Archive for month: December, 2011

Eau de vie in the south of France

The mobile distillery has pitched up behind our French holiday home in Languedoc as it does every year. It’s like nothing you have seen before, a time machine that you expect to explode into orbit at any moment, the product of the mind of an eccentric professor following a supper of magic mushrooms? Perhaps I exaggerate slightly – but see for yourself.

How old do you reckon?

The fruit that failed to make the harvest is gathered from the valley floor- apples, pears, grapes and plums – water is added courtesy of a hose to the tap in the churchyard, and following a secret, scientific process deep in the bowels of the time machine, a particularly potent moonshine is produced. You know this for a fact because all the villagers are rosy cheeked and never miserable.

We have looked on in amusement each year at what we thought could only be bootleg activity; it always seems to appear in the middle of the night. However, we have learned that the tradition of turning windfall fruit into something far more satisfying is a tradition that has been passed down the generations in this part of Languedoc, but can only be passed from father to son. More and more young people are failing to take up their birthright and so the tradition will finally die out, but for now it is a very colourful addition to our winter landscape in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

 

Fete de St Nicolas

Trip to Carcassonne today to the medieval, fairytale citadel of which I will never tire. Fete de St Nicolas meant artisan stalls and crafts and offer of free concert in the church, the historic Basilique Saint Nazaire. The church was packed to the rafters, we were last to arrive but struck lucky as extra benches were being placed at the front so we bagged the best seat.

The concert was not as expected, not carols (and only weeks from Christmas) not even particularly religious, but haunting chant from one man, Xinarca, whose voice alone filled the vast cavern of the church. He had weird and wonderful string instruments that he would hold up to the audience at the end of each song so we could pay homage. I couldn’t understand the language, neither French nor Latin, perhaps the ancient tongue of the Oc? All was explained at the end when he revealed he was Corsican and was singing traditional, ancient songs of his land. A real treat. Hot chocolate in the cafe afterwards, the church is very beautiful and very drafty, although I prefer it here out of season, still very mild and no fighting through the crowds of August to get a seat at a table.

Basilique Saint-Nazaire

There’s a stone wall in there somewhere…

Today, He Who Won’t Be Rushed finally got around to a job in the b&b that I have been pestering him about for years. The back wall in the kitchen has rising damp, like many ancient stone houses built without foundations. For reasons known only to themselves, many [French] compound this problem by adding layer upon layer of any type of cladding, usually plaster board, hoping it will go away. However, our humidite was going nowhere except up the wall. Unfortunately, previous occupants had thought a block wall would do a better job than plaster board, and added a layer of concrete just be sure, the type they use for resurfacing the M6 I think. So this is the state of play currently, He Who Won’t Be Rushed having taken refuge in a part of the house where I can’t reach him with his nice bottle of Corbiere, definitely not for sharing it seems.

 

The spiral staircase in the kitchen of the B&B is a lovely feature that no-one has had time to pay any attention too until today. Was it bolted into the stone wall or into the brick / layers of cement that we were dismantling?  This part of the house was once a separate dwelling which explains this second staircase; the old villagers refer to it as the Priest’s House. If the old stones could talk they would be thanking me for letting them breathe again. The wall is not a particularly pretty sight, they were never meant to be exposed, they are literally cobbled together, which is probably why they are a metre thick, the torniche, (wattle and daub) still visible in the deep recesses. How I would love to know about who built the wall hundreds of years ago, wonder how I would go about that?