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.
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.
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.
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.)

Rainy Saturday. . .

I’d set my alarm so that I could get up early this morning and beat the crowds at the weekly market in Gignac, but rain on the roof around dawn woke me before the alarm.  I burrowed under the covers, listened to the rain and wondered if I really needed anything at the market anyway. For the past month, first with Marilla and then Barbara, the Saturday market has been a source of entertainment; the cheeses, the olives, the mounds of bright vegetables.  We bought hugely and ate hugely.  This week I only needed to shop for myself–not quite as much fun and something that could be accomplished at the less colorful but well stocked intermarché.  I went to the Gignac market anyway.

Rain had kept the crowds away, the usually full outdoor cafés were empty and some of the stalls were already closing. Live chickens huddled together in their crates looked damp and miserable — although what a happy chicken looks like I couldn’t say.

 Since I’d left without breakfast, I bought a Roquefort tart from the boulangerie, ordered a café creme at the place next door and found a covered spot.  Sitting there, eavesdropping on French conversations, actually understanding a bit here and there, I felt very content, very much at home somehow.  Only six months in France yet it feels so much longer.  I thought of the first time I went to the Thursday market in Exideuill. Newly arrived, I was beside myself with excitement. I took notes, snapped pictures (see above) and was so busy absorbing the theatre of it all that I couldn’t even think about buying food.

Today, I bought half a dozen or so of the scalloped and bright red tomates ancienne, then misplaced my umbrella –the Dali one I’d bought in Spain– and spent the next 30 minutes tracking it down. “Excusez moi, je cherchez ma parapleui.” I found it.

Now, as I write this, it is still pouring but the apartment is cozy with lamps and candles and music playing and I’m enjoying that content and rooted feeling. Still, I go back and forth about what I want to do. One minute, I can imagine staying in France indefinitely, the next, I’m overcome with longing to see my family, to hear familiar voices. If I stay, I know I want to find a place with a terrace or garden–some sort of outdoor area.  I’d also like to be closer to a larger town–although if I get a car (and my French teacher’s husband and a neighbor are looking for me) Montpellier is an easy drive. I’m told I can easily sell the car when I decide to leave.

  There is also much about Montpeyroux that appeals to me. The friendliness of neighbors–an elderly woman opposite who told me not to wait for an engraved invitation but to come over any time.  She would, she said, teach me French and how to cook like a French woman.  That offer seems almost irresistible.  Although I regret that I gave the vendange short shrift (maybe next year. . . and my French will be better!) I am fascinated by the wine making process and its impact on the villages. I’m in the middle of reading The Ripening Sun by Patricia Atkinson. With seemingly wide-eyed naivete and no knowledge of French, even more naive, she succumbed to the dream of becoming a wine maker in southwest France. To describe the work as formidable is an understatement; reading a few chapters every night, I’m exhausted myself. If her account didn’t discourage others with similar notions, I don’t think anything would. Fortunately for wine drinkers though, the rewards of being a vintner are apparently sufficient to keep the wine flowing.

 As an observer, I love the prospect of experiencing the different seasons in the vineyards. I’ve now seen spring, summer and early autumn. An English neighbor, whose French husband is a winemaker for the cooperative of a nearby village, has worked the vendange for years. The tidying up of the vineyards, as she called it, is the next step. Leaves, already brown and drying, will be burned. The long trailing vines cut and bundled, some will also be burned.  November, as everything slows to winter, is her favorite time she says. The whisps of smoke from bonfires in the morning air. The clear light. All very peaceful and beautiful.  So I think of moving on, then find that the more I learn about where I am, the more I want to know.  But perhaps that’s the way of life.


Yesterday’s post from Facebook:

Beautiful autumn days here in the south of France. Walked through the vineyards this morning. Olive trees around the village are full of pale green fruit. Very hard to the touch at the moment, but I have no idea what olives look like when they’re ready to harvest. A few seem to be changing color. New sounds in the vineyards for the past few days; the pop of hunters’ guns. Pheasant? Quail? No idea. Trying to turn the truck around on a dirt road last week, I scared a few out of the shrubs and they strutted across the road in front of my wheels. The gun shots make me a bit leery–reminiscent of searching for chanterelles in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the hunting season. Walking back into the village, a more melodic sound–piano scales from an open window drifting down to the street.

Comings and Goings . . .

The date marking my first six months in France passed while Marilla was still here. It seemed like an auspicious date and I’d intended to write about it, but we were too busy having fun for me to want to spend time at the computer.
After finally managing to rent the car, we put our wheels to good use. One Sunday, we drove down to the beach areas near Montpellier–Palavas les flots, Aigues Mortes, Saintes Maries-de-la-Mere. Palavas is on a strip of sand dunes that separates a couple of lakes– Étang de l’Arnel and the Étang du Méjean– from the Mediterranean. The air had a salty tang that, living inland, I’ve missed. We saw pink flamingoes doing their balletic twisting, numerous seabirds and an equally numerous number of competitors for the few parking spaces available. Not wishing to compete, we drove on to the Camargue, all marshes and farmland and very different from the landscape in and around Montpeyroux. We saw the fabled white horses, no longer wild it seems, black bulls lying on strips of sand by the water. We took a boat ride, had beer and chips at a waterfront cafe and got hopelessly lost in Montpellier as we tried to return to Montpeyroux. Actually we spent a lot of time during Marilla’s visit doing the last two things–eating, drinking and (not necessarily as a result) getting lost.

I’ve wanted to visit Collioure ever since someone told me that it was the anchovy capital of France. Although tourists have replaced anchovies as the chief commodity–we had to look hard to even find anchovies on restaurant menus– Collioure was charming and picturesque and definitely worth a return visit. We ate enough mussels to change Marilla’s mind about liking them. She decided she did, although perhaps not in the quantity that we consumed then. We also sampled, Banyuls, a sweet local wine. The following day we drove the picturesque, but hair raising, road down the coast to the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain. I think I preferred Dali’s house to the museum–more whimsical somehow with its glimpses into the artist’s domestic life.

Yesterday, October 1, I saw Marilla off at the Montpellier airport and picked up Barbara at the Mosson tram stop. The airport is at one end of the city, the tram stop at the other. In between, I managed to once again get hopelessly snarled in the middle of Montpellier traffic and thwarted by street signs that seem to indicate one direction but lead to another. At one point, thinking I’d taken the road out of the city, I found myself instead in the underground parking lot of a shopping center. Once in, I couldn’t get out. Cars lined up behind me at the security gate. I fumbled in my bag for change. I found the change, but couldn’t find anywhere to deposit it. More cars lined up behind me. I got out of my car and spoke to the guy in the car behind me. He said something I couldn’t understand. The car behind him backed up, then the guy I’d spoken to backed up. Then I backed up. Parking lots in France, I suddenly remembered, require that you validate your picket BEFORE you get to the security gate. I parked the car, took the escalator up to the shops, downed a cup of café creme, validated my ticket and this time successfully managed an exit.

In April, when I first arrived in France, the vines around the Pigeonniere in Exideuil, were stark and bare. By June, I’d moved down here to Montpeyroux and the vineyards were green with new leaves. Now the vendange is, for the most part, finished and there are flashes of red and rust as leaves change color. I’ve spent a spring and summer here and autumn is very much in evidence with cooler mornings and evenings, but brilliant blue skies. Just a month ago, Pezenas, where I go on Mondays for French lessons, was jammed with tourists. This past Monday the streets were empty, many of the shops shuttered. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as winter approaches and I look forward to more visitors from the States, there will still be enough to keep everyone entertained. As I write this, Barbara is out walking in the vineyards. She was in half a dozen different European countries before she arrived here and she assures me that a little time alone with nature is exactly what she wants. I’m happy to oblige. Yesterday, we had a lunch of olives, anchovies, various cheeses and bread that Marilla and I bought at the market in Gignac last Saturday. (Barbara says thank-you, Marilla!) This Saturday, I’ll take Barbara and we’ll replenish the stock. The market is open year round and, if all else fails, always a source of entertainment.