Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Soft Landing in France

Somewhere in the Languedoc, Southern France – Talk about a soft landing! After fourteen months of cancer surgery (gone), reconstruction surgeries (done), teeth implants (done), and one final operation to allow me to swallow again, (plus a cut finger, but that’s another silly story), I have landed in the most impossibly soft bed of French lavender.

Here in the Minervois en Languedoc ensconced in a village over a thousand years old, we wake up to the sounds of the birds and the breeze and the couple who walk their dogs; sometimes the dogs wear bells. This village was built as an outlying stumbling block on the way to Carcassonne. In the shape of a snail’s shell, it winds around a central green where the ancient church serves as the final refuge after every foot of the circulade has been defended. Under the Romanesque church, there is an altar from an even earlier chapel which is easily as old as the first whispers of Christianity in Europe.

Now the village holds two hundred fifty people, mostly artisans, vignerons, ex-pats from various parts of Europe. We are only the second Americans to come here, and certainly the first Texans. I intend to put a Cathar flag and a Texas flag out front soon as it warms up.

I had no idea when we first decided to buy a little home here that the area was teeming with history, both bloody and benign. This is the home of the Troubadours and the Langue d’Oc in which they couched their poems set to music; courtly love, knightly bravery, the beauty of existence. Later it became the center of the first protestant movement and the Pope in Rome used that as an excuse to join with the weak King in Paris 

view out our front window

to come here with a band of brigands and plunderers to dethrone the Count of Toulouse, who was as powerful as the King. Money, land, and power were of course the engines of this invasion but Christianity was the cover story. Every single protestant Cathar was slaughtered, starved, or maimed and marched away to death on a bonfire. The Catholic Church resumed its collection of tithes and lands, the Counts were de-fanged, and the land became ostensibly Frankish, but in truth it never happened in the hearts of the people here. The accent still reflects the old langue d’Oc, the sense of independence and grace still flourishes, and the food is very different.

It is almost December now, and cold by Texan standards; about 45 to 60 and going down. Last night it reached 34 or so. I finally learned how to wear enough layers and a wool scarf and heavy overcoat. Some locals are still going around in shorts or normal outfits, which beats hell out of me; must be thicker blood.

This is wine and olive country and has been since the Greeks and Romans brought their cultivars here and planted them to foster trade. Grapes spring up here un-planted like Johnson grass in Texas, and olive trees stand silvery in every little corner and wedge and otherwise unusable piece of land. Apricots, cherries, peaches are on sale everywhere during harvest.

The wine is in the tanks now, the harvest finished on about October 20th. I will be tasting them this week and try to form a sensible opinion, though I don’t really know what the hell I am talking about yet. That is my next mountain to climb – viticulture in this beautiful part of this ancient land!

Next: the perils and insanity of renovating a thousand year old stable!