Sunday, 3 August 2014

Repas du Village 2014 - changes

The annual village eve of Bastille Day meal saw changes this year. First of all it was moved to the 12th July from the 13th to avoid conflict with the World Cup football final. It also moved back to the Place du Peyrou after 2 years on the Pétanque pitch. A live group was replaced by a disc jockey, not a bad move considering half decent musicians will have been in big demand. As compensation there was a a live spectacle of dancing can-can style to get everyone into the mood.

Another change was the return after many years of the BBQ by the church wall. Having cooked some excellent sausages the shot below captures lamb chops for 750.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Fête de la Musique

In France, the Fête de la Musique has been going since 1982 when it was initiated by the culture ministry. The idea is for musicians across the spectrum perform for free on the longest day of they year (and well into the following day). Most towns and villages erect a stage and provide a buvette for 7+ hours of live concerts.

The village has never seriously participated beyond the independent efforts of the Café de la poste. This year saw the first Mairie organised event, at least this century. A new Mayor was elected this spring so plaudits and complaints go to the Mairie. Given the big turnout the evening was a resounding success. No doubt a balmy evening and the 21st June being a Saturday this year helped.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Café de la Poste

The Café de la Poste takes it's name from the former post office next door, the stonework engravings are well preserved. Founded in 1903 it has outlived three other village cafés during that time.

Spring 2013 saw the arrival of a new owner Alain. Before then it was more functional as a café and bar with a somewhat basic restaurant. Arguably somewhere to go out of necessity than pleasure, rustic would have been a polite description of the wine for example. One year on and while little has changed physically beyond some improved lighting and a splash of paint, the atmosphere and events have been transformed.

Wednesday night is (loosely) Jazz and Blues with an open stage to all comers. Thursday is Karaoke. Most Saturday nights feature a band. The scene below is from an Easter dinner with music and wines to partner the meal including village producer Villa Symposia (wines also available in the bar).

Facebook users can keep up to date at Café de la poste.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Deluge then Drought

The Garelle frequently all but dries up in summer and in the many dry winters of recent years has been barely a trickle. So far 2014 has been worryingly dry and as the photos above show so is the Garelle. Even the pools and damp moss patches have gone. The UK has witnessed the wettest winter on record in places.

By contrast March 2013 was the wettest here since perhaps 1946; it was in Montpellier with 215 mm and north of Montpellier around the Pic St Loup 2013 had the wettest March on record. These pictures from the same spots were taken after these rains.

2013 also saw late spring rains. As well as losing all the almond crop in March several varieties of apricots were lost in April and May to flowering inhibiting deluges. At the time of typing there is little rain in the forecast.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The new Tabac

Tabacs in France are institutions and survive reasonably well thanks to the law where prices are fixed and licences to sell tobacco products are based on local population figures. Supermarkets can't sell tobacco although a Tabac is often attached. They also diversify somewhat; the Aspiran Tabac sells newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets, scratch cards, confectionery, greetings cards, postcards, drinks, wine, gifts, various domestic replacements and even flowers. Since the closure of the village "La Poste" the Tabac has provided postal services boosted by significantly longer opening hours. Even photocopying services are offered.

A new couple have taken over and injected some energy into the operation. They converted their ground floor cave next door into a swish cosy new Tabac that opened in the autumn 2013. The previous Tabac (on the right in the photo) was rented so the relocation has saved ongoing costs.

Chrysanthemums for sale. Most will have been placed in the cemetery for Toussaint (1st November).

A handsome selection of local wines are stocked, including selections from four of the communes' independent domains.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Notre Dame de la Paix

Our lady of the peace sits among the pine trees atop the southern most hill of Les Pins.

Despite the whole structure being 9.5m high she's hard to spot from the village, although in the right light there's a good view from the entrance to the Tabac.

Constructed in 1904 the statue weighs 1,750 kilograms. Cast in the foundry at Tusey of Vaucouleurs in Meuse (Lorraine) it arrived by train at Aspiran station.

On the night of 25/26 August 1944 the lady was credited with miraculously protecting the village from hoards of vandals.

In 2011 the statue was given a complete makeover, my photo from 2004 is included as a comparison.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

10 Observaions on figs

Of all the sauvage foods available figs, at least for those who like them, reign supreme.

2013 has been an unusual year by the standards of the last decade. Record rains in March mean the water table has been restored to levels not seen for years. A cold spring has resulted in everything running some 2 weeks late, including the vendanges, although touch wood the grapes are healthy so far. Something invariably fails each season, but this year there are extra casualties. Commercial and wild almonds are non-existent due to a false spring back in February. Most varieties of apricots failed to set because of rain and cold. There are few wild quinces on the way. Pomegranates struggle to ripen during the best years and seem to have no chance now.

On a more positive note the improved water table along with a few summer downpours have created a bumper year for blackberries - plentiful and not the usual pip-bullets. Earlier in the summer local cherries has a bonanza. Now figs are also doing well with some particularly water stressed trees making a comeback.

Here are 10 factoids and observations on local figs.
  1. Many varieties have two seasons. The first, typically towards the end of June, sees what are called figue fleurs sprout from last year's new growth. After a pause that can be several weeks these are followed by the main crop. Figue fleurs make for particularly fragrant and succulent eating.
  2. The commune has perhaps 30 wild fig trees that are both accessible (i.e. next to a lane) and reliable croppers. About half of these have two seasons.
  3. Some trees never seem to produce figs. Others only produce inedible dry fibrous specimens (caprifigs).
  4. All figs start off small and pastel green. As they ripen they end up various shades of purple, reds, grey and green through to yellow. The French classify them as figues vertes (ou blanches), figues grises (ou rouges) et figues noires (ou violettes) basically green/white, grey/red and black/violet.
  5. Some figs ripen and eventually drop, others rot on the tree while a few, typically the purple varieties, dry in situ given the right weather.
  6. A tree is capable of ripening a fig in a few days so returning a couple a days later in search of more ripe specimens is worthwhile.
  7. Most trees seem to take a sabbatical occasionally and produce next to nothing; often the year following a bumper crop.
  8. Identifying varieties by inspection and leaf patterns is tricky and near impossible for purple and green varieties.Obvious varieties include Madeleine des Deux Saisons and Grise de Saint-Jean (9 pm and 11 pm respectively in the picture).
  9. Green varieties have one season and are the last to get going. They continue well after other varieties are exhausted and large trees with favourable weather can continue to ripen their crop into the second half of October.
  10. I find the purple varieties have the most complex flavour. Grise de Saint-Jean are the sweetest. Slightly under ripe green varieties make the best confiture.