More days out!

Fete 1900, Plateau des Poetes, Beziers – 1 May to 30 September 2017

Once more, there is an old-fashioned fairground in the gardens of the Plateau des Poetes in Beziers.  It’s a charming and nostalgic little fairground, recalling days gone by.  You can read my post about my visit to the fairground on a previous occasion here.

 Soapbox race, Saint-Chinian – 25 May 2017

This event promises to be highly enjoyable – have a look here for pictures from a previous race!  As before, the participants will be hurtling down the hill from the windmill to the market square, in their home-made contraptions!!

Les Natur’ailes, Narbonne Plage – 27 to 28 May 2017

This is an international festival of kite flying – two days of amazing creatures flying in the breeze at Narbonne Plage.  I wrote about this a few years ago – it was an enchanting day on the beach!  

Picnic with the wine makers, various locations, 3 – 5 June 2017

An initiative by the association of independent wine makers, this is a chance to visit a winery and participate in various activities such as guided walks, visits of the cellar, tastings etc.  You can find a list of local participants here.

Open day at La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois – 4 June 2017

La Petite Pepiniere has officially closed its doors as a plant nursery, however Gill Pound’s show garden is still as beautiful as ever.  This year, the open day is for raising awareness and funds for the association Languedoc Solidarité avec le Réfugies, which offers help and support to refugees in the area.  There will be food and a range of activities on a garden fete theme, as well as guided visits of the garden.

Randonne de Bacchus, Berlou – 4 June 2017

Another wine walk, this one at Berlou, is long established and always very popular.  The walk covers 8 km and there are 7 stops for food and wine!  You can find the programme here.

Fete de la Cerise, Mons la Trivalle – 5 June 2017

This is a local cherry fair which I have visited a number of times over the years.  It’s a lovely occasion to get your fill of cherries.  You may even get to take some home, and make a wonderful cherry clafoutis (flancake)?

 

Where are my marbles?

Marble used to be a way of life in the village of Caunes-Minervois, until not that long ago.  The marble quarries at Caunes were first exploited in Roman times, and have been in use more or less ever since. Until the mechanisation of the extraction and finishing, many of the inhabitants of the village were involved with marble in one way or another, be it physically working in the quarries, producing or repairing tools, or laboriously polishing the marble by hand.  The polishing was usually done by women and children, whose lives were often cut short by the side effects of inhaling the marble dust.

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In the middle ages the quarries were owned by the powerful Benedictine abbey in Caunes.  After the French revolution, ownership of the quarries passed to the state.  Today the Terralbes quarry is exploited by one of the companies who exploit the quarries at Carrara in Italy, with most of the post-extraction processing carried out in Italy.  Over the centuries, the marble from Caunes-Minervois has been used to decorate such illustrious buildings as the Louvre in Paris, the Grand Trianon in Versailles, the Opera house in Paris and St Peter’s in Rome, to name but a few.  Its distinctive red colour can be found in many private houses in the village too!

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Caunes-Minervois celebrates its heritage each year with a Fete de la sculpture et du marbre, a two-day event in June.  The guided visits of the marble quarries are fascinating, for their historic and geological insights.

From Caunes, the little train took us up into the hills behind the village, and to the entrance of the quarries.  There our group split into two, with one half (including myself) going to visit the Terralbes quarry, and the other half going off to see the historic “Carriere du Roy”.

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The Terralbes quarry, which is still being exploited, is impressive – if only for the sheer size of it!  If you want to find out more about marble itself, have a look at this article about marble, on Wikipedia.

Modern extraction methods mean that very few workers are required to get the huge blocks of marble cut.  To start with, holes are drilled into the rock vertically, and then a steel cable, which is studded with diamond cutters at intervals, is used to cut around the blocks.

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Once all the cuts are made, the blocks are dropped; we didn’t see this done, but below you’ll find a video of it, which is pretty spectacular! (Note: e-mail subscribers please visit the website to watch the video)  The reason the blocks are dropped rather than lifted, is that any faults within the stone will make it crack and break, rather than appear later during the processing and finishing.  Generally only perfect blocks are sold, so there is a large amount of waste.

The broken marble is however not altogether wasted.  Twice a year a stone crushing machine is brought on-site, and the waste is transformed into marble chippings, which can be used as hardcore and building material.

The historic “Carriere du Roy” is on the other side of the hill from the Terralbes quarry, and I had some spectacular views of the valley of the Cros stream on the way there.

The sheer drops and steep sides make this valley an ideal spot for rock climbing, and I observed several climbers on the opposite side.

The “Carriere du Roy” was a quarry specially set aside by King Louis XIV in 1700 for his own use.  Exploitation at this quarry ceased some time ago, probably during the first half of the 20th century, and today the quarry is a protected heritage site.  Our guide explained how columns were quarried in the old days, with the stone masons cutting most of the column in situ, then lifting it from the stone by using wooden wedges, which would be soaked and by swelling would lift the stone clear of the support.  There was always a danger that the column might break during the process, and one such example is still there for us to see today.

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Where the marble is directly exposed to the elements, it will eventually change colour, and age to the point of not really being recognizable as marble to the untrained eye. The “Carriere du Roy” is on a marked walk which you can find on the IGN map at http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/accueil.  If you find yourself in Caunes and have the time, I would suggest you try the walk, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Back in the village there were many distractions, including food and entertainment.

In the abbey church there are some beautiful examples of red marble and the Abbey itself is well worth a visit.

So, mark your diary, and look out for an update on http://www.lesmarbrieresdecaunes.fr/ for dates of any future events in Caunes-Minervois.

Spice up your life

Last week it was time again to meet up with my friends for some more cooking and delicious food!  We met up in Caunes Minervois and the theme our friends had decided on was Indian food, to be precise Keralan.  And while I think of it – last year I wrote about the Open weekend at my friends nursery in Caunes Minervois   – so before I get sidetracked I wanted to let you know that this year’s open weekend will take place on June 1 and 2, 2013;  you can find details here; do visit if you are in the area!  The garden was already looking pretty good, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to keep you interested.

End of digression – back to the food!  The choices for the menu had been made and it ran as follows: peanut salad, spicy prawns, spinach with coconut, fish baked in foil, vegetable sambar, rice, spicy pineapple.  The ingredients had all been prepared and soon we were all chopping, grinding, peeling, shredding and grating away, working on our recipes.  I’d elected to work on the spinach with coconut and the spicy pineapple. I was not entirely sure that I liked the idea of the spinach and coconut combination, but since we vowed to try new things I kept an open mind about it.  First catch your coconut, or in our case crack it open.  In the absence of a machete, we used a small axe and then the extracted flesh had to be peeled and grated, then ground to a smooth paste in a food processor with some chopped onion and garlic, and a little water. In one picture you see the paste along with some chopped green chili.  The sliced shallots and the halved chili pepper in the other picture are also for this dish.  The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India.

Once it came to cooking it was all very quick.  The shredded spinach was put in a large pan and put on gentle heat until wilted.  The coconut paste and chopped chili were then added in a well made in the middle of the spinach and allowed to steam for a little while.  In a separate pan we heated some oil and fried mustard seeds and rice until they started to pop, then added the sliced shallots, and cooked them to a golden colour.   The halved chili went in right at the end.  Then all was added to the spinach and mixed.  Of course since I was cooking I didn’t take pictures of the progress of that particular dish :-(.  But there are plenty of other photographs!

The spicy pineapple was good too – the pineapple was trimmed neatly, studded with cloves, then fried in a hot pan until golden all over.   It was roasted with a spiced syrup which had star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and cumin and had to be basted every five minutes – quite something!  It did have a gorgeous flavour though, and there were absolutely no leftovers 🙂

Here are pictures of the starters and main courses arranged on plates – very delicious!  Oh, and making chapatis was very easy and good fun!

Plant fairs, carpets and doorknockers

At the start of the week was a visit to La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois, last Sunday, for the annual Open Weekend. Despite all expectations to the contrary, Sunday turned out to be a little wet, but we set off undeterred. Gill Pound who runs La Petite Pepiniere has created the most magnificent garden from a former vineyard, and at 11am she welcomed us for a guided tour of her kingdom. The range of plants is vast, but all are planted with the same aim – to withstand the dry climate and the sometimes cold winter. If you’re a keen gardener a visit is a must, there is much to interest and of course Gill has a great range of plants for sale.  Towards the end of our visit a lady came to take a picture of our group – you can find the picture and accompanying article here –  yours truly is hidden behind the lady in the purple raincoat!

As part of the open weekend a number of artists and artisans were exhibiting their works over the two days, but because of the rain several had to pack up and leave early. One of the few who stayed was Garth Bowden, who was showing a range of wooden furniture and sculptures. I was particularly taken by his wooden benches, where the surface textures were simply wonderful. After lunch the drizzle stopped and it brightened up a bit. There was much excitement, when a rare orchid (see picture above) was found by one of the visitors, growing near the riverbank.

I treated myself to two plants for my garden, a verbena bonariense, for which I’ve yet to find a spot and an Amicia Zygomeris which is planted and getting established.  The rain was good for the garden, and I’ve managed to do a fair bit of weeding and general work.  The tomatoes are growing well and need to be tied to their supporting canes.  The kiwis have finished flowering and there a good many little furry fruits dangling!! On the grapevines the flowers are incredibly unspectacular, the petals are almost non-existent, but this year’s flowering looks very promising! The air is heavy with the heady perfume from the linden tree outside the garden, and there is a loud buzz from the bees in that tree! Oh, and the raspberries are starting to ripen – always a good sign!!
On the way home from Caunes I found one of the most spectacular fields of poppies ever – so much for me writing that there was not much of a show this year!  And the handsome flower-pot-man was found in Caunes Minervois too.

   
 

Thursday I made a trip to Lodeve with friends, to explore the town and to visit the Savonnerie carpet workshop.  Let’s start with Lodeve:  from the middle ages onwards this was an important town for the manufactue of woollen fabrics because of its location and the pure water of the two rivers running through it, and from Louis XIV it received the monopoly for supplying the fabric from which all soldier’s uniforms were made.  Booming during war times but poor during peace times.  Of course that monopoly did not last, and by 1960 the last mill closed in Lodeve, leading to the decline and depopulation of the town.  Go for a walk through the centre – it’s well worth it!! The architectural history is all there, be it the cathedral or humble lanes. One thing which holds much fascination for me are doors and door knockers – Lodeve has a great deal and  I could have found many more with a bit more time!  The shap of the knockers are only limited by the imagination of the creators:  hands (with and without a ring on the ring finger), animal heads, cornucopias, and some incredibly ornate designs.  The sad pictures are of the doors where you can see that the knocker has been removed, sometimes stolen, sometimes sold…. but I won’t include any of those here.There are many quirky details, such as the bell-pull on the side of an ancient doorway, and the bell still above the door inside!

   

And then we found an incredible mural at the end of a little alleyway.  The artist really got his perspectives right, from afar it’s difficult to distinguish what is real and what is painted on.

A few more bits and pieces, before I wrap it up for today – I think I know what a Frigoriste is, but what about Ressemelage?  I have no idea!!

In the next post I’ll tell you about lunch and the visit to the Manufacture Nationale de la Savonnerie.  And before I forget, the riddle photograph from last week showed the leaves of a cyca unfurling!