Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter break 2014: We begin in Pèzenas

Did Moliére sleep here? 
Probably not.
Les origines de Pézenas ne sont pas connues. (The origins of Pézenas are not known.) Whaaa??? I stare at this sentence on the map given to me by the gens sympas at the Office de Tourisme. How could this beautiful little village in southern France have such uncertain past? But reading further (and consulting my somewhat trustworthy petit dictionnaire), I discover I am standing in the ancient (until the 17th century) capital of the Languedoc region.

The Office de Tourisme was
once a jail, then, later, upscale
housing for aristocrats. 
Inside the walls of the ancient medieval city, we find the Jewish ghetto. In 1394, nearly a century before Columbus discovered America, Jews were expelled from France. Yet, a small community remained in Pézenas, living (apparently) peacefully alongside members of the Knights Templar, themselves no friends of the monarchy.

The actor/playwright Moliére stayed here in the 17th century, and the town clearly has embraced him as their own. Hotels and restaurants bear his name and the tourist office offers a Moliére 3-D film, which we don't actually see, but we hear it's great. ;-)

Ken admires les produits at Aux 4 Saisons.

Ken, exploring the medieval village of Pézenas,and 
thinking it's time we find our B&B and sit down.
Me, exploring the medieval village of Pézenas.
and thinking about what to eat for dinner..
Steep, windy stairs lead to our room on the top floor of 
La Dordine. I wish I hadn't packed my dumb bells for
my morning workout.

À la maison dans chez moi temporaire,

the charming B&B La Dordine.

Estiénon and Estiéneta ride atop Le Poulain, the totem animal of 
Pézenas. The hobby horse, carried by nine men and accompanied 
by a band, makes an appearance at Mardi Gras each year. This 
miniature version was made by the children of the owners 
of the B&B in which we stayed.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

And a 'vine' time was had by all!

I will not claim that it is a singularly foreign custom, but it certainly is one that would be considered "old-fashioned" back in the U.S.A. Last Sunday we spent the day at our friends' home, helping to repair their small vineyard. Chris and Julie are in the midst of a massive renovation project: converting a centuries-old barn into a home with two comfy gites attached. They have done much of the work themselves, but they knew they would need some mains supplémentaires to put up new posts and wire in the vineyard.
With fingers crossed that it wouldn't rain, they organized "operation vignes"  

We were prepared for pluie with our rubber Wellies and foul-weather gear, but the sun goddesses were smiling down and it turned out to be the best weather we had all week.

After gathering for café and a bit of English breakfast cake, the eight of us went to work on the nine rows of grape vines. We removed "C" hooks and all the old wire. The men were just starting to pound in new posts when we broke for lunch. 

Julie had prepared a yummy potage, which we ate with salade, fromages et pain. 

The afternoon's work was left in the men's hands. Trés bien! Time to watch a bit of the Olympics and then help Julie with diner, starring boeuf Bourguignonne and a dessert exquis (whose name escapes me) concocted of merenigue, marrons (chestnuts) et chocolat. Au revoir mon alimentation:  No counting calories today!

A work party may not seem to be a particularly perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday, but the incredible thing is, it was! Friendships were deepened, delicious food and drink were shared, and I think, in a year or two or three, there may be an inaugural bottle of Château de Chris et Julie to enjoy together with quelques amis très spéciaux!