Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another time.

Again I am with the vigneron out on the side of the hill, in the vines. When he called me last week and said he had a few days work I was excited - for many reasons. It had been beautiful weather almost all of the month and it was tops for working outside, sunny and warm but not really hot, a chance to work the muscles and bronze the skin before the summer swimsuit season. In reality I needed the money. April had been great and I moved around from one day to the next with plenty to do, but the funds are almost out and anything goes a long way when nothing is the regular course.

In any case I hop at the work for something between those two extremes, money and being outside.

It’s the third time we are meeting in the vineyard and when he tells me where we will meet he calls it by name. I don’t know that vigne, but he describes it and I get it and am also warmed by the fact that all the fields have names. It turns out they refer to events or persons associated with the fields acquisition. It is never without interest.

We are to start on the first of May, a holiday here. May Day - the day of the worker. The farmers world doesn’t run on the state calendar and to me every other day being a holiday it doesn’t really matter. He tells me we will start at 7.30, so that we can get some work in before it gets too hot. The fact that the sun is long up by that time and also that it has been getting kind of hot in the afternoon, all the lolling about recently gets me readily agreeing and looking forward to the three or four days work he says he’s got

We meet in the field at 7.30 sharp, it is grey and overcast and a bit windy but not really unpleasant. The field before me has 23 rows of vines, 120 souche per row. They are in full spring flourish. The green is that vibrant color of freshly sprung leaf, the grey skies giving it a contrast that makes the field seem to quiver with growth, perhaps it’s this quivering that gives the green an almost yellow look. I start to have a small affinity for the vines now this third time through for the year, the taille, the attachment, now we will be clipping back the beurgeon, the spring growth, tailoring the vine to grow up not out, reach up to the wire trellis. In reality today it is done so the machine can harvest maximum yield, but this work of training the vines to grow this way and not that way has always been a part of the history and the art of wine making.. It is not without its aesthetic moments.

Then comes the rain, cold wet muddy. By day three we are wearing more clothes than in january doing the taille. This is three days after a sunday picnic where we were swimming in the local river. But the storms rolling about give a great look into the weather currents of the region, one day from the south and the sea, another from the plateau to the north, then the Carroux mountains from the west. Each day presents a living 3D weather map as the storms come rolling in, the vigneron constantly pointing here and there explaining which town is receiving the rain,. Sometimes you see the storm dance around you, the sun at the sea, grey but calm. the view is tremendous.

Each day the storms come rolling in, as they trace a line towards us the vigneron gives me a detailed map of the area, the falling rain in the distance acting as a pointer to this town or that. Often with the towns name I get a short story of the towns high points/and or regional products/ a short souvenir of the vigneron - in dialog form. The vines continue.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

more luck

Cherries. Black. Ripe. Copious. Mmmm.

The beauty of cherries is their fleeting being. It gives their flesh a particular sweetness. The season when you can get cherries that are worth eating is perhaps only three weeks long. This scarce season when spring is fully ripe and summer just awaits it’s official installation is right now.. they seem to arrive at the same moment when you fully integrate the idea that the dark and cold have truly receded again. Cherries are the first real taste of the light and heat of summer. We just picked our fill. Our hands are stained with the blood of another fallen winter.

It was a group affair, my vigneron said we could have at one of his cherry trees. It sits right on the pretty edge of one of the vignes. He had had his fill and being pressed from all sides he just doesn’t have time to go and pick them all. And even if he did, then what. Without his country village mom alive any more to process them, picking them is just wasted work. He said we could take what we wanted. A little prime de panier for his ouvrier.

Cherries - everyone loves them, or at least the concept of them. Even so it was with difficulty that we got the five kids simultaneously rallied for the deluxe chance I was trying to convince this was. In the end we just forced them to go on grounds of fresh air and family time. We arrived in two cars, baskets and bags in tow. From a distance, across the vines, the tree looks pocked with dark red blight.

We swarmed on the tree like ants on sugar. Everyone exclaiming loudly at the quantity of perfectly ripe shiny blood red cherries hanging before us. We all are stunned to explicative. An hour later we have our fill. It’s at least 50 pounds. And we only took the best ones, the tree had five times more still hanging on it when we left. Ah richesse. It’s hard to leave it - “just one more, it’s perfect”.

Then the satisfaction of walking up the street with our baskets overflowing with black cherries. The public casts envious eyes as we mount to the house leaving a scattered trail of rolling cherries from the overloaded baskets. Like a stringer of fresh trout, others see your luck and it is magnified. Ha, the work commences.

It goes on all weekend and monday too. We have right at de-pitting them. Cut squeeze catch drop and again. Everything dripping blood red. Big pots of stewing cherries slowly bubbling on the stove all weekend. The table covered with cherries in all form. We eat them with anything, we all agree they go best with white colored foods. Cheese, yogurt, ice cream, bananas, cream, vodka, pancakes, but the chocolate was good too.

Now all the kids have gone away to their respective parents and the cupboard is stacked with jars of all sizes of black jams and syrups that will bring us all back to the tree of plenty until at least the summer heat goes away.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Journée complet

Some days it just works out. Pop pop pop. It’s a rare day, but it does happen.

Off to Lodeve today, my old gray town pressed against the rise to the Larzac plateau. It’s the sous prefecture of the department of l’Herault which means for any type of official business dealings it’s where you need to go. I suddenly had some business to take care of there, it’s only by coincidence it’s also where I go to see the candy man.

My sweet tooth has been flaring up lately but I’ve been putting off the trip to Lodeve only because it seems far to go just to feed a habit. So I wasn’t that disappointed when I found out I only had two days left before my taxes were due. It’s not that I pay any income tax, but I still need to file the forms. You see my income is so small even the state doesn’t want to be bothered counting it.

It was also an opportunity to change my address on my car matriculation. It’s one of those things I kept putting off for another time. It is also one of those things that one day I find myself getting a ticket I can’t pay for and wondering, again, why I didn’t do earlier. I had tried to do it one other time but the bureau’s steel door automatically swung closed and locked literally before my eyes as I was heading towards it. It was quite impressive, even more so being that this solid black steel door was set in a 10 foot stone wall that ran around the complex of back water bureaucratic offices. There was something medieval about it that rang right.

I won’t mention how French it felt at that moment. I was in it, and again, stunned by that fact. It was 3:45 pm and though the bureau closes at 4:00, the outside door locks down at 3:45 so the functionaries can get out promptly. Extremely efficient in it’s unproductive way. But France isn’t about production, it’s about something else. I had been so close, but never the less would need to come back another time. So much for good intentions and ever more efficient bureau’s.

But today is a different day and the door is wide open. You see, like I said it’s a day where everything works out. I have all my papers and after a polite wait, I step right up to the counter. I give over my papers and the pleasant man behind the glass asks for the photocopies of my documents. Last time I was here they just photocopied them and gave you back your originals. Well this is France so everything doesn’t work out even on the good days.

The new system installs itself slowly and insidiously. It comes up slowly and then one day we wake up and realize we are ensconced within it. Today it was the paper savings that someone in a meeting thought would be a good idea, perhaps it is, I don’t know. In any case I went to the tabac shop across the street and got in line with the other surprised at the new system folk. The guy behind the counter was content, at 50 cents a copy, he has found himself a whole, hitherto unknown revenue source.

I ponied up my 1.50 euro and was back before the man behind the glass in five minutes. I noticed as I re-handed him the papers that my I.D, card didn’t have my updated address. I envisioned the steel door closing again just as I walked up to it. But not today. He smiled. He stamped my papers, stapled them together and told me to wait at the other window to be called. A few minutes later, my name was called and the new updated car matriculation was in my hand. Errand one - check.

I walked from there down the street to the maison d’impots, or tax house. I had nothing but my name and a question - How do I go about this task. A few minutes wait and I was before the lady at the information counter. I posed my question, she asked my name. Then she looked for a file and not finding anything put my name in the computer and out came a tax form with all my pertinent information enclosed. She said ‘here you are’.

I took the form to a table, corrected the address to where I currently live, and then became confused with the rest. I had no response appropriate for many of the questions posed. I went back up to the lady and explained my predicament. She laughed and said ‘it is all filled in already, just correct your address and sign the form’. I did. She took the form, stapled it together and said ‘drop it in the box’ which she pointed to. I did. Taxes complete for 2008. Errand two - check.

‘Sweet’ I thought as I held the door open for an incoming lady. I tipped my psychological chapeau and walked out into the sun. I called the local candy man and as luck would have it he was home. Who doesn’t love a treat when you are already feeling good.

I strolled across town and an hour later was back in the sun and still feeling good, if not better. Errand three - check.

I left Lodeve, went back home, ate lunch and took a nap. The afternoon was beginning. In the morning when I had seen that my I.D. card wasn’t updated with my new address, I had forgotten that I had already made the demand to change it, it only hit me as I woke from my nap. The bureau was just up the street from the crib at the local mayors office. Off I went. The bureau was crowded and I had to wait ten minutes but when I got to the desk the woman remembered me. It sometimes pays to talk like an alien. She stepped in the back and came out with my new I.D. all updated and shiny. Not only that she apologized for the delay. Check on errand number four.

It’s still only three o’clock and so I headed to the local hardware to purchase some material for the renovation job that is about to start on the old house we have acquired. Same thing. In - out and materials loaded up in a jiffy. I put in a few hours of work and got everything ready to begin the real work the next morning. I arrived back home at seven. But there was one more surprise to my day.

At nine there was a knock on the door. It is my vigneron, he stopped by to give me some money that he owed me, and if that wasn’t enough he tells me he won’t have time to harvest his cherry tree and that if we want we can take what we want. They are ripe and need to be picked quickly. ‘Oh yeah’ I tell him.

When he leaves my woman and I have a taste of the bon-bons from the candy man, recount the day, go to bed; make love and happily fall asleep. Journée complet. Some days it just all works out.