Tragic events

Once again I am speechless.  What should have been a day of national celebration has been turned into a tragedy.  Scores of people are mourning loved ones, and many more have been traumatised by the events in Nice.  My sympathies and prayers go to all those who have been affected by this senseless act of terrorism.

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Remembering Charles

I wonder how many of you have heard of the French singer Charles Trenet?  If you haven’t heard of him, you have probably heard one of his songs, perhaps La Mer (Beyond the Sea) or Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (I wish you love).  Both songs have been covered by many artists – have a look for them on the net, you’ll find many of them!  Charles Trenet was a big star in France, and most people know the lyrics to some of his songs.

What the Wikipedia page fails to mention under the heading ‘Early life’, is that Trenet’s father was the notary in Saint-Chinian at the time Charles was born.  Although he was born in Narbonne, little Charles spent his first years in Saint-Chinian, where he took piano lessons from a local music teacher.  The house where the Trenets used to live, is today the Maison des Vins and the veterinary practice – at some time it was divided into two.

Earlier this year year, the municipality of Saint-Chinian decided that it would be fitting to remember the fact that Charles Trenet was once a citizen of Saint-Chinian.  To that end, the Rue de la Promenade was recently re-named  Avenue Charles Trenet!

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The re-naming ceremony took place outside the Maison des Vins, one recent Sunday.  The sun shone, and the atmosphere was festive!  Part of the ceremony was the induction of three of Charles Trenet’s collaborators into the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian, the Fellowship of the AOC Saint-Chinian.

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Of course there was an aperitif after the official business had been completed!

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The “festivities” continued in the abbatiale, the former abbey church.  Here a monumental picture of Charles Trenet was unveiled, hanging on the end wall.  It looks impressive, doesn’t it??

Jean-Pierre Tutin and Jean-Jaques Debout, both of whom knew Charles Trenet very well, were playing some of the Trenet repertoire, while the rest of us snacked on cheese and apple cake.

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Jean-Pierre Tutin

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Jean-Jacques Debout

You’ll be able to hear Jean-Pierre Tutin in Saint-Chinian later this year, on July 7, 2016, during the music festival.  He will be playing and singing music by Charles Trenet.  I’ll write more about the music festival in due course, once the programme is finalised.

The last event of this day of celebrating Charles Trenet was in the parish church in Saint-Chinian.  Here a recital of the music of Charles Trenet was played on the organ by William Henriet, another Trenet collaborator.  Hearing 20th century music played on an 18th century organ was interesting – let’s leave it at that! 😀

All in all, a great day, and I’m sure there will be more events in Saint-Chinian with a “Trenet” theme.

Looking ahead

For a little while I’ve been thinking about an events page for this blog – there is no better time than the new year to start this!! 🙂  On the new page, I will list upcoming events in and around the area, which you might enjoy.  I will try and update the page as often as possible – if there is an event you think should be listed here, please drop me a line.  If you want to visit the area and need accommodation please head to www.midihideaways.com .  Here now are the events I have added to the new page. This is only the start . . .

Limoux Carnival – 03.01.2016 – 13.03.2016

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The good people of Limoux take their carnival very serious.  Different groups have the run of the central square every Saturday and Sunday during the carnival period.  It’s always a fun festival to visit – I have previously written about it here.

Fete du Mimosa in Roquebrun – 14.02.2016

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The Fete du Mimosa is a must if you are in the area – a great fun fete!  I have visited many times and I’ve written about it here.

Grand Deballage in Pezenas – 01.05.2016

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This is one of the larges antiques and flea markets in the area, with at least 150 stands.  Serious bargains can be found if you are prepared to look!  I’ll try and be there – should be good fun!

Tour de France 2016 – 13.07.2016 and 14.07.2016

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On July 13, the cyclists of the Tour de France will be racing from Carcassonne to Montpellier.  Rumour has it that the route may be going through Minerve and past La Caunette, but nothing has been confirmed yet.  On the following day the Tour will go from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux.  This should be an interesting stage, as the cyclists have to climb more than 1300m in altitude!  Here’s a post from when the Tour came through Saint-Chinian a few years ago!

Bastille Day, all over the area – 14.07.2016

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France celebrates her national holiday in great style – parties and fireworks take place in pretty much every village!  Some fireworks parties take place on the 13th (e.g. Beziers) and some on the 14th (e.g. Saint-Chinian and Bize-Minervois).  Not to be missed!

Fete du Cru, Saint-Chinian – 17.07.2016

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A whole day of wine tasting, a not to be missed event in Saint-Chinian.  You can read about a previous fete here.

The heartbreak in Paris

In the aftermath of the devastating attacks in Paris, messages of support started to come in from all corners of the world.  Thank you everyone – your thoughts mean a great deal!!  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and friends.

What I have seen of the coverage of the attacks has left me feeling devastated, and what I have read has been heartbreaking.

I went to Beziers last Saturday night for another flamenco show, and I went with very mixed feelings!  Two armed policemen stood at the entrance to the theatre, as theatregoers made their way in.  The theatre was packed, and before the start of the show an announcement called for a minute of silence to honour the victims of the attack.  Everybody rose to their feet, and you could have heard a pin drop during that minute!

After the end of the show, as the patrons left the theatre, there must have been at least eight police on the square in front of the theatre, all heavily armed.  I don’t usually like that kind of thing, but I was glad to see them there.  It made me feel less fearful and more protected.

Striking fear into our hearts is what the terrorists are probably aiming for.  Fear will affect everything we do, stopping us from going out or travelling, paralysing our lives and making us miserable.  Not allowing fear to steal into our hearts is one way of holding out.  Solidarity with the people who were affected by the attacks is another.

I leave you with these images of Le Tricolor flying in the Paris skies.

Flower power

This week’s post is going to be a short one, and it will rely heavily on photographs! 😉  The reason is that right now I am spending most of my spare time in the garden, where everything seems to be happening at once!!

At this time of year, a lot of plants are in full flower or starting to flower, such as the thyme, campanula, and Papa Meilland rose in the picture below.

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Other plants, such as the salvias and lavenders, which I cut back not all that long ago, are producing lots of lush new growth.

 

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There’s a patch of weeds in my garden, which has been heavily invaded by escholtzia, the Californian poppy.  Such a cheery sight!  Eventually the weeds and the escholtzias will be weeded out, and some vegetables be planted in their place.  But fear not, there will always be weeds and escholtzias somewhere in the garden…

 

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The bees are having a wonderful time on the borage…

 

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… and on the thyme!  It’s hard to beat thyme when it’s in full flower – the generosity of the blossom is astounding.

 

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The potatoes are up and out, and after some hoeing the patch is more or less weed free. 🙂

 

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The broad beans, which I sowed last November, are producing a very good crop right now!

 

 

The artichokes have just started to put up flower buds – I think I’ll be enjoying some of those lovely globes for supper tonight.

 

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I’m growing a few spare plants for a charity sale, which will take place in Saint-Chinian on June 21st, 2015.  There’ll be garlic chives, two kinds of mint, gaillardia, and a plant whose name I cannot remember, but it has white furry leaves 🙂 .  Of course there will be a lot of other plants too!

 

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The tomato forest is ready for planting out – one of my chores this week!

 

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The wisteria has all but finished flowering, but there may be some more flowers later in the summer!

 

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The bearded iris are also in full flower right now.  If you look carefully at the pictures you’ll be able to tell why it is called “bearded” 🙂

 

 

The flower buds on the kiwi plants are looking good, another week and they should be open and ready for business – or should that be beesiness?!

 

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These seedlings and plants need to be pricked out or planted very soon!

 

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Here’s a medley of flowers: escholtzia, allium, roses, heuchera, wallflowers, gaillardia, gerbera, salvia and bulbine frutescens.  All of them are blooming in my garden right now.  This really is a fabulous time of the year in Languedoc!

 

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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.