A Boaring Story . . .

I had my second encounter with a sanglier, or wild boar, last night. My first was just before Christmas when I caught one in the headlights of my car. He, or she, was moving through a stand of trees and by the time I’d braked for a closer look (from the car, of course) had disappeared into the woods. I’ve been fascinated with sanglier since I first arrived in France. I was in the Dordogne and there was a discussion about hunting and eating sanglier. Someone had mentioned seeing one in the woods–the woods where I took my daily walk. They don’t usually bother people, I was assured, unless they are provoked. Still, I stopped walking in the woods; who knows what a sanglier might find provocative?

In the fall, by then I’d moved to Montpeyroux, I saw chasseurs, hunters, in orange vests along the sides of the roads, rifles at the ready. I tried to engage one of them in conversation, but my French was limited and he was more interested in spotting a boar . . . or perhaps he found me a bore. Sorry, couldn’t resist. On some days, my walks through the vineyards were punctuated by the sounds of rifle shots–scarier even than a provoked bore. I learned not to walk on Wednesdays or the weekends, the times when hunting is allowed.
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I really, really wanted to taste sanglier. Hypocritically, I didn’t want to see one shot, I didn’t want to hear the gory details, I just wanted a chunk of roasted boar. Everyone it seemed had just finished a meal of sanglier, or knew someone with a freezer full, promises were made but the closest I came to an actual taste was the sanglier saucisson at the Saturday market in Gignac. I bought some, but, blindfolded, I wouldn’t have known whether it was sanglier or canard–also sold at the market.
I told a friend, whose French husband is a hunter, about my quest. She’d eaten so much sanglier recently, she was bored (ok, pun intended) with it, she’d see what she could do about finding some for me. A week or so later she called, no sanglier but she could give me a duck. Well, ok, I guess. A quick question though. I hesitated. Would it still have feathers? And a head? She laughed. Bien sur. Then she confided a little secret that helped to keep the marriage harmonious. When her husband brought home the limp and feathered ducks, she’d take them to her neighbour next door, then pop off to the supermarket and buy the plastic wrapped variety. Her husband always complimented her on the meal, she said. Nothing like freshly killed duck.
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But back to the sanglier. Here in the winemaking village of Laurens, I’ve learned that sanglier love ripe grapes and this can take quite a toll on crops. Hunters are needed to keep the population down, reputedly about to take over France although you couldn’t prove it by me, but timing is everything. A few weeks ago, this led to an interesting encounter between the chasseurs and a busload of tasters who had come to visit Brigitte’s cellar at Domaine de Cébène. I wasn’t there, but Brigitte described the scene in an e-mail. As she waited to greet her visitors, she could see dozens of hunters in their orange vests milling around. A bit nervous, she waved a brightly coloured scarf above her head. The bus arrived, the tourists piled off. A delegate from the hunting group also arrived. The tourist bus must leave, he told Brigitte, a hunt was going on–in her vineyard! A stand-off ensued. You have been informed, the hunter said, if anyone gets shot, it will not be our responsibility.
The wine tasting went on. No-one was shot. Perhaps not even a sanglier, I don’t know.
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And now about my second encounter with a sanglier. Finally. There it was on my plate last night, marinated and served in bite-sized pieces at my friend Bassie’s birthday party. Bassie is in the foreground in a pink sweater, I’m at the other end of the table, the back of my head to the camera, fork at the ready. There was also mashed potatoes and gravy and some vegetables. I only had eyes for the sanglier. It was delicious.

(Oh . . . yeah, while Joe was here, he went out for a walk and came back very excited. He’d seen half a dozen men haul a dead sanglier from a truck. Half the village was hanging around watching, he said. Of course, by the time I went to have a look, there was nothing to see which is why I didn’t include it in this story. I was jealous, I wanted the encounter. All’s well now though.)

One Year In France . . .and a project for the 2nd year

…actually not till the end of the month, the 26th, but close enough.  When we arrived in the Dordogne last year, spring hadn’t quite arrived.  Here in the south, spring comes a little sooner.   Almond and cherry blossoms are blooming everywhere and while the grape vines are still dark and sort of stunted looking, wildflowers are popping up everywhere.  I’m told it’s still a bit soon for wild asparagus, but it’s been a mild winter and apparently there have been sightings.  Rebecca has promised to take me on a hunt. . .

Not quite six weeks before I fly back to Seattle for a few months and a lot to do in the interim — pack up this apartment, surprising how much I’ve managed to accumulate, and store everything, including the car, in a friend’s garage.  And, my least favorite part of the writing process–continue the search for an agent for the book I’ve finally finished.   There’s also a new project on the horizon.

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When I first came to France, I read a book, Under the Ripening Sun, by Patricia Atkinson, who wrote very entertainingly  about what happened when she and her husband left England to buy a vineyard in France and make wine.  Their first effort was vinegar.  And then her husband left her.  And then things got really bad.  I read each night with horrified fascination.  Sometimes I’d  lie awake worrying about her.  One obstacle after another –and her French wasn’t that good either.  I could definitely relate to that.   At times, I couldn’t believe that she didn’t just pack it in, but she didn’t and now, many years later,  she’s won loads of prizes and is practically a godess of wine making. Not only did I admire her tenacity, I also  had a new appreciation for what goes into a bottle of wine.  Living in a wine making village, seeing a bit of the vendange,  also whet my appetite to learn more about the process.

As luck would have it, my new apartment in Laurens is just down the road from the Domaine de Cébene where Brigitte Chevalier has been making  Faugere wine  since 2006.  Yesterday, we had lunch in Damejane, a small café and epicerie Brigitte and a partner started recently in the village of Faugere.

After lunch, we drove through her vineyard, looked at an old stone hut–originally used to  store tools and to give the vintner and his horses some shade from the hot sun.  By the time tourists arrive this summer, it will  be a tasting room.  We also checked out progress on the new cellar to be completed in time for this year’s vendange.  The wind nearly knocking us over, we bent to look at a gnarled and twisted vine that seemed more art than organic.  Carignan vines that the previous owner was going to pull up, Brigitte said.  She convinced him to spare them. “They’re  part of our wine-growing heritage,” she said.  ” I felt it was my duty to save them.”

As I listened to Brigitte talk about the land, the vines, the art of making wine, I was reminded of how it feels when I get together with writing friends. We might moan and complain about agents and editors who don’t appreciate genius when they see it, or the fact that fast food workers make more than most writers, but there’s a passion and enthusiasm,  an obsession, a conviction that despite all the ups and downs, the uncertainties, there really isn’t anything else you could imagine yourself doing.

It all seemed to come together–my own thoughts about the creative process, Brigitte’s sensibilities and, of course, willingness to be involved.  A Year in The Life of a Winemaker  will be a project for my second year in France.   I’ll be back from the States in September, the start of the 2014 vendange and will follow Brigitte’s work and life over the following twelve months.   At the end of it all, we both hope, there will be a book and some bottles of very good wine.

ODDS &ENDS FROM FACEBOOK

28 fevrier: Went into Montpellier yesterday and saw Grand Hotel Budapest–the ads have been everywhere on my International edition of the New York Times. We’d actually meant to see the Jarmusch(sp) film Only Lovers Left Alive, but walked through the wrong door. My second movie, I think, in France and again I was struck by the absence of the popcorn/soft drink vendors. Absolutely love watching a movie sans crunching and crackling all around. Cheaper too, given the prices of movie snacks. Ticket prices here are similar to the States though
Grand Hotel was quite a romp.
26 fevrier In the wee hours of this morning, I woke to what I thought was a motor bike racing through the village–it isn’t unheard of. A moment later, there was a huge flash of lightning and I realized that what I’d heard was thunder. Today, the sky looks sullen, the vineyards full of black,barren looking vines that, to the uninitiated, (moi) look dead. But all around the village there are signs of life–almond and cherry trees in full blossom– clouds of pink and white everywhere. The photo with the blue sky was taken Sunday, a glorious springlike day, in Minerve, an ancient hillside city with a bloody history going back to the 13th century and the Cathars but which today has some excellent restaurants with great views. I would love to have photographed my food, which looked like a piece of art, but I’ve read that the practice is frowned on. Anyway it was quite delicious. As I write this, the skies have opened up–springtime in the Languedoc?
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24 fevrier

I need a big, gloomy emoticon to go with this post. Last week, I began the search for a new agent for the baby (AKA the book) that’s been gestating for the past one hundred and five years, three months and ten days. Finally, I sent it off into the big cruel world to see if anyone might possibly love it. I loved it. Kind of, except that it had started to feel like a kid who is still living at home at 40. Anyway, I’ve been through this process before, many times. I know all the stories about rejection and how you don’t take it personally, everybody gets rejected, blah, blah blah. So the e-mail, an almost instant and depressingly impersonal response, from one of the the agencies I queried shouldn’t really bring on a case of the full-on, paralytic doldrums. But . . . I’m sitting here wanting to rip everything to shreds. I hate my characters, the plot is wimpy, I’ll never understand high concept. And, sorry, I hate my baby. Why do people write? I don’t really want an answer, I just want sympathy and wine. Lots of wine.