Renewal time

We’re in the middle of what I call green-up time, when trees and vineyards are clothed in a haze of pale green from the leaves that are about to burst forth, and elsewhere trees are covered in exuberant blossoms – a time of promise and a time of renewal! I wanted to share this post with you from a few years ago. I think it captures what’s going on outside right now pretty well (but then I’m biased as the writer :)) Where you live, spring may not be as advanced but it will come – I promise!! Enjoy!


We get renewal notices all the time – be it from insurance companies, subscriptions for websites, magazines, software, series of concerts, often marked with ‘Take action now‘ or some such.

Mother nature needs no such reminders or notices, renewal just happens as part of the scheme of things, and seemingly without much effort.  Right now, we’re in the midst of springtime (even though spring won’t officially start until March 21), and there is renewal all around us.  Leaves and blossoms sprout from barren looking trees, bulbs push up flowers, and there is birdsong in the air once more.

I took a walk through the vineyards, to try to experience that wonderful spring feeling.  Here is what I came across, captured for your delectation!

At the end of a path through the vineyards, I followed a little stream.  Where the stream flows into the river, there is a meadow, which is almost totally covered in wild narcissuses – such a joyous sight to behold!!

Nearby, I found some buttercups

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

The bee was having a fun time on the dandelion flower!!!

The plant below is bay laurel (laurus nobilis) –  most of you will have some of its dried leaves in your herb and spice cupboard.  Looking at the plant, it’s not going to be long before the flower buds will burst open!

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I’m not sure what the tree in the pictures below is – could it be witch hazel?

I think that the flowers below are wild rocket, a plant which grows abundantly in the vineyards, where it flowers almost all year long!  The leaves are edible, but tougher, and more pungent than the leaves of the cultivated variety.

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Of course there were daisies too – such cheerful flowers!!

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Here’s one of the many different kinds of euphorbia, which grow so well in our region.

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The leaves below promise that there will be wild tulip flowers – and lots of them!!

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These blossoms were tiny, no larger than 5mm across, and the branches were very close to the ground.  Any suggestions as to what the plant might be?

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Botany is not my strong suit – I think the flowers below could belong to a type of viburnum, but I’m far from sure 🙂

I do know what plant the exotic looking balls belong to – they are the fruits of a plane tree (platanus).

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This is most probably a periwinkle (vinca) flower:

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I could not resist taking a picture of this beautiful branch – the colours of the lichen against the bark is so beautiful!

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Here’s another mystery plant – these seed pods look a little bit like a cardinal’s hat.  Or is that my imagination??  Any ideas about the name?

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Another bee, this time on a marigold flower (calendula):

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I don’t know what the following flowers could be, but they looked so pretty!!

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I came across a small cluster of grape hyacinths (muscari), right by the path.

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The river at the Platanettes was so pretty – it will be lovely to take a dip in the cool water during the summer!

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A cornilla bush (coronilla glauca) was flowering quite close to the river.

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Here is another unknown plant – it has the most beautiful feathery foliage, and very delicate little flowers!

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On my way home I came across this explosion of pink flowers, probably an apricot tree, or perhaps a peach tree?

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Here’s a close-up of some of the flowers from this beautiful tree:

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And there you have it – nature’s springtime abundance, to be found for the looking!

Coming out

Since the start of this year, we seem to have had more gray or rainy days than sunny days – at least it feels that way to me! That said, we had very little rain last fall, so the rain we have had since the beginning of the year is somewhat reducing the rainfall deficit, which can only be a good thing for our area! Another side effect of the rain is that the spring flowers should be absolutely spectacular this year!

When the sun came out last week, I met up on Friday with a couple of friends for a two and a half hour hike. We met in Agel, in the car park behind the church. A signpost pointed across the river to ‘Le Pech’, the hill we were going to climb. There was a marked walk on Le Pech many years ago, but the markings are no longer maintained, so we relied on the knowledge of one of our fellow walkers to guide us.

There were wonderful views of the village of Agel as we climbed the hill:

We walked past beautifully maintained olive groves:

And we came to the ruins of the chapel of Saint Symphorien:

On we walked through dense pine forests, inhaling the wonderful scents from the pine trees and the rosemary bushes. We walked past vineyards, the vines neatly pruned and the ground carpeted with flowering wild rocket (arugula).

We came to a bit of landscape that looked as though it might belong somewhere else – Arizona or Utah, perhaps?

We walked past enormous bushes of flowering gorse, interspersed with some rosemary, also in flower, which diffused a wonderful scent.

Before long we came upon these strange looking mounds – made by ants?

And then the village of Agel came into view again – we were on the home straight!

As we got closer to the village, we came across a field that was sprinkled with anemones – such beautiful and cheerful colours!

Here is another view of the village from across the river:

And then we were back where we started. I’d packed some banana bread and a thermos flask with tea, so had a well earned picnic before I left my friends and headed back to Saint-Chinian again.

There’ll be more spring flowers and walks soon!! Have you been out walking lately?

Let the music play

Under normal circumstances, the Fete de la Musique would be taking place all over France this weekend.  With the current Covid-19 crisis, the events have been cancelled pretty much everywhere.  So here is a virtual Fete de la Musique, by means of an article I wrote in 2014 – I hope you’ll enjoy it!


On June 21st, the whole of France celebrates the Fete de la Musique, with parties and concerts everywhere – and who am I to miss out on a party!!?? 😀

So I rounded up a  few friends and together we went to Beziers to see what we could listen to!  We left fairly early, and as we walked from the underground car park up the Allees Paul Riquet, it became clear that we had arrived a little too early.  But still, it was good to be able to have a look around without missing anything!  The food stalls looked colourful and the smells were tantalising!!

We headed for Place de la Revolution, where the Sardanistes would be dancing later in the evening.  The plan was to have dinner at Brasserie du Palais, and be able to listen to the music and watch the dancers from the comfort of our table.  On the way to Place de la Revolution I came across some interesting details.

The atmosphere in Beziers was very summery and festive – lots of people out in the streets, all getting ready to party in one way or another!

Our meal at Brasserie du Palais was delicious!  A large plate of tapas to share, followed by great main courses, and nice desserts.

The restaurant takes its name from the former archbishop’s palace, which is just across the square, and today houses the local courts of justice.  Next to it is the cathedral, and we had a fine view of that from our table.

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We were just about finishing our desserts, when the musicians started to gather on the stage, and it wasn’t long before they struck up their first tune.

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And as soon as they started to play, the dancers appeared – at first only a few of them joined hands to form a small circle.

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Now a word about the music and dancing – the Sardana is a Catalan tradition, played on instruments of which a few are not found elsewhere in France or Europe.  The band is called “Cobla” and the dancers are called “Sardanistes”.  For the full explanation please have a look at the Wikipedia entry, which I think explains it all very well.

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I was watching in blissful ignorance, enjoying the uplifting sound of the music and watching the dancers with fascination.  It seemed as though anyone could join in, and the circle grew larger and larger, until it was all around the fountain and the square.  The steps seemed to be very simple – it was only later, when talking to a couple of the dancers, that I found out that there was a lot more to it! 🙂 .

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The band, as well as the dancers I spoke with, had come from Perpignan, where they had already performed earlier that day.  They explained that the Sardana is a traditional dance, as opposed to a folkloric dance, so nobody wears any special costumes.  Both the dancers were wearing the traditional espardenya shoes though – you’ll be able to see these shoes in the video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video).

 

Did you notice how the flute player also plays the tiny drum, which is strapped to his arm?  The double bass has only three strings, and its player is really going for it!  We sat and listened and watched, and enjoyed every minute of it!!

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It was getting dark and the lights came on, and with the whole square alive with music and dance, it was just magical.

When we had had our fill of the Sardana, we wandered over to the cathedral, where another concert was just coming to the end:  Nicolas Celero at the piano, playing music by Franz Liszt, and Michael Lonsdale reading in between the musical performances.

On our way back we walked down Rue Viennet and passed Place du Forum, across the road from the town hall, which had all been transformed with strings of lights into the most magical of places.

The Eglise de la Madeleine looked very majestic, lit up against the black sky.

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And then we reached the Allees Paul Riquet once more, and wandered amongst the many people who were either watching the act on the main stage in front of the theatre, or just enjoying the start of summer.

Mark your calendar for next year, and plan to be in Herault around June 21st – I promise you’ll enjoy the festivities!

Close to you

This past week has been somewhat mixed – our confinement will be ending soon, since Saint-Chinian is in one of France’s green zones where there have been few cases of the virus.  However, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal – far from it!  Many restrictions will remain in place, and we’re a long way from being out of the woods!

So, since I cannot be close to any of you I went for another walk with my camera, to be close to nature instead!  Below is a map of my walk – it started by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. I wore my sturdy shoes since a part of it was on slightly uneven terrain!  Only a short length of it was somewhat challenging, where the path went uphill, but for the rest it was pretty easy and very enjoyable!

I started the walk by going along the Chemin des Gazels, passing the cemetery and then took a right turn, just past the former distillery, to join up with the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After about 750m on the Chemin de Sorteilho, I turned right onto a somewhat overgrown track.  This track is not marked on any of the maps, but the hut it goes past is marked with a little black speck on the map!  At the top of the track I turned right once again and followed the path back towards the cooperative winery.  The walk was about 2.5 km in length – easy!!

We’ve had wonderful weather over the past weeks, plenty of sunshine, but enough rain to keep nature happy! The wildflowers I saw along my walk were beautiful and here are a few of the pictures I took:

The hut I walked past during the uphill part of my walk had been abandoned some years ago.  The door was missing, and the inside was strewn with all kinds of rubbish.  The roof was still intact and from one of the beams hung an enormous wasps nest!!  It was very well preserved, so might have been built only last year?  I would never have been able to go anywhere near it if it had still been occupied!!

Just before I reached the first of the ponds which are by the side of the path, I noticed the mushrooms in the pictures below.  They were incredibly well camouflaged amongst the rocks!  What a shame that they were not truffles!! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this walk – you’ll be able to follow it yourself on your next visit to Saint-Chinian!!

I leave you with a video of Karen Carpenter singing Close to you…

Up in the air

For some time I’ve been thinking of visiting the Passerelle de Mazamet, a footbridge across a gorge above Mazamet.  The footbridge allows pedestrian access to the mediaeval village of Hautpoul, which is also on my list of places to visit!!

Here is a map of the location:

Since I’m not going to be able to visit any time soon – and even if I did visit, I might not be able to walk across the bridge because of my fear of heights – I thought I would share the post below with you.  It was published recently on www.francetaste.wordpress.com.  A big thank you to the author for allowing me to re-post the article!


IMG_5111What is it about humans that we love to look down on everything? To get up high, for a better view? The chill of vertige with the thrill of omniscience.IMG_5092On a balmy February day, a friend and I went to the Passerelle of Mazamet, which has been on my bucket list for a moment. One of those things that’s too nearby to miss, but far enough that I never got around to it. The drive from Carcassonne to Mazamet takes nearly an hour. Longer if a nervous retiree from a distant department is ahead of you and slowing to a crawl around the curves but, with a bigger engine, speeding like an idiot on the rare straightaways, as if that makes up for anything. IMG_5151The $*%&ing driver ahead of us aside, the route was absolutely gorgeous. It goes up and up and up, and the vegetation changes to dense forest. There were signs about the pass being open, snow markers on the sides of the road, but we were in fleece jackets and during our hike had to take those off. A weird winter. It was 70 F here yesterday.IMG_5129

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Lush February forest.

IMG_5117The passerelle was inaugurated in 2018. It’s 140 meters (460 feet) long over the Arnette river and 70 meters (230 feet) above the ground. It’s free and open 24/7, but you’d be crazy to go after dark. We were glad to be there in February–plus it was lunch time and the French do one thing during lunch time: eat. So we had the place almost to ourselves. It would be much less fun in the heat of summer with a gazillion people on the narrow path. Even worse, a gazillion people on the passerelle. It can hold 42 tons, which is a lot of people, but even a couple of other people walking made it bounce such that I was glad I hadn’t eaten.

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Into the void.

The only other people were grandparents with three girls. One was maybe two or three years old, and she galloped up and down the passerelle fearlessly. One was maybe 12 and she clung to her grandmother for dear life. We passed them in the middle of the passerelle on their way back. And we discovered another girl, maybe 7 or 8, on the other side, steadfastly refusing to budge.

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Looking down.

We saw the grandfather start back and figured he was coming to the aid of the middle girl. He stopped and took photos. Lots of photos. The littlest girl came tearing down toward him. She passed him, then turned around and came back to him. He never stopped taking photos.

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Going back.

We started back and were about halfway when the grandmother and the oldest girl, still clinging and looking like she was going to puke, came back. Grandpa wanted to film them. As if the granddaughter would want to remember this moment. Who was the middle girl supposed to hold onto? Grandma was taken, and grandpa was filming. Nobody seemed worried about the middle girl or even the little one. Yes, the passerelle had no holes where the little one could fall through, but she was at that nimble age where she could climb the chain link side, which came up to my armpit, and be over it in a flash, and grandpa still wouldn’t stop filming. His obliviousness reminded me of a type: “I’m doing this for you! You’re going to do it and enjoy it whether you like it or not!”

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Mazamet.

On the way down, we passed other grandparents out with the grandkids, starting to show up once it was 2 p.m. And more retirees. A lady with very inappropriate shoes (ballerinas with wedge heels…what are those called?).

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La Voie Romaine.

To go up, we took the steep route, called the Voie Romaine, or Roman Way, which was the ancient salt route, and partly paved with stones. It had a heart-pounding 19% grade, but I’d rather take that going up than down.

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Stone walls of the former gardens.
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This seems to have been a protohistoric home, naturally protected from the wind and rain on the south side of the slope. But I’m not sure. The gardens also had little towers.
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On the wall of the circular structure. Looks like a donkey to me.

IMG_5124IMG_5142IMG_5138The descent, on a path with an 8% grade, was via the Jardins Cormouls Houlès, which date to the middle of the 19th century, with interesting towers and stone walls. First we checked out the ruins of the church of Saint-Saveur, which dates to the 1100s. IMG_5099IMG_5101IMG_5098IMG_5113The church was built on a hilltop, for views. Up in the air. Like life right now, waiting to see where things will land, trying not to fall.

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A little shrine at the start of the path.
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Interesting plastic bottle for holy water. What will they think of next?
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Another bustling shrine.
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Am haunted by the possible meaning of that doll.

I’m leaving you with these ghostly images. I couldn’t pick one, so you get three.IMG_5130IMG_5131IMG_5132

The big picture

There are big pictures all over the place – murals that cover entire sides of buildings.  I’ve often heard them called muriels – have you heard them called that too??  In French, murals are often called trompe l’oeil, literally translated as “deceive the eye”.  Some of the murals in the following pictures are incredibly convincing and live up to their trompe l’oeil name!!

The first one is in Lodeve, and it is a very good example of a trompe l’oeil, as it blends real with fake – can you tell which windows are real and which are not?

The following mural is in Montpellier – the walls are pretty much flat, but the painting’s perspective makes it look incredibly 3D!The next mural is in Capestang, just right around the corner from the restaurant La Galiniere.

Beziers has a good number of murals – here is the oldest that I know of:

There appears to be a theme to the more recently painted murals in Beziers: famous artists and their works!

Here is L’Arlesienne by Georges Bizet:

Dejanire by Camille Saint-Saens:

Le Depit Amoureux by Moliere:

Jean Moulin, a native of Beziers and a hero of the Resistance, opened an art gallery in Nice as a cover for his resistance activities.  The following mural commemorates Jean Moulin and his gallery:

The mural in the last picture of this post is on a newly created square in Beziers.  The mural hides a series of what I imagine are run-down houses awaiting renovation – a pretty neat idea!

This was to be my last article of 2019, but somehow it never got posted and ended up in my drafts folder!  Since I wrote this post, Saint-Chinian has unveiled its own trompe l’oeil. It’s not quite finished yet, so I’ll post a picture of it when it is.

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