part of France for thousands of years, and it also figures prominently in the viticulture of France. Rhône valley wines - red, rosé and white - have been produced and celebrated since the time the Greeks lived here, and count today for a substantial portion of French wine production. We’re starting to tackle making sense of this sea of fabulous wines, many of which are available in the US. It’s complicated, but worth a little bit of study.
     These past weeks we visited several regions in the Côtes du Rhône appellation:  Tavel and Lirac, home of some of the most respected rosé wines; and Séguret, one of the Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, produced on the eastern side of the Rhône. Tavel and Lirac are right on top of one another, but consider themselves very distinct. On our way back from Séguret, we drove through the town and the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and can’t wait to get back there to do some major tasting!
     For a little more about why we shouldn’t automatically reject the very notion of “rosé”, as in your Aunt Effie’s favorite pink zinfandel or the Mateus we drank back in the 1970s, check out the Food & Wine pages.


Joe in Tavel.jpg (172280 bytes)


Tavel, le premier rosé de France

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Entrance to the garden

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The battlements of the Duchy

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A Medieval garden right in town…
Le Jardin médiéval au centre ville…
Right up the street from us and smack dab in the middle of Uzès is a tranquil spot filled with an assortment of plants, stone walls from various eras, and a few surprises as well. Three courtyards are filled with herbs, flowers, bushes and trees native to the region, planted the style of the Middle Ages. Look up, and you can see the Bishop’s Tower (built in the 12th century) and the battlements of the Duchy of Uzès.
     But even more interesting is a cluster of prison rooms, used from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution by Dukes, the King, the Consuls, the Canons, and the revolutionaries, to punish whoever was in conflict with their particular interests. One of the rooms has been preserved, with the graffiti of several prisoners who were held there during the early 1600s. These young men marked their days and wrote prayers to God proclaiming their innocence and their faith in spite of their mistreatment. What a moving scene that room is, with Gregorian chants playing in the background only adding to the atmosphere.
     Unfortunately, the Medieval Garden is only open from April through October, according to the attendant to laisser les plantes dormir (let the plants sleep). So we’ll have to wait through winter until we can visit again...meanwhile, here are more pictures of the garden.

 

Getting to Uzès may get easier…
Plus facile à visiter le sud de France

According to newspaper reports, Air France has shifted some of its Nîmes/Paris flights from Orly to Roissy/Charles de Gaulle in Paris, starting October 31. This is great news for international travelers to western Provence and Languedoc/Rousillon, who will now be able to book flights from the US through Paris to Nîmes, rather than Marseille. Nîmes is 20-30 minutes away from Avignon and Uzès, a very quick trip. Another option is via Montpellier, just over an hour from here by autoroute. The question is, will they have enough flight selection to make this work, and will they have adequate car rental service there? We’ll keep you posted.

 Uzès from French airports
Distances and Times

Airport                         Code    Distance            Time     

Marseille/Marignane     MRS       140 km (80 mi)        2 hours

Nîmes                                           FNI         24 km (15 mi)         1/2 hour

Montpellier                              MPL        80 km (50 mi)            1 hour  

Lyon                                               LYS         280 km (170 mi)      3 hours

Nice                                               NCE        300 km (175 mi)      3 hours

Paris(Roissy/DeGaulle)  CDG       700 km (440 mi)       7 hours
Two ways to do lunch…
Déjeuner à deux façons

Doing lunch in France is un bigdil (a big deal), and there are many ways to get a great meal. We’ve been hard at work in the past couple of weeks trying to get it right, and the truth is that for the most part, it’s always right…just different!
     In any fine dining establishment you will always be greeted, then asked if you have a reservation. Your reply of “non” brings on a dubious frown and internalized muttering, never mind that the place is nearly empty. Relenting, as an implied favor to you, the host will usually seat you anyway, at which point cordiality resumes.
     When possible, we try to avoid this dance, as we did on Wednesday at Le Petit Caveau in Nyons, about two hours drive from here. Nyons is justly famous for its olive oil and is in the middle of Côtes du Rhône country in the Drôme area of Provence. A restaurant gastronomique, Le Petit Caveau is run by a couple: he, the chef, cooks while she, a graduate of the wine school at nearby Suze-la-Rousse, hosts and advises on wine. Wonderful two hour lunch: snails in garlic cream sauce with ham and leeks; venison steak au poivre, rare; rolled loin of rabbit in a slightly sweet hazelnut sauce with polenta and purée of celeriac on the side; a mild local goat cheese; a pear confection in a pastry setting; and really wonderful rye and whole wheat bread. Madame arranged a tasting of wines to accompany the food: a white Crozes Hermitage with the escargots, a rich, deep-red Crozes Hermitage with the venison and rabbit, a disappointingly innocuous red Côtes de Ventoux with the cheese, and a surprising, port-like wine from Rasteaux with dessert, then coffee to conclude the meal. NyonsPont.jpg (135533 bytes) Seventy bucks for the lunch. And away we went to the olive oil mill, situated on the Eygues river, right next to a Roman bridge (see right) that's still in use. Olive oil at the mill was abundant and delicious…
     On another day, finding the restaurant we’d chosen closed, we gratefully settled in at a roadside spot along a highway in nearby Valliguières. These relais, sort of “diner at a truck stop” places, can be wonderful and generally offer a 69 franc plat du jour. We were a little late arriving, 1:15 PM, but no bother there. We were shown to a table with three chairs, the center one of which was already occupied by the house cat, luxuriously asleep in his favorite spot. We decided to join him for lunch. This day the plat was calamari à la provençal, which turned out to be tasty sautéed squid in an herbed tomato sauce over rice. But first, we helped ourselves at the salad bar to greens with a mustard vinaigrette dressing, shaved carrots in vinaigrette, a wonderful chicken liver pâté laced with cognac, stuffed hardboiled eggs, two types of hard sausages, and cold snails. After the calamari disappeared, a couple of chunks of local cheese and coffee ice cream took its place. Plenty of fresh bread, coffee, and back on the road in a mere hour and a quarter. Oh, yes:  twenty-two bucks for two.
     Which of the two lunches was the better?  No better choice than having both options endlessly available to us!
Back to school…
La rentrée à l’ecole

Joe has been experiencing emotional trauma and the fun of learning. He’s gone back to school, armed with his stylo (ballpoint pen) and his cahier d’écolier (schoolchild’s copybook), ruled like graph paper, French style. At the moment he has four classes a week: one at the Université Populaire here in town, a sort of  adult learning affair, where his classmates are a Swedish au pair and a German sculptor; one private session with Viviane Aubert, the teacher of that class; and two private sessions with Anne-Marie Lequeux at her school, “French for foreigners.” At this stage his grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary are rapidly developing to the level appropriate to a two-year-old, though probably not a very precocious two-year-old. Ah, the joys of conjugating irregular verbs and the French method of stating the negative! Visions of fluent repartée with the degenerate horse players down at the PMU, the off-track betting parlor, seem to fuel Joe’s desire to learn. His teachers are appalled at the mere notion of setting foot in the joint, the PMU, and have no idea what to make of Joe’s stated learning objective. Meanwhile, his glorious pronunciation continues to baffle French waiters and waitresses alike. They can’t figure out why someone would want to order a glass or bottle of “wind” (vent) when he should more likely be ordering “wine”(vin). For info on classes in Uzès, click here...

Short takes...

Faits divers...
 

Halloween - This is only the fourth year that the French have celebrated Halloween and they complain about the gross commercialization à l'américaine, while taking full advantage of a reason to sell goods and have a fête. Although store displays are focused on ghosts, goblins and witches, the bigger tradition centers around November 1st, Toussaints (All Saints' Day), with all major establishments, schools, and government offices closed at least for that day if not for the week. Chrysanthemums and a visit to the cemetery are an important part of the All Saints Day celebration.

Weather Update – No complaints about the weather this round, though we’re still struggling with finding and then understanding the weather reports. We’re starting to just let it happen rather than fret about what kind of day it might be, sort of like in the old days! Anyway, we have had a beautiful run of autumn weather, just perfect with 60s and 70s, sun mixed with a few clouds. The vineyards and trees are changing colors, subdued yellows and reds, and the atmosphere is very soft, with the dimmer light of winter fast asserting itself.

Music – Charles Aznavour, a legend in this country as both a singer and an actor, is hitting the stage in Paris, celebrating his latest CD, Aznavour 2000. Aznavour, at 76, still sounds like, well, Aznavour, with that oh so characteristic French voice. Seeing the news reports made us think of Sinatra and his later tours. And they showed a clip of Charles Trenet, another of France’s most beloved singers from an even earlier era, who was in the audience to enjoy the show. Trenet’s got to be in his late 80s, and still going strong! C’est génial

Food – We haven’t ventured too far astray in the kitchen so far, although we're itching to cook a rabbit. (Jill, we’ll get that out of our system before you get here!) But dining out has opened our eyes to a new set of meat choices:  venison (choice of doe or buck); lamb (cutlet, chop, or as a charlotte with eggplant); duck (tender breast (magret), or wood-fire roasted leg and thigh); fish (umpteen varieties of fish, each with a different name); escargots (fresh water or sea snails), and of course the various organs and odd body parts (rognons, ris de veau, langues, cheeks, hooves, and such). And you can always get divine roasted chicken when you’re in the mood for something simple and delicious!

Le coiffure – Joe got a haircut, but in his beginner’s French, managed to turn “Not too short, please” into “Quite short, please.” Looks pretty good to Karen, but he’s mourning his shorn locks, feeling a bit like Samson (does that make her Delilah?) Her turn next, and she’s worried!


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A bientôt!

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