To catch everybody up on the happenings here in Southern France, let’s first take a quick look back over the past 4 months or so. It’s been rainy. Really, really rainy – and cold. There is an above normal amount of snow in the Pyrenees mountains, and up until This Week the pass was closed to traffic trying to get through the mountains to Ax-les-Thermes. Upon our arrival and for the past 2 weeks the weather has been mostly the same as these past months: rainy, cold, windy. However! This past Sunday the sunshine returned and neighbors started to emerge from their houses with smiles and a renewed sense of hope that summer will, eventually, come to Axat.
We visited the outdoor market in Esperaza to stock up on fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses galore, and to voyeur at the local hippie scene. This particular market is well-known for hippies selling Eastern trinkets, interesting clothing, oils and holistic treatments, and a variety of crystals. They’re very colorful people, and the air of the hippie section is thick with a mingled haze of incense and pot. Today was especially colorful as we witnessed one booth being busted by the local police, and then we were treated to the pan flute stylings of – Pan. All in all, it was a great market day.
Monday I tackled the ‘tres facile’ assembly of our new gas barbecue grill. 3.5 hours later it was assembled – grrrr. To ease my tension, I donned my garden gloves and returned to the backyard to finish weeding and to plant flowers purchased at the Sunday Esperaza Market. I brought up terrace chairs, arranged tables and marveled in the serenity of our little terrace/gardens. Now we just need for there to be ample showers and sunshine to pop up the nasturtiums and sweet peas and it’ll be wonderfully colorful.
Joe took full advantage of the sunshine by heading up to the snowy heights of the Pyrenees to ‘break in’ his new Scarpa Grand Jorasses boots before heading up the Matterhorn end of July. Since most of the year we live in Florida, it’s rare that he has the opportunity to give a new pair of boots a real workout in the snow. And they ate it up. He couldn’t drive all the way up to the Col de Pailheres to park due to a bit of an avalanche which had the single-lane road blocked. So he found a place to park off the road and headed out on foot; up to the high mountains, leaving behind only his own footprints. Sunday late afternoon, we’d driven up here to take a look at the conditions. I took quite a few photos (posted on my Facebook site) while Joe was busy pelting me with snowballs – or picking poisonous mushrooms. This has become quite the hobby for Joe, and the villagers find his mushrooming quite amusing. In years past he’s brought many different varieties of dangerous fungus to the pharmacy for identification. But he’s honing his skills…and he’s found us some very good, quite edible, varieties as well. Bolet pied rouge, ceps (also known as porcini in Italy), and this year he has found his first French Morel mushroom.
Axat has some very excellent shops; we’re quite blessed in this regard. The bakery is wonderful and we’re quite big fans of their Bannette bread. The little grocery provides many basics from dairy to veggies, to soups and canned goods, to light bulbs, toothbrushes, and gummy bears (the good ones from Germany). Our main sources of protein come from Butcher Rigoni. His butcher shop has an amazing array of beef, lamb, chicken, innerds, sausages, patés, and of course…giantic jambons. Just hours after I snapped this photo of his smiling self, he and the family were packed into the car headed to Spain for 2 weeks of rest, relaxation, and no cutting of meat.
It’s important to plan accordingly while Butcher Rigoni is on vacation. It’s an excellent time to go on a wine vacation – how about St. Emilion and Côtes de Castillon? Ok, if we must. So this Wed-Fri we’ll be tasting, and buying wines to stock up the cellar. It’s been Joe’s tradition these past couple years to buy wines in Primeur – meaning that we buy them before they are bottled…it’s akin to buying on speculation. The wines are graded by experts who give their impressions of barrel samples, and those impressions are what we use to gauge our purchases. So far we’ve done very well, and when these wines are matured properly, we will call them delicious. My next blog will give you all of the skinny on our visits to Chateau Lideyre in Vignonet Castillon, Chateau Beaséjour Bécot in St Emilion, and Chateau Barrabaque in Fronsac.
For now, bonne soirée.