Thursday, June 20, 2013

vines and such

Every morning, as we walk down to the village, we pass the robust little vineyard to the side of the road. It's well tended this year. The weeds are under control.

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Today we encounter someone working the rows. He's protecting the vines (with an application of sulfur and copper) against powdery mildew and other fungi -- a real problem in warm moist environments. If ever there was a year to worry about excessive moisture in France! Vouvrey vineyards destroyed last week by hail. Insufficient sun in the Loire valley, floods elsewhere, constant rain. Here, in the south, the rains haven't been excessive, but the moisture level remains high.

I ask the vine caretaker what caused the damage to some of the vines toward the front: entire branches have been torn off and I cannot imagine what wild beast could have attacked his crop so viciously.
Leh-vahnn -- he tells me. He points to the mountains, to Spain -- leh-vahnn.
I'm spinning this in my head for a minute. What animal is that?? Wait, wait, I'm in the south: let's make an adjustment for the nasal accent here: oh, of course -- le vent -- the wind!
Yes, yes, leh-vahnn, it blows viciously and snaps the fragile young branches. 

Right now, we can just see the emergent grapes. Last year, they were well formed by now.


When we return from our morning at the cafe, he is still there, working.

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So I have more questions. Like -- what is the low electrical fence for? What wild animal would be deterred by it?
Sanglier! He says, with conviction. From the mountains -- le sanglier! I confirm this on my computer at home. Wild boar! Yes, I know about wild boar!

Our morning pause at the cafe is now one of the last ones and I have to say, it feels different already. There are more people stopping by today. The vacation months are slowly descending on the south of France and it's already causing a stir. The sleepiness of the square is morphing into something more lively, maybe even exciting.


Me, I take in the usual: those who pause and have a conversation with their neighbor. The little French and Catalan flags, the linden tree.


Of all things in Sorede, this is what I remember most when I'm not here -- the morning gaze out at the world from a table at the cafe bar, at our breads first, then, with some curiosity, toward other patrons, toward the square.

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Eventually we leave, this time passing the local school. A group of kids is returning from an excursion. I see they came equipped with an essential snack!

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It's another not great swimming weather day. And maybe that's good. Maybe we have done our bit by the sea. Maybe this year our eyes are meant to trace the contours of the mountains, different each day as the clouds come and go.

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As we follow the road back to our Sorede home, we pass, as always, the figure of Christ. It was spiffed up just four years ago -- an interesting act of respect. This older woman crosses herself every time she passes by it. But you wont find any younger person doing the same. In fact, church attendance in France is at an all time low (and I should note it's even lower in a handful of other European countries): fewer than 10% report attending services and at least 60% report never going to church, for any reason. (In the US -- 25% report never going to church and, at least according to some fairly typical recent polls, between 40 and 60% report attending services anywhere from once weekly to several times a year. In Poland, church attendance is even higher -- topping 60%.)

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Still, you could hardly say that old rituals and traditions have gone by the wayside in France, leaving these villages without spirit and without celebration. We'll be leaving, for example, just before the annual June 23 Saint John's hoopla -- announced in every store window in town (Sant Joan in Catalan). Here it is, in the window of the Ciboulette.


We'd witnessed the festivities in years past -- lighted torches carried from the sanctuary at the top of a mountain, young, old, dancing the traditional Sardana -- these celebrations draw nearly every resident in the village. Year after year, the same set of rituals, repeated in much the same way.

Funny how that works.

Lunch. I'm really trying to clean out the fridge now. Such a finality in that act! This is it -- the last carrot, the last few olives! Slabs of cheese!


Late afternoon. The skies continue to be uncertain (this is the worst that it gets in the region of nearly perpetual sunshine -- we are having an unusually high dose of uncertainty).

I suggest that we go to the next village just west of us -- Laroque-des-Alberes -- and hike from it using only the iPhone's GPS. We had failed with it on the mountain last week -- let's learn it already so that when we hike with it next week (not in France), we'll have it as a backup device, to help us when we get (inevitably) lost.

So we do just that: we go to Laroque, park the car, right by the bakery and therefore we actually start with buing sweet treats for the next two days: macarons and biscuits.

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And then we set out.
Where to? Ed asks.
I look up at the hills and peeks. Get us to that village there, the one perched halfway up that mountain!
And he does just that! And it is a beautiful walk.

Through the tight streets and alleys of Larocque (and forgive me here because it really is a pretty little village, but I do love Sorede best, so I can't swoon as much).

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On a detour toward the old mill...

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Then, leaving the village, past garden plots with terrific beds of veggies, fruits, flowers.

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And up the hills some more, passing the Almond House (where they harvest almonds and produce fantastic almond oils -- for the stomach, for the skin).

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We keep walking: up and west. It's quiet here, in these forested hills. So quiet that, as we walk along, I almost miss spotting him -- the stealthy fox.

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We stare at him, he stares at us -- all in frozen silence -- and then he darts, quickly, quietly. Gone.

Ed and I climb higher -- for the views and because we know that this is the last good Pyrenee hike we'll have for a long while.

(my love for the great Roussillon plane knows no bounds. Especially, but not only, at dusk...)

And then we climb down again.


Back in Laroque, we pause at a cafe. Ed's thinking beer, I'm thinking a glass of wine and both go so well with the local oysters -- harvested just north of La Franqui beach. 

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But that's just a snack. Our real supper is at the square again -- pizza at the cafe bar. A vegetarian one, with fresh artichoke hearts.

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...So that I can wistfully think about the day we'll be back, maybe cooking up artichokes then and climbing bigger mountains and spending more time in the sea... Maybe then, maybe, maybe... sigh...