The Village Voice

Florence Nash has very kindly written another post for this blog!  I’ve lived in Saint-Chinian for so long that I take the sounds around me for granted, and as such I don’t really pay attention to them any more.  So it’s wonderful to be reminded of those particular sounds which make living in a village (as opposed to a town/city) so very special – thank you, Florence!!


I usually arrive in Saint-Chinian, at the end of August or early September, as a refugee from the sweaty, buggy, late-summer slump of the southern United States, where people dash from one air-tight, air-conditioned haven to the next. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite images of this many-splendored place is a surprisingly modest one: My waking view of dawn lighting the red roof tiles outside the wide-open casement window, and the curtain sheers, dotted with little Fleurs de Lys, stirring slightly in air just cool enough to require a blanket. This air is sooo delicious! And virtually bug-free, with the sky criss-crossed by swallows (or martins, or swifts — I never can tell the difference) swooping and darting helpfully after their airborne breakfast. I wouldn’t dream of closing these windows at night, even if it were to take three blankets.

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That may explain how I have become so conscious of the voice of Saint-Chinian, the particular texture of sounds human and otherwise that seems almost a sonic portrait of the village. Especially in early morning as the village wakens, but throughout the day as well, I find myself listening for and collecting its distinctive sounds.

To begin with, there’s the town clock that rings each hour and then, just to make sure everybody gets it right, does it again. The local doves join the daily aubade with their soft hoo, hoo-hooo. (One morning a few years ago I heard gunshots blasting through their peaceful calls. To my relief, it turned out to be someone chasing marauding boars out of his vineyards; they have a destructive enthusiasm for ripe grapes.) As the sun climbs, there’s the creak and clack of shutters being opened and secured and, on Thursdays and Sundays, the thrum of van engines as marchands converge on the market square and set up their stalls, calling and clattering and laughing. Plenty of dogs are quick to voice their territorial imperatives — there’s some indignant barking under my window as I write.

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I’m renting Acanthus, as usual, the house occupying the two stories over Andreas and Anthony’s headquarters on Rue Cours La Reine, and throughout the day I hear the companionable murmur of many a conversation — in French, English, German, and who knows what — below my windows as friends stop by for a word. The mail carrier on her rounds usually has time for a little chat, too.  This street is one of the few actually wide enough for two passing cars and even a bit of parking. But just in back, and all around, there are “streets” you’d swear a car could never fit through — until you find yourself leaping frantically into a doorway and mashing yourself against the wall as one squeezes past with a few inches (really!) to spare, rear-view mirror practically snatching at the market basket clasped to your bosom. These tiny streets, separating dwellings by only a few yards, are one of the factors contributing to what amounts to a village-wide conversation; that, along with the fact that every sound reverberates full force off these ancient stones. One morning as I lay in bed savoring the rising light and the twitter of birds, I heard the clear ting ting of a teaspoon against a coffee cup in someone’s kitchen across the way. It was extremely intimate, somehow.

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To be fair, I have to mention the occasional roar and clatter of huge trucks that shoulder their way along the main drag, momentarily challenging conversation under the trees at Le Balcon, and Vernazobre, and the Café de la Paix. They’re not my favorite noise, but they are part of the real life of all these old villages now strung like beads along a narrow, busy trucking route. I’ve come to love Saint-Chinian because it’s not a Hollywood-glamorous South of France destination, but an ancient town in a surrounding of dramatic beauty — and equally dramatic history — where people work hard and live in close community, mostly either making wine or providing services for those who do. And, for my money, instead of seeing famous beauties in full make-up and stage lighting, I find it a lot more interesting — and  privileged — to get to know what they’re like after a hard day’s work, or first thing in the morning!

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Speaking of working, I have to share with you one more little item in Saint-Chinian’s voice. The other day I drove up behind the Cave Cooperative to have a look at Domaine La Madura’s new winery, built since I was last here by my friends Nadia and Cyril. On the way up I spotted Nadia out talking with the pickers, so we only exchanged a hasty wave. At the winery, though, I found Cyril in rubber boots hosing off a concrete floor, the air tinged with new fermentation. He showed me around the sleek, modern building crowning the hill (and uncannily harmonious with the landscape): lab, tasting room, sales area, offices. We entered a low-ceilinged space filled with solemn rows of large, apparently identical barrels; but each bore its own markings: contents, origins, age; each had a personal history of weather and work and worry. The room felt like a kind of chapel of wine. Cyril removed the bung from one of the barrels nearby and said, “Come listen. You can hear the wine working.” I put my ear down close to the bung hole, held my breath . . . and there it was, faint but steady. Sssshhhh. Just like holding a seashell to your ear to hear the ocean, hundreds of miles from the coast. The voice of the wine! Delicate and astonishing and new, this voice of Saint-Chinian is now, without doubt, my undisputed favorite.

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Before I sign off, just one or two more words about the pleasures of driving in the Languedoc countryside. Because every road wriggles and squeezes through village after village —often without room for two cars to pass and always with two or three badly parked vans in the way— drivers encounter over and over the need to slow down, calculate relative maneuvering ease, and cede right-of-way in the most practical direction. This is accomplished fluidly, quickly, and without fuss by the great majority of drivers I’ve encountered, in a sort of car-ballet of accommodation. It makes me feel better about human behavior. It makes me feel less good about driving in the US. Lastly, my very favorite road sign in all of France is the one that says “TOUTES DIRECTIONS.” No message could be more welcome or more comforting than this, to us strangers wandering in a strange land: “Wherever it is you are trying to go, friend, you are — so far — on the right road!”

The French Market – Taste of France

This week’s post is a little late, I’m sorry! I came across a bit of a challenge when it came to re-blogging this post from http://www.francetaste.wordpress.com.  The writer of this blog lives in Carcassonne and writes on a variety of interesting topics.  I particularly enjoyed the post below and have wanted to share it with you for a little while now.  As autumn is setting in, it’s high time I posted it!!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Tomorrow is Saturday, the best day of the week. Market day.

There are markets on Tuesday and Thursday, but they’re smaller. Saturdays bring more sellers and buyers. It’s a big social event, centered on food. So very French.

I have my favorite vendors. I try to stick to seasonal produce. It is better in season, and the lack of it out of season makes it all the more special when it’s available.

The apples have appeared. The nectarines and peaches are still going strong, but you can tell they’re going to get farineuse–mealy–pretty soon.

There are plenty of tomatoes, and now that the heat has broken, it’s time to make spaghetti sauce.

An adieu to summer….

That’s per kilo…

Hot peppers

Rotisserie chicken….just TRY walking past!

Yellow melons

Ham or jambon

Almonds or amandes

A little entertainment

Snails or escargots

Figs or figues

Apricots, or abricots, still in late summer! Our tree’s fruit was ripe and eaten in July!

Cucumbers, or concombres

White and purple eggplant, or aubergine

Do you cook from scratch? What will you miss most about summer’s bounty?

My shopping caddy, stuffed to the gills.

Source: The French Market – Taste of France

Back again!

Once more I have the pleasure of hosting Florence Nash in my house.  Over the past twelve years, Florence has become a dear friend, and I greatly look forward to her visits each year! Florence enthusiastically agreed to write a guest post for the blog, to share her experiences of her visits to Saint-Chinian.

 

Before retiring in 2003, Florence worked as a writer and editor at Duke University Medical Center for 16 years. Her poems, book and music reviews, program notes, and feature articles have appeared in publications across the USA. She has two collections of poetry, Fish Music (Gravity Press, 2010) and Crossing Water (Gravity Press, 1996).  Florence is also a “reckless but enthusiastic” cook, and it’s thanks to her that I have been able to write about the wonderful dish that is tomato pie!!

My twelve annual September visits to St. Chinian have been a pretty even balance between time on my own and playing host to friends or family, with a pleasant tidal swing between these two states of being. By myself, I grow impatient for guests to arrive so I can share my favorite places and things, show off my French (however spotty), have someone to cook for or with . . . . but after a few days of company I look forward to their departure so I can get back to my own rhythms and ramblings. This year, for the first time, no visitors are scheduled, so I find myself more than usually attentive to my list of daily Projects, various errands devised to take me out of the house and onto the scenic, fragrant little roads that honeycomb these rolling miles of vineyards.

For instance: Yes, of course I can buy Luques olives, my favorites, right here at the market, but with all the day before me, why not drive over to l’Oulibo? Here at this big olive mill on the D5 near Bize-Minervois, you can happily and shamelessly sample your weight in olives and oils and tapenades before picking up a supply of fresh, unpasteurized Luques — more subtle and delicious than the market ones — AND snag a few appealing olive wood or olive-oil-based souvenirs for the folks back home while you’re at it.

If you need to lay in a supply of jambon sec for your stay (as surely you do!), you may have heard Andreas claim that the very best Serrano ham comes from a vendor at the Narbonne central market — he’s the only one whose stall has a bright red slicing machine — so how about a day trip down to that fabulous foodie palace? This project, incidentally, also provides the minor drama of maneuvering a rental car through thickly trafficked city streets, a challenge quite different from that of winding country lanes.

Then there’s the matter of daily bread: St. Chinian boasts plenty of perfectly good boulangeries, but there’s solid consensus that — until recently — right down the road in Azillanet, Stéphane made the best bread in the region, in a boulangerie so small, with an oven so deep, that he had to open his bright blue door to make room for maneuvering the long wooden paddles that shift the loaves over the wood fire. And, since he only opened for retail sale a few hours at a time and you never quite remembered what those hours were, you might find yourself whiling away a half hour or so waiting on a sun-warmed stone wall, watching the efforts of a giant tour bus to turn down a road built a millennium ago for pedestrians and horse carts. Gazing back at the faces peering from the bus’s tinted windows while the bus lurched back and forth, grinding and huffing, you’d be permitted to muse on the difference between tourists and travelers, and to be filled with satisfaction to know you are among the latter. (This year, alas, the boulangerie behind the blue door is gone, and Stéphane is making his bread at a new location yet to be discovered by yours truly.)

My favorite Project so far took nearly all the free days I had available. Early in my wanderings through the Languedoc, I stopped for lunch in a village, took a photo of its strikingly picturesque central square and, once back home, installed it as my new desktop  background image. To this day I confront that idyllic scene every morning: the fountain, the medieval buildings, sunlight through a gigantic central tree dappling the happy diners at tables scattered below. The image has become emblematic to me of the seductions of southern France. Big problem, though: I couldn’t remember what village it was. So, Major Project! Guided only by memory fragments and vague directional instinct — tight climbing turns, mountains: it must be northward — I set out morning after morning with my trusty road atlas and unflagging determination. As someone said — Homer, maybe? — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. These explorations were full of new scenery, exhilarating driving, and places I might never otherwise have encountered.  At last, after snagging a scarce parking place along the road, I walked down into a hamlet wedged in a steep, narrow canyon too small to admit cars: St. Guilhelm-le-Desert, refuge of Charlemagne’s general-turned-hermit. Bingo! My square at last! I’ve returned a couple of times with visiting friends, who were thrilled. We stayed overnight in an ancient tower turned hostel (which I believe is no longer open) to explore neighboring caverns and take rented kayaks on the river. Maybe I’ll get back there this year. Fingers crossed.

You may have detected in these ruminations a certain preoccupation with driving. You’re right. In contrast to the calm, cushioned passivity of my automatic-everything SUV on the well-groomed highways at home, my little rental car is lively as a jackrabbit, responding instantly — I almost want to say eagerly — as it slaloms along these skinny little roads that flow sensuously over the terrain’s varied contours. It demands unwavering vigilance and constant gear-shifting for blind curves, oncoming vehicles, precipitous dropoffs with no guardrails, cyclists, wandering livestock (a sheep, once, up near Roquefort), and grape-hauling tractors at harvest. It’s tiring, yes, but also as much fun as taking up a new sport. And it creates a sort of hypersensitivity, a connectedness, to all aspects of the surroundings, which can only be good, right? It’s all so beautiful!

So, whoever you are reading this, thanks for indulging these extemporaneous musings, and, if you don’t know the Languedoc yet, I sincerely hope you will some day. I wish you as much delight as it’s been my good fortune to have. Make sure you contact Andreas and Anthony at Midihideaways. You couldn’t be in more congenial, knowledgeable, and helpful hands. Tell them I sent you.

On the road for antiques

This post was kindly written by Deidre Simmons, who is currently in the second half of her six month stay in St Chinian.  Thank you, Deidre, for sharing your passion with us all!

Shopping Pour Antiquités dans le sud de France

It was not our intention to do a lot of shopping while living dans le sud de la France. After all, it is costing us a bit to maintain two homes plus travel and enjoy the delicious food and wine. And we prefer not to spend a lot of money on “stuff”.

BUT I have discovered the magic of the French brocante et salons d’antiquaires. I got hooked when I decided I wanted a tarte tatin pan for the traditional apple tart recipe I had found on the Midihideways blog. It was early December, but it turned out we were just in time for the annual Grand Déballage (this translates as ‘big unpacking’, very much like a jumble or garage sale) which is usually held in nearby Pézenas on the 2nd Sunday in October but had been postponed this year. Lucky for us – but it meant a cooler day, albeit sunny. The city of Pézenas is known for its antiques, and the many shops of second-hand goods and antique dealers are open throughout the year. Furniture, old linen, jewellery, crockery, paintings, trinkets, African art, art deco, watches, books and posters, and an interesting selection of 1950s era furniture, china, and household items are available.

The colourful and “exotic” second-hand market we attended extended over a kilometre, with over 150 exhibitors. Many just had blankets laid out along the street, covered with bits and pieces. Others were more serious with tables or cupboards full of goodies. I was looking for copper – remember the tarte tatin pan?. There was not much in evidence but we did notice that items near the entrance had higher prices than further along. About half way into the melee, I saw a set of three copper pots. The man wanted 30 euros – for them all! A good price but not quite what I was looking for, so onward. Looking for anything specific among the melange of objects on display is a bit like trying to find “Waldo”.

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It was a cool day so everyone was bundled up. This lady was selling retro bakelite jewelry from the ’50s – or so she said. It is a bit hard to identify bakelite from plastic, but her merchandise was very nice and included some interesting colour combinations and designs. We had a good look through the bracelets and eventually bought two for gifts.

 

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Along we strolled, looking at no end of strange and unusual “antiques”. We were impressed that there were these guns for sale – no one worried about them lying out there for all to fondle.

 

 

We turned a corner and came upon a jazz ensemble adding music to the atmosphere. But it was lunchtime, and in France, lunch means eating and the ubiquitous bottle of wine – and family time.

 

 

Along a little lane off the antique row, we found Crêperie la Cour Pavee, where we enjoyed traditional Brittany-style galettes and crêpes with traditional cider. Can you imagine the taste of a salted butter caramel crêpe?

 

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Back to the Grand Déballage – we returned to our search back along the way we came and stopped again to look at the copper pots. I decided I might be able to pack one in a suitcase so offered 10 euros for the smallest. Now I am the happy owner of a perfect little saucepan. What an exciting day! And there is more….

About a week or two later, we read about the oldest and the biggest fleamarket of Montpellier – Marche aux Puces. On arriving, we were a bit disappointed to find more of a garage sale en masse with mostly second hand clothes and shoes, etc. And the culture was definitely more middle eastern than French. But, there were some treasures to be found among the mish mash, with a lot of careful looking. I, surprisingly, found an oval copper pan with brass handles in very good shape for 10 euros. We also found a set of speakers to use on the computer when we want to watch movies. 8 euros and, miracle of miracles, when we got home they worked!! Just a little further along, I found another set of copper pots on a mat among a lot of useless items. This time a set of 5 for 20 euros. Again, I did not want five pots. But there were two that were very nice, with stainless steel lining, which apparently is a good thing. They were about the same size as the one I had already bought but since I was able to “bargain” the owner to sell me the best two for 10 euros (I know, that was not exactly bargaining) I now have another copper pot a bit larger and have gifted the smaller one to my “foodie” friend. I still do not have a tarte tatin pan but I will keep looking.

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Now I am getting excited about antique shopping. On a return visit to Pézenas, we went into Les Antiquaires de l’Hotel Genieys. It really is a beautiful shop, and at the back is a room full of antique linens.

Once I started sorting through and feeling the softness of washed linen, I could not resist. I started looking at sheets for about 150 euros but digging through the pile found a very nice one in a natural colour (not bleached) for 30 euros. It is huge – 320cm x 280cm or 126 x 110 inches – bigger than the usual North American queen size – 267cm x 280cm or 105 × 110 inches.

 

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The most common and most desirable sheets are the white matrimonial monogrammed sheets, traditionally embroidered by a future bride for her trousseau. If you are interested, check out this website http://fleurdandeol.com. On a very cold Saturday in Marseillan Plage, I found one (with the odd initials A O). The extremely cold vendor, trying to keep warm in his truck when I dragged him out to unfold the sheets so that I could check the quality, was not into bargaining. I happily paid his asked for 20 euros.

My photos do not do them justice. The sheets need to be washed and ironed, but it’s wonderful to imagine them on our bed at home. The natural coloured one will probably be used as a topper. I am now on a search for pillow shams!

When we have to return home after this French adventure, for sure our suitcases will be overflowing and we will probably have to send a box of stuff home by post. BUT, we have some great souvenirs and more good stories.

À bientôt de notre maison en le sud de France 
Deidre Simmons

PS: We did not buy these!

 

 

Through the vineyards…

This post was kindly written by Margaret Smythe, a long time friend and resident of St Chinian, as well as a dedicated walker!

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It started as a daily exercise routine and has become much more; the exercise part is now almost incidental and the routine is one of pleasure, mostly. So what is this exercise? Well, we are talking about the early morning walk through the vines and gardens of our village, a brisk-ish 45 minute circuit which takes us through history and nature and seasons from equinox to equinox. The route is the same, with minor variations; the routine is the same unless it’s raining: up at 7-ish, out by 7:30, back around 8:15 for much-needed coffee. It’s not an iron discipline; we are not trying to prove anything, but have grown to enjoy it so much that we miss it when it doesn’t happen.

I am going to lead you through our walk on a beautiful spring morning in late May or early June, when these photos were taken. When we begin in March the cold air stings our faces and ears and fingertips but we want to be ready to savor the first signs of spring: slowly day by day buds appear and open, birds begin to chatter and the sun is more than just a lamp in the sky. By the end of April spring has exploded and we have exchanged our hats, gloves, scarves, and heavy coats for sunglasses and jackets.

We set off down Rue de la Digue, towards the Vernazobres river and the scene of a tragic disaster for the village. In 1873 there was a terrible flood which swept away a lot of houses and killed more than 100 people. The ruins of some of the houses remain, now incorporated into gardens. The Digue (a flood protection dyke) was built to prevent this ever happening again. In fact the river was canalized for the part that runs through the village. Now the river is well-behaved and is a peaceful place for swimming and fishing.

Before we get to the ford we stop to look at the three ancient mulberry trees, one of the few remaining signs of the silk industry that went on here until the early 19th century. They still sprout leaves in their ruined condition, but no fruit. Read the plaque.

Here are inaccessible peaches – too bad some are rotting on the ground already – and unripe figs.

After passing the ford and the swimming hole, known as Les Platanettes for its sheltering plane trees, we emerge into the open spaces of the vineyards. Ahead we see the rocky outcrop “la Corne” an important landmark for the village. Wild flowers, olives, a sloping wheat field and vines and more vines. As we tramp along we listen out for the birds: I cannot claim to recognize them all but the cuckoo is obvious and so is the hoopoe with its distinctive four tooting notes. I saw one once, years ago, and long to see another. They are shy and getting rarer to see, they say. We hear nightingales and larks, and sometimes ducks flying over. Photos do not capture too well the beauty of the wild flowers, different ones coming out every week. Have a look at the last lingering poppies struggling to stay red but fading fast.

Soon we are back at the river, this time crossing by a metal bridge, a “passerelle.” At one time I used to drag a bicycle over it with not too much difficulty and there are signs for the routes of rallies for heavy 2-wheelers, mountain bikes and the like, to cross over too. On the other side we come to a group of houses, site of an old woollen mill known as la Rive. Here we meet the first of the dogs – these ones are ferocious barkers and not friendly. La Rive lies at the foot of the Corne which is now very close – we are almost underneath and able to make out the cross on its summit. On the west side, not visible from here, there is a chapel, Notre Dame de Nazareth, with a steep Way of the Cross leading up to it, where people make an annual pilgrimage followed by the habitual feast and verres d’amitie.

Our route is flat however, no harm first thing in the morning. We are now on a paved road for a short stretch until we swerve into the vines again and say hello to the other dogs, the friendly ones – caged for hunting. They always greet us leaping up with wagging tails as if to say let us out to play. The meeting of the waters comes next, that is a place where the canal and the stream meet. The canal disappears into some trees and when we see it again it has started its course along the many gardens leading into the village. It’s a very important feature of the village, which in the late middle ages (1460s) was tamed by the abbot (Abbe) of the local Benedictine monastery to irrigate his vegetable gardens in the center of the village. The monastery now houses the municipal buildings. Today for an annual 32 euro fee owners of the gardens all along its length can join the Association and water their crops. The flow of water is controlled by a number of vannes (sluices) which we show in the photos. For the rest of our walk we are more or less following the course of the canal.

After another stretch of tarmac we take a short cut and say hello to the donkeys who live with some ponies in a field bordering our path. This short cut between the canal and a damp-ish hedge – being near the water — is lined with different kinds of flowers. There are myriads of the wild pink pyramid orchids, wild garlic and earlier in the season yellow irises and kingcups.

Back on the road again we are nearing the village. We turn into the Martinet and pass a row of houses built almost on top of the canal. The machinery at the entrance to Le Martinet was taken from a sulphur mill before it was converted into a modern dwelling. We pass the vegetable gardens and wave to some of the gardeners and then join the top of the digue to view even more gardens.

The plane trees along here have been infected with an unusual canker. You can see the ones destined for the chop. Many have already been felled. The canker apparently came from wooden pallets containing ammunition brought over to France by the US Army at the end of WW2. It has taken all this time, more than 60 years, to destroy the plane trees. The fate of the plane trees along the Canal du Midi is the most disastrous: all 40,000 of them have to go. The trees were originally planted for shade for the horses and people who worked along the canal through the centuries, and also to secure the banks. Today, classified as a UN World Heritage site, it is extra important to replace them, and this work has begun. We see places along the canal now which are bare, bereft of their welcome shade, but with new trees already growing. The replacements are of varied species so as not to risk the same danger another time. Our village is just one of many who have been dealt this blow.

At the top of the Rue de la Digue we take a right down Rue des Jardins, wide enough for only one car at a time, and then a left into Rue du Canal de l’Abbe, nearly home. If you think life before washing machines was too tough, take a look at this ‘washing machine’ – le lavoir, on the edge of the canal. Some French villages have really elaborate lavoirs, washing places, with wonderful architecture. But the best that we can say about this one is that it is unpretentious. I’m told it was used in living memory. It is hard to imagine being on one’s knees, bending over scrubbing at some garment here without falling into the canal. Actually the olden days were not all bad; for example, there was a law on the books of the village that the mill owners could not discharge their effluent into the canal between certain specific hours of the day, which means a definite awareness of taking care of the planet, and/or consideration for the washerwomen.

And so around the next corner we are back at home.

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When you follow the same route every day, naturally you barely notice what has changed from day-to-day. On the other hand a month later it all looks different. Later on in early autumn when the grapes have been picked and the green vine leaves have turned a rainbow of colors from yellow to orange to deep purple, the end of our walking season is signalled by the low autumn sun which transforms the early morning scene into a land of sloping shadows and sudden flashes of light on the hilltops.

2 Beings or not 2 Beings

This week’s post has been contributed by Annie Parker, my friend and trusted proof-reader, without whom my texts would be full of grammatical errors and mistakes.  Thank you so much for sharing your Commedia dell’Arte impressions with all of us, Annie!

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Saint-Pons-de-Thomière is a lovely place to visit.  Thus, when we saw posters and flyers for this performance, it took very little persuasion to convince us to go:

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Before I go any further, let me forewarn you that the photos you will find here will not be in any way up to the quality that you have come to expect in this blog.  These were taken with my little, outdated cellphone, and the first several were taken through the windshield of our moving car.  (Don’t worry!  I wasn’t driving!)

The drive from Saint-Chinian to St Pons is especially beautiful, because most of it takes you through the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc.  These pictures in no way come close to showing you how truly beautiful it is, but at least they’ll give you some concept of it:

And then, almost without transition, there we were in St Pons!

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A major reason that St Pons fascinates and attracts us is that there are entire sections where the sidewalks are made of marble – not just scraps and pebbles of marble, but slabs of incredibly beautiful marble. We looked in awe at these beautiful sidewalks, wondering whether perhaps we should have removed our shoes before walking on them, but in St Pons they seem to take them thoroughly for granted.

They even have a couple of marble benches, one of which is made of the wonderful red marble that comes from this area:

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After hunting around for a bit, trying to figure out exactly where the performance was taking place, we finally saw chairs set up in a lovely courtyard behind the Mairie, complete with toilet facilities

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as well as a mini “bistrot”, serving drinks and small things to eat:

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As you can see from the photo above, we got there quite early – the seats were empty – but not for long:

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The audience was having a great time, chattering away, but some of us who were looking at the stage noticed a rather comic character sneakily attempting to get our attention:

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(Note how few people actually are focussing on him!)  But ultimately the total audience was brought to attention by a woman making announcements – and then the show started in earnest.  Almost immediately, the – well, he was something between a buffoon and a clown – captured everyone’s attention by clambering off the stage, into the audience:

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Oh!  The tension and attention that creates — the great fear (at least on my part):  will I be the next victim?!

In case you were wondering about the title, “Etre Ou Ne Pas Etre”, the show was centred around Shakespeare soliloquies:

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But it was also what my husband referred to as “a two-character show with one actor” – and thus another aspect of “to be or not to be” was created:  as the play progresses, we discover that the comic character we have gotten to know a bit is a character created by an actor who has a dream of putting on a one-man show of the most important Shakespearean soliloquies.

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He is, however, having great difficulty finding anyone to back him in this endeavour.  In an attempt to invigorate his performance, he brings his voice down to a low, hoarse, croaking quality and throws on an old hat that he has discovered – thereby becoming the comic character that we have already gotten to know.

As the show progresses, there are physical tussles between the two characters (behind the screen), each trying to take control of the other, complete with bangs and booms; curtains jostling around, ‘showing’ the struggle ensuing behind them; hands leaping up above the screen or being pulled submissively back from between the curtains; with one or another of the characters periodically appearing to the audience, only to be dragged back behind the screen by the ‘other’ character.  It was a wonderful piece of pantomime!

In the end, the comic character submits to the actor . . . or does he?

The enthusiasm of the audience, with vigorous applause, punctuated by cries of “Bravo!” brought Luca Franceschi, the actor, comic, and creator of the show back for repeated curtain calls, all immensely deserved, as far as we were concerned.

Strangely, the drive back home seemed even more beautiful, possibly because of the different perspective . . . possibly because of the evening shadows . . . possibly because we had been emotionally opened up by the performance.  Fortunately, it was still light enough outside to take a couple of additional pictures.

Good bye, St Pons!  Thank you for a wonderful afternoon!

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