Les Vendanges – La Rentree

Lilas in the vines
Checking the grapes, the night before school goes back
lilas with a bunch
a bunch ready for the picking

It only seems like yesterday that Lilas broke up from school and started the Summer holidays at the beginning of July.

And then before I knew it, we’d been on the Naked tour, my family had come and gone, the Olympics and Paralympics ended with a bang, the Fetes de Villages had packed up for the year, our Summer friends had all been and gone…

Summer 2012
Summer 2012

…and suddenly the grapes got ripe for the picking! (‘Les Vendanges’):

‘Vendanges en Languedoc’ (AS DE COEUR)

– and the new school year (‘La Rentree’) 2012-2013 started.

la classe
la classe

Come September, a different kind of ambience sets in around here.  The tourists (or most of them!) have left en masse, the weather softens and jumpers come out for nights on the terrace, the markets no longer have ‘bouchons’ (traffic jams):

Carcassonne market
Carcassonne market, August

…the local pools have shut their gates:

our pool
our pool
(thanks Vincent)

– and tanned bodies (just not ours) post ‘les vacances’:

Lola and Lilas

…get ready for some WORK!

following a tractor during the harvest
You often get stuck behind these people during the harvest!  Time to slow down and have some respect…
Les Vendanges a La Liviniere
‘Les Vendanges’ in La Liviniere

Les Vendanges is one of the most important events on our local calendar (most people in our village own or have some family connection/ investment in grape vines) – and each year, come September, there is the most wonderful buzz in the air.  The village hums with expectation and excitement over the ‘recolte’ (harvest) – it’s time to pick the ‘fruits’ of a long year’s labour.

Lilas and a bunch
check it out

And harvest always coincides with the kiddies going back to school after two months’ of holidays.  I still can’t quite get my head around this school ‘year’ here.  In Australia our school ‘year’ begins around the beginning of the calendar year, in February – after Xmas and at the end of Summer.  Here, each school year ends in what I would call the middle of the year, July, and then recommences in September.  And because of this schoolbooks, labels etc name the school ‘year’ as ‘2000-2001’ etc.  This year for example, is ‘2012-2013’.  I know I’m rambling.  Maybe it’s because I’m from ‘down there’ that I’m confused.

picking an apple for school
Picking an apple for tomorrow’s ‘gouter’ (afternoon snack) on the first day back at school

Anyway, back to the grapes.  The reds are just getting under way, but Benji has been picking for a couple weeks’ now as the whites here ripened earlier.  As for how this year’s harvest will be?  It’s looking good so far – relief!  The weather has been almost perfect for the grapes these last few weeks – a lot of sun and no rain – and so it all needs to come in NOW!

It will be the biggest week yet – 4am starts, working through until 6pm, 7/7.   Another couple of weeks of this, then it’s finished for the pickers and machine harvesters in the vines, but full-steam ahead in the wine cellar – managing the tanks and their juice.  Benji will maintain this crazy routine for a few more weeks yet – until the end of October.  And then it will be time to think about HIS holiday!…

a Naked tour

extraordinary-naked-people-metamorphoses25 from Haokuhu (from '4Shared')

Time for your attention and a little update on something Benji and I enjoyed this Summer! (but sorry, you won’t find us in the fleshy mix above).

We hit the road and joined the Naked Wines Tasting Tour of the UK!

There were many special moments, but here’s a glimpse of the wonderful people we met and re-met and chinked glasses with, from all corners of the winemaking world, as we travelled the countryside in a tour bus driven by the lovely Bob, in late June, to show our wares.

the bus in Cardiff
our bus parked out the front of Cardiff City Hall
in the bus!
on the road
the Naked Tour
a bit of spilt red…

Norwich, Cambridge, London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham – nearly each stop on the 2012 tour (Benji and I could only make half of it) was sold-out and each tasting event held in a beautiful venue of each town.  It’s an impressive sight seeing the doors open to hundreds of wine enthusiasts ready, with ther glasses poised, to try over 140 wines.

glasses to go
glasses to go
tasting in Manchester
tasting in Manchester

tasting Manchester

France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Germany, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, the U.S. and bien sur, Australia! – these are the countries that the winemakers selling their wines with Naked Wines hail from and what a great bunch of people they are!

It was brilliant to finally meet people behind the names I’d seen and admired from the Naked website – and get to try their wines.  We got to chat on the bus, over the breakfast table, behind a tasting table, over a take-away pizza, watching the Australian cricket warming-up in the nets at Lord’s, on a walk trying to find the nearest public loo, disco dancing on a dancefloor until the early hours…  You know, quality times like that. It’s not often I get out of my hamlet and hang with people from around the world in such a short time.  We had so much fun.

And then of course, there were the tasters!  A thriving mass of curious, enthusiastic, incredibly friendly people who came out to our tastings and worked their way through the hundreds of bottles.  Benji and I loved the atmosphere of each tasting and picked up good feedback, first-hand, on his wines.  It was hard not to soak up the fun – obligatory tasting required for quality checks ; )   And then there were all those wines from everyone else that we hadn’t even tried yet….

All in all a wonderful tour.  I kinda like being the Vigneron’s helper.

Ryan does London
Ryan does London
Naked people
what a lovely bunch
the dudes outside at Lord's
out the back at Lord’s
uk tour 2102
a UK tour
some of the wines on show
just some of the wines on show…

And after every good wine tasting, there comes a delicious all five food groups breakfast…

next morning's helpers
…next morning’s helpers: pain killers in a vending machine and a full English breakfast – the lady serving our breakfast in Southampton spied my Vegemite and plonked a whopping jar of Marmite on the table – she insisted I eat ‘their’ stuff while in their country

And they all (well, apart from the couple we saw having a tiff under the tree in Cardiff) went home happy.

going home
heading home

at last… my folks came to town!

the aussies came to town
a visit …all the way from home

They came, they saw, we drank – woohooey!

It was meant to have been a BIG surprise, but in the end we knew.  But that didn’t change ANYTHING in the way of how excited I was to have my parents – for the first time in 12 years!!- come and visit us.

My lovely brother had tried as hard as he could to keep it a surprise until the very last but, with all sorts of things popping up on his end and ours,  had to tell us that he was heading our way with two of his kids and da da da daaaa…  Ma and Pop in tow!

Since we moved here 14 years ago I’ve been enormously lucky to have had so many friends and family stay – and each time is so special as you get to enjoy each person on their own and usually over an extended time (hey, this is no quick side trip on the itinerary – if you’re going to travel from one side of the world to the other you’d better make it a decent trip!).  I adore going back to see everyone in Oz, but it can get hectic trying desparately to catch up with everyone at once.  This way, when people come to stay on our turf, I can relish every minute of their company and not have to juggle with a social diary.

So this was Jan and Pete’s – and Mark, Ruby and James’s turn to finally drop their bags and hang out (in the home that my parents hadn’t seen until now!)

I took them to all the places they’d rememebered vividly from twelve years ago,  dined in a few lovely bistrots, cooked my favourite meals for them, introduced them to our mates and even snuck in a few drinking sessions, bien sur,  with Benji’s wines (yes I’ll make it clear you don’t drink the stuff Mum).

I can’t tell you how good it was to have everyone here at last.   I’m still smiling.  Thanks big bro Mark for making it happen!

ps – a word of warning!  there’s a few pics down below, sorry – but hell, this trip was twelve years in the making!

waking up on the first morning
the view on the first morning
lilas' classroom
showing Ma and Pop the classroom
La Cite - aka Kevin
La Cite in Carcassonne – or ‘Kevin’ as we like to call it.
The original hill site dates back to the 6th Century BC, with the Romans fortifying the hilltop in 100 BC. The Visigoths claimed the land from the 5th and 6th centuries. It was held by various different leaders from the 11th century onwards and underwent a complete renovation in the 19th century.
the dunny
an elegant entry to the dunny
inside Kevin
inside Kevin
outside the Cite walls
outside Kevin
buying turkish delight
buying ‘Loukoum’ (Turkish Delight) at the Olonzac market
Acca Dacca rules
the Aussies at the Olonzac market – with a bit of Aussie culture thrown in
lunch at L’Estagnol in Narbonne
in the cloitre in Narbonne
after lunch stroll in ‘le cloitre’ (the cloister) of the Cathedral of ‘Saint Just et Saint Pasteur’ of Narbonne – built during the 14th and 15th centuries
view from le cloitre
view from le cloitre (cloister)
2CV in Narbonne
a happier Citroen 2CV in Narbonne
dad and junior at the stove
Dad and ‘Junior’ at the stove making the family favourite, Osso Buco (YES Phillip, one more time!!)
mark, lilas and pop
Mark, Lilas and Pop (keep working Mark)
AOP St Chinian
Benji’s juice, Nicki’s artwork…
working hard
working hard on the terrace with Who and the Australian Woman’s Weekly, direct off the plane from Oz
going where?
off to Minerve
Minerve – this fortified village is perched above the Brian and the Cesse rivers and earliest writings on it date back to the 9th century. It is famous for being a Cathar stronghold until the early 13th century.
Chateau Minerve
Chateau Minerve
dunny view
one of the best views in Minerve – located from the cafe’s dunny.
Love the wallpaper
romeo and juliet on the bridge
Romeo and Juliet on the bridge
fruits of the season
a wine producer selling some other fruit!
swimming in Minerve
a great way to finish the visit… swimming in Minerve
canal du midi
one of the folks’ faves, the Canal du Midi
family portrait
happy campers

whole lotta love

And now for a little ROCK AND ROLL!!!!!!!!!!

Leaving the vino and the vineyards aside for a moment, the wannabe groupie in me enjoyed a night of bliss this Summer, standing 15 metres away from this man and hearing him sing!…

it's him!!!!!
So close yet so far away.  Pine…  And those pants are pretty roomy compared to what he used to get around in. I guess he is in his 60’s…

Yes, I’m in love.

It was euphoric listening to Robert Plant do his thing and yes I want to yell about it out loud!!

I have two big brothers who introduced me to all sorts of music when I was little – The Rolling Stones, Kate Bush, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, Simon and Garfunkel, and one of the big ones for me, Led Zeppelin.  I’ll never forget the first time one of them played me ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on the tape recorder and made me listen to it the whole way through…  My brother wanted me to fully appreciate the beauty of this track, talking me through it, wanting me to understand that a heavy rock group could play such gentle, melodic music.  I think I was about seven?  But the look of despair on the ballet teacher’s face when I asked her to hit play and ‘Stairway’ accompanied my choreographed piece for the annual ballet concert.   I don’t think she appreciated Led Zeppelin’s melody and I had her scurrying to hit pause as the track started cranking up.  Mmm, not quite the family with mountains of classical recordings to choose from really.  The ballet didn’t last long either.

Anyway, even if it wasn’t Led Zeppelin playing, this was pretty damn cool!

Robert Plant may be in his mid-sixties, and he might not strutt his stuff (in those incredibly, impossibly tight jeans) with the same force, but the hair flick was there, the clapping of silver-jewelled hands along with his musicians was there… elegant, humble and generous.  I always thought that he sang and moved in perfect unsion with his musicians – like he himself was a fine instrument – and yes, he still ROCKS!  Daggy I know, but tears were streaming down my face as – quelle bonne surprise! – he sang a few of my favourite Led Zep songs (‘Ramble On’ would you believe it, Soir!).  Heaven.  The deranged music fan in me had me struggling to get up the front, elbowing blokes 4foot taller than me, so I could be as close to Him as possible… So I could imagine he was singing only for me, would let me get up there and bang on a tambourine for him (I would be so cool and discreet) and invite me back later for a beer…  Dream on.  In fact I was stuck behind a painful dude in a baseball cap who refused to budge, so that he could film the entire event on his puny mobile phone (so that pathetic fans like me can then look up our favourite concert moments on YouTube).

The evening was gloriously warm and the setting for the concert was perfect.  It was held in the ancient ‘Les Arenes de Nimes’ – one of the best-preserved Roman ampitheatres in the world, dating from the 1st century A.D. – smack-bang in the middle of Nimes, a beautiful town one hour’s drive north-east of Montpellier.  It felt surreal taking in all the old stone forms circling us, while watching Robert Plant and the Band of Joy in action – the figures of the security guards walking along the very top perimeter of the arena looked like guards patrolling a gladiator scene.

the spectacular les arenes de Nimes
outside the concert at les Arenes de Nimes
les arenes de Nimes
old postcard of Les Arenes of Nimes

But like all your favourite concerts, it was over in an instant and I screamed like I was 18 again with my hands in the air, begging for more (and my last chance for that beer).

No chance.  I was going home with Benji and our friends afterall, but there was still cause for a celebration!  The beers went down swimmingly well and the next morning another couple of old friends joined me at the table outside the hotel.

a moring fix
a morning fix: un cafe creme and Berocca

Before we left Nimes, we wanted to take in just a little bit more Kulture (we’re deprived out here in the sticks!) and headed to the ‘Carre d’Art’, the contemporary art gallery whose building was conceived by Norman Foster.  It’s well worth a look – for its small collections as well as its architectural form.

I fell in love with these two paintings (funnily enough, both painted in 1961):

'Dans la rue', Mimmo Rotella, 1961
‘Dans la rue’, Mimmo Rotella, 1961
'Bleu d'aout', Jacques Villegle, 1961
‘Bleu d’aout’, Jacques Villegle, 1961

The gallery is a brilliant visual contrast to the ‘Maison Carree’ across the road – an incredibly beautiful Roman temple, thought to be the only temple in the world so well-preserved (sorry for the lack of good images! – my camera had gone on the blink and I was using the phone!??!!).

my crappy mobile phone pic and an old postcard found at a 'vide-grenier' here (a gargae sale in the village) - 'La Rome Francaise'
an old postcard found at a ‘vide-grenier’ here (a garage sale in the village) – ‘La Rome Francaise’

Amidst all the culture, Nimes still had a little rock n’roll left in it.


…at least some people are still wearing the tight pants.

And I can’t help it, here’s a reminder of the rockstar version:

whoah look at those pants!!
not a bad fit Monsieur Plant

so typically French!

chez le coiffeur
the barber shop in Carcassonne

Do you ever find yourself smiling at some of the things you pass by during your day?

I love those moments and have started to record them with my camera.  I can’t help it.  Everything in France seems so exotic to me, being a ‘non-Frenchie’!

Here’s some pics to share with you, but be warned!  There’s a few of them, so I hope you don’t get bored!!

baker at the market
Pierre the baker having a ‘tranquil’ pause at the morning market
Citroen 2CV
A lovely orange 2CV, shining like a beacon in the morning light
citroen 2CV
…those 2CVs are EVERYWHERE!
chien chic
‘Chic Dog’ (you know how they put their words backwards!) – every pooch needs a parlour


Hotel de Ville de Narbonne
Hotel de Ville in Narbonne flying the Bleu Blanc Rouge
Frenchy frilly bits
Frenchy frilly bits…
hanging out to dry
…and not so frilly bits
les chaussures roses
…les messieurs like a bit of pink too
Mamy Jeanne's recipe book
It’s the real thing! – one of Mamy Jeanne’s much-loved recipe books

…a Mamy Jeanne dish

(& check out the brilliant photo of her!)

our village library
And while we’re on the topic of books, I just love this. It’s the bookshelf in our local village library… gives you a small taste of what the public are reading up on! Recipes, winemaking, a history of Europe, a history of France and, bien sur, a little bit of psychotherapy.  Tres francais.
colon poster
Yes, it’s the GIANT COLON!! Be curious!! Roll up for a visit to the centre of the giant colon!… (thanks for the poster Mat, you know me too well!)
the cheese trolley
Colon health, giant ‘chariots de fromage’ (cheese trolley). Ever heard of the French paradox?
At the local ‘brocante’. This poor guy got caught, but we still hear his friends in our garden at night
french doorhandle
the doorhandle to one of my favourite brocantes
a cinema in Limoux (where Blanquette is made)
baguette in a basket
take-away baguette
a trip to the patisserie
Really love this one too. The scene, the clothing (so now!) and the little guy at the back just happens to be some Vigneron I know…
lady of minerve
a regular vision in these villages
les hommes de Toulouse
les messieurs sur les bancs

Still there?  Hope you made it!