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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 17 octobre 2000
Uzès, France


What?!  No weather channel?
Pas de station météo? Sacré bleu!

Reports are coming in of a superb leaf season in the Northeast, some say one of the best ever in New England, with additional news of a few visits from Jack Frost already. Sorry to miss it this year but...
     Here, in the legendary south of France, the weather has been…well... miserable! Actually we had a week of gorgeous sun and low 70s, but with a nasty mistral (wind) for several of those days. Since then, for the past week, we’ve seen nothing but gloomy clouds and periods of intense rain. Fortunately we're not getting the disastrous floods that they're having in the alpine areas of France, Italy, Switzerland, and in Great Britain.
     Sunrise (whether we can see it or not) is around 8AM…and sets around 7PM. No sign of frost or freeze, mostly in the 50s at night, low 60s during the day, and we’re trying to find out the expected first frost date here. Turns out we're a bit further north here (nearly 44 degrees latitude) than in Peterborough, NH. In fact we're further north than Toronto!
     We're surfing the channels madly on a continual hunt for le météo, the weather report. Haven't seen a weather radar in weeks, much less figured out how to understand what the very charming weatherwomen are saying. But we get a kick out of their outfits! We do now know orageux (stormy) and vent violent (heavy wind).
     Meantime, if you want to see what the weather's doing here, there's a box at the bottom of the home page that can fill you in, with a link for more details. Check it out!

Coming soon...chestnuts roasting on an open fire
A venir...châtaignes rôties en brasier...
Chestnuts.jpg (143058 bytes)
Chestnuts for 20FF per kilo (~$1.50 per pound)
Fall is a special time here, especially with the vendage (wine harvest) just completed, but there are all sorts of other specialties being harvested and celebrated. Figs, pears, and apples are ripe, delicious, as are leeks and sweet onions. They can be found in markets and on menus everywhere. And it's also the beginning of the best mushrooming season, as well as la grande chasse (hunting), the passion of many provençals. 
     For many villages in the area, this coming weekend marks the Fête de Châtaignes. Chestnuts rule right now, in markets, on the ground where you walk, cooked over an open fire, on menus as desserts and stuffing in special dishes, and more. In fact, this coming week there is a regional cooking contest judging perfection in recipes for chestnuts (the wild nuts are called châtaignes, the cultivated ones are marrons, with apparently little difference in taste). Eleven prominent chefs from the Languedoc-Rousillon region (where we live) will each present two original creations using chestnuts: they have to prepare an entrée (an appetizer in the US) and plat principal (an entree in the US), or a plat  and dessert. Two winning recipes (one based on Innovativeness and one on Tradition) will be chosen by a jury and their creators get to go to Rome in November to continue the chestnut competition there. We'll see what wonderful things they come up with, as the results with recipes will be published next week in the Midi-Libre, one of the area daily newspapers. If something looks good, we'll put it on the Food & Wine page.

 

 

MarcheOil.jpg (187355 bytes)
Shoppers looking over the olive oil and herbs at the Uzès market

To market, to market to buy a fat leek...
Au marché  pour acheter un gros poireau...

The Saturday market in Uzès is a free-for-all and loads of fun. Hundreds of vendors set up in the Place aux Herbes in the center of town, and spill out into the outside streets and plazas. They sell it all, from fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and wine, to clothing, linens, pots and pans, and more. There is a limited market on Wednesday as well that’s less crazy, but Saturday is the day to get out in Uzès. People come from miles around to get their goods and to nose around for bargains. Great people watching and stall shopping! For a Saturday market photo gallery, click here...
Joe@Mkt.jpg (192995 bytes)
Joe avec son panier du marché remplit des poireaux

 

Paella by the pound...
Paella en kilos...

A Sunday lunch in the country is a great way to explore and enjoy, so we spent our first official Sunday in the little town of St-Siffret, just 5 km from Uzès.  On the recommendation of Earl, our landlord, we went to a farmhouse just outside that village where they serve paella on Sunday afternoons. And what a feast it was! All you can eat, but I challenge anyone (except Taylor) to eat more than one serving. Along with salad, wine, a cheese course, dessert and coffee, we spent less than $15 each on a three-hour lunch that was satisfying and delicious. The patron, a sheep raiser originally from the south coast of Spain, prepares the paella outdoors on a wood-fired grill, using his mother’s recipe. According to him, the Spanish version includes only fish, shellfish, and chicken…no sausage. Other than that, I don’t think he wants to share the family recipe.
Bells are ringing...
Le clocher sonne...

 
Here in town, church bells sound on the hour, from 7AM to midnight, with a single chime on the half hour. What a soothing way to mark time during the day!  The bells ring twice, slightly out of synch by about a minute, so that if you miss the first one, you hear the second (or you get to hear them twice). Interestingly, at 12:30, 1PM, and 1:30, the chime is the same, (single on the half hours, single for 1 o’clock)…good thing everyone is at lunch then so it doesn’t matter if you get confused about what time it is!

Wine by the cubie...
Du vin en cubie...

We’ve found a local wine cooperative in the nearby town of Bordic that sells direct to the public. Our goal has been to find a place to buy wine in quantity rather than just by the bottle, and this is one place we can. The ’99 vendage can be bought directly from large vats. Choices of red were an 11% alcohol mix of grapes, a 12% cabernet, and a 13% merlot. We had a taste of each, decided on the cabernet, bought a 5-liter “cubie” (a plastic can) and a robinet (spigot), had them fill it from the large vat, and off we went!  We can now return to this vineyard or any other with our 5-liter cubie and just say “fill’er up!” (Remplissez-le!)  At around a $1 a liter (a bottle is .75 liters), it’s a definite bargain for everyday wine.

 


Take me out to a ballgame...
Amène-moi au jeu de baseball...

Any baseball is better than no baseball, and in France you take what you find. On Sunday, October 15, we found the French championship for 15-year-olds at Le Vigan, up in the Cevennes about an hour and a half from Uzès. The Barracudas from Montpellier won a close and exciting 8-7 victory over the arrogant "Pukes" from Paris, the PUC or Paris University Club.
 Baseball1.jpg (169126 bytes)
     The field at Le Vigan features one of the few actual monticules de lanceur (pitcher's mounds) in France. Normally they just pitch off flat ground, lighting up the hitters' eyes while terrorizing the thus afflicted lanceur, the pitcher. Quality of play was, well, ragged. But spirited.
     A young man from Toronto, name of Osborne, heads up the coaching for the Montpellier Baseball Club, a group of adult players. This past year he also coached the French national team, who were eliminated in an Olympic qualifying round by the powerful Dutch and Italian teams. We'll go down to Montpellier in February when play resumes to see his team. Apparently their ballpark has an Astroturf infield.
     As for the boys, Montpellier celebrated the final out with a classic thrashing human dogpile near the monticule. Afterwards trophies were presented. Each player also received the gift of an onion. It's a local specialty. Well, as we were saying, any baseball is better than no baseball.


More news soon. We're hoping to have updates at least once every few weeks, if not more often. Let us know what you think and what you want to know!
A bientôt!

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