Where there is rocky soil, there will be stone walls. I don’t know why, but I love these things that are built of stones. I have enough photographs for at least two stories, and this first one is to introduce you to some of the walls and other structures near where I live. Nearly every day, I pass one or another of these sites as I walk around the hills.
Before there were machines, anyone who wanted to farm the soil had to first do the hard work of removing the larger rocks. By hand.
You can picture it: there is a plot of land that someone would like to plant with food crops. The land is rocky, which makes farm work difficult, so the first chore is to remove all those rocks. The whole family spends as much time as it takes—days, weeks, months, a lifetime—to move the rocks away from the field. As time passes, there are growing piles of stones at the edges of the field.
I spent the Covid lockdown of late winter and spring 2020 in the rural South of France, in a region that had few cases and very few deaths. Ours was one of the first regions to be declared “green,” which meant that we got to ease out of the restrictions a little more quickly than other parts of France that were labelled orange or red.
As the confinement came to a close in mid-May, my friend Olivier suggested that this summer might be a good time to visit Paris. In my mind, Paris is always a good idea (thank you, Audrey Hepburn!), but I really waffled about whether to make this trip. Traveling from a region with low numbers for the disease into a red-zone city that saw a high number of cases and deaths was enough of a risk to give me pause. Eventually I decided to go, mainly to see what Paris would look like without the crowds. Today’s post is a little journal of my visit to the City of Light.
Heard from my terrace
You know that old story about how city people can’t fall asleep in the countryside because it’s too quiet? Well, that doesn’t hold water here in the South of France. It is not quiet; all manner of things are making noise. I’m here today to talk about two of the noisemakers: cicadas and frogs.
The cicadas awaken when the sun pops over the hills and begins to warm the earth. All day long, every day through the summer, the cicadas sing their amazing song. That music can get quite loud, up to 120 decibels, enough to damage human ears at close range. The cicada—cigale in French—is among the longest-lived insects, and it is recognized as a symbol of longevity and metamorphosis.
Checking out the bottling truck
A friend and I recently visited a local vineyard that we quite like, and while there, we learned that the bottling truck would arrive a few days later. I’ve been intrigued by these trucks since I first landed in the South of France, and had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph one in action.
Annabelle, our host, was very welcoming of the idea, giving me a big smile and opening her arms to say that I would be welcome to watch, learn and take a few photographs.
Gasp! You mean the wines aren’t tenderly bottled by hand at each winery?
Some wineries still do their own bottling, but it’s an expensive, time-consuming and error-prone process. Here’s a list of the necessary steps: clean and dry the bottles, fill with wine, cork and cap, add labels, place bottles in cartons. Each step requires its own machine and/or operator. The equipment is precise, it needs to be maintained, and it can break down during bottling. There is also the complication that different wine varietals require different bottles, along with their own unique labels. If someone inexperienced is operating the machine for corking the wine or for placing the labels, things can go wrong, which means that while the wine inside might be perfectly fine, the bottle doesn’t look good enough to sell, so it’s set aside, and if that happens too often, there’s a problem with profits. Of course, the entire process must be done under strict hygiene restrictions. It all adds up to a nightmare of organization that many vintners are happy to hand off to the experts.
Juneteenth is a date that should be in every American child’s history book, but it certainly was not in mine. Here’s a brief statement from the History web site:
Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
That was a start, and maybe, over 150 years later, we’ll finally start seeing more needed change.