Song of summer

Garden Toad
A toad the size of my hand surprised me one morning when I was watering my garden.

 

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.

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New discoveries: wine

Barrel Stain
Wine barrels in the cave of the Pierre Fil winery in the South of France.

 

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.

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Coronapéro: partying during quarantine

Apéro
A group of my friends got together via Zoom for a virtual cocktail party, to see each others’ faces and hear our voices, to share our stories, and to spend a few minutes feeling a little less isolated.

 

Last night several friends and I used Zoom to gather for apéritifs—called apéro here in France. We’ve only been on lockdown for less than a week, and we already feel isolated, especially those of us who live alone. The Zoom party turned out to be a fine way to connect with our friends, hear each others’ stories, ask questions, and drink a toast to each other. < Clink! >

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The beach in winter

Dune 1
This miniature sand dune reminds me of a zebra. This is about three feet long, or just under one meter.

A day at the beach
Off we went on a gorgeous blue-sky Sunday, headed toward the coastal étangs southwest of Gruissan. An étang is a small lake or pond, quite often man-made for purposes such as agriculture, salt harvesting, or even medieval civic water projects. On this day, we parked just beyond the local saltworks (a salin), which has probably been in use since Roman times.

We walked along the narrow paths defining the rectangular ponds, eyeing pink flamingos in the distance. Eventually, we came to a wide expanse of wild beach. The day was cool, and we were happy to have the warm sun, also feeling lucky to not have the normal high winds.

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Fall foraging in the forest

Day's Harvest
One hour’s harvest of red pine mushrooms, also called saffron milk cap.

 

One hour’s harvest of red pine mushrooms, also called saffron milk cap.

Mushrooms and Chestnuts, or Champignons et Châtaignes
Last week we donned our “wet forest” walking clothes and drove up into the hills behind town, in search of the edibles our forests could offer that day. It had rained two days before, and rain brings thoughts of the mushrooms that will appear shortly afterward.

Our first parking spot was in an area of scrub oak and some tall pine trees. It was the pines that captured our attention, because they mark the place to search for the vivid orange Lactaire Délicieux, also known as red pine mushroom or saffron milk cap.

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You say hello, I say…

Striped Garlic Stripes
Lovely purple striped garlic, a regional specialty, home from the market and gracing my kitchen table.

It’s all in how you say hello
Or to be more precise, it’s all about the humanity in taking a moment to properly greet one another. A year ago, I wrote two posts about saying hello and saying goodbye, although those were really stories about interacting with people who crossed my path. In this post, I’m going to address the language itself.

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