Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunflowers ready to harvest

Have you ever wondered what ripe sunflowers look like? We all glory in the beauty and majesty of these tall yellow suns early July, but, they stay in the field far past their fading as the farmers await the ripening of the seeds. Sunflowers are planted for their oil, though appreciated by many a florist. And, out my door, by my home, in full view of my swimming pool, lining many a road throughout the region, these sad soldiers are soon to be beheaded as now, and only now, are they finally ripe. Bright and cheery they are no longer, but wizened and textured, aged and matured by the hot hummer sun and the minimal to no rainfall. Yet another cycle of life: from the much-touted, golden youth, to the richness of age and maturity.

Breakfast in the kitchen on a Summer morn

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Readying the house for four new arrivals

Friends look at me askance and wonder how on earth I could choose to house and feed four extra pre-teens (well three pre-teens and one teen-ager) in addition to my two boys. It is an unusual thing to do in these times of small families and private space. But as a family, my boys and I have chosen this arrangement. Oh it has its moments of stress and difficulty, but, it has innumerable virtues that only those from large families can comprehend. As of Monday I will have two girls, 11 and soon to be 14, and two boys, soon to be 13 and 15. They'll mix with my children, two boys, 7 1/2 and 12.

Beyond a certain touch of personal insanity and masochism, my house is large enough. I've two rooms to spare. One had been for the au pair, the other a living room. But, when it's just the three of us, we don't ever use these rooms. They might as well be closed off. We're an odd family with no TV, nor a family computer (mine is for me alone), nor another such object around which we might cluster in a family room or salon; we happily enjoy our "family time" in the kitchen, or outside on the terrace. I also take the hackneyed statement, "the more the merrier," with nary a grain of salt. Whatever the potential disasters, it is nonetheless true that with more children boredom is just not an option. Life becomes a party. And yes, with a house that is larger than we three need, the mortgage is commensurate. Hosting four children does bring in a bit to help ends meet at the end of the month.

For myself, I've imported kids to play with my children, to exchange, to learn from, and to live alongside. My boys are benefiting from the need to welcome, respect and be considerate of others. They share their space, take their turn in the bathroom and get to spread amongst six the burden of household chores and errands. Justice is paramount: together we make up a calendar of the various chores to be handled on a daily basis. Coupling up (e.g. the youngest and the eldest will do dishes together), and collaborating when the going gets tough -- I've five cords of wood on order that will need stacking--is necessary. Many hands make light work of just about any task.

For the children it's a mini-sleep-away school. A prep-school it is not, but they're in outside lodging and need to bend to my not very onerous expectations and requests. They're testing their limits, distancing themselves from their parents, striking out, and learning autonomy (particularly as concerns their homework) in a safe environment with plenty of good food and warmth.

For the parents, they've put their children in the care of this odd American who speaks fluent and fast French, cooks up a storm and promises lots of organic meals, light-handed parenting and a certain regularity and firmness balanced with a good sense of humor and the ridiculous. They're all relieved, and more than a bit pleased that I've no TV in the house. We all want our kids to read more (goodness don't we all!), and they hear tales of chess playing, backgammon, cards and baking bread with a hint of nostalgia and wistfulness. If the Steiner/Waldorf world does one thing, it brings together the many of us who flee the threat of media-overdose and its nefarious effects on our children. However, few have gone so far as to banish the TV completely. Thus these kids will get their fair share when they go home on the weekends, no doubt.

In fact, a common trait of the kids I'm boarding is a touch of hyper-activity and difficulty concentrating. Something that is more and more common in our overly electronic world, and a frequent trait in children who come later in life to the Waldorf schools. They've each been to visit or are scheduled to begin visiting speech and writing therapists to bring them up to speed. Alert, friendly, good-hearted, yet struggling with the basics of reading and writing. They're loath to take up books for pleasure, preferring movement, or a computer screen (if it were available). I hold out this torch of a promise that maybe, just maybe, with no other options open to them, they might pick up a book or two for pleasure during their time in my house. At the very least there'll not be a battle over TV after school and getting home-work done.

I've now readied the rooms, made the beds, vacuumed and mopped the floors and dusted the surfaces. All is ready for Monday afternoon and the arrival of my beasties. Other years we welcomed au pairs and cooking assistants into our lives, now we welcome children. My boys take it in stride, and truly, I think they'd miss the presence and warmth of the extra bodies. Certainly, they'd miss the regularity and variety of my week day dinners. Nothing like having an army to feed to get me moving in the kitchen.

Summer is over

The weather has shifted. Today the breeze has turned cool and refreshing. The house still radiates heat from the months of sunlight baking deeply into the stones. Open windows welcome the cool morning air rushing in, soothing, lightening. Airing out summer.

My house is mine again. I've swatted and brushed away the abundant growth of cob webs under the stairs, in the cracks of the doors, in front of the windows, against the heavy wooden beams. The only rain storm of the summer has rendered me back my green lawn -- traded in for dry yellow straw for much of these past couple of weeks.

For days now I've been slowly unpacking all that I put away for the summer renters. The foodstuff was first to come out from under the stairwell, then the clothes back on the hangers and in their drawers. I've removed my sourdough starter from the freezer and over the past week have been nourishing and refreshing it back to its former liveliness. Yet to be uncovered are all my photos of the kids, the personal and fragile things that were the first to be tucked away for safety and discretion's sake.

Our summer was spent far away, in a land of books and card games, woods and lakes, my family, the English language (or American if more precision is requested) bathing our ears in another world's ways. My childhood blended with that of my boys. My wish to touch, find yet again the sensation of endless time: days blending one into another, minimal to loose scheduling, books taking over my psyche to the point of reading all night, or carrying my book from my bed to the breakfast table, unable to put it down. Conversations that flow easily and stop or pause with no tension. Kids running freely, shoes left on the porch, toughened soles scrambling over rocks, down the paths, leaping into the cool water.

Summers include star-gazing. And what is this but a moment in silence, in awe at the size and glory of the universe above. Yet again a reminder of our smallness and the vastness above. In years past, I looked up from my canoe, leaning back on the bow, my paddle gently resting on my knees, in the middle of the lake, the only sound tiny waves gently lapping against the sides, while above me falling stars flash by. This year, it was atop a well in the middle of acres of vineyards, a dry, warm and mosquito free breeze gently enwrapping my stretched out body. I saw Queen Cassiopeia's W, and the big dipper, the North star and perhaps Pegasus as he rode across the clear summer sky.

With Monday will come school, three of my four teen boarders for this year, an interview to teach English, and a swirl of activities and errands to be placed into the busy weeks ahead. The rhythms and routines of the fall will impose themselves upon us, insisting upon care and attention. I'm holding back - just a bit -- till the last moment. I came back early to France, to give us time to adapt, re-acquaint ourselves with this world and its peoples, culture, ways, time. I have learned not to leave our return till the last minute. It is too jarring and painful to arrive and two days later struggle up from the depths of jet-lagged induced slumber to school and its insistent presence. How did my parents manage this? As a child we drove home after Labor Day. School commenced a mere day or two after our arrival in New York. Two days of travel, unpacking two cars, and the spare room filled to the rafters with the things we'd removed for the summer renters... and then off to work and school, our carefree days of summer a rich and yet intangible web of memories jangled by brick walls, tile floors and scratching of chalk on the chalkboard.

A class in gladiator fighting skills

Every child should have a chance to learn Latin commands and stride forth to battle as a Roman Legionnaire, no? Arles, aka Arlate, has a Roman Peplum Festival the last week of August. Old Hollywood movies such as Spartacus, or Cleopatra, more recent choices such as Monty Python's life of Brian, or striking and violent versions of Medea starring the legendary opera great grace the screen of the Antique Theatre. Roman soldiers practice their manoeuvres all over town. A once Roman town is so again.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Blog updates

For those of you who've been following this blog, first off, thank you! And secondly, you'll notice that I've changed the format to read more easily. I've also added a search element, and put in an index. I've gotten carried away with the latter granted, and some options are rather esoteric. However, you can now see that there are 33 recipes throughout the blog, many a post on raising kids, a number on my personal cultural confusion, or about Arles, and a selection on goats and my goat cheese makers. So if there's a particular theme that you are interested in, it should now be easier to find other related pieces.

I hope these additions help make your browsing of my posts more fruitful.

Take care - Madeleine

My boys are back

I've got my boys back. At last. They're with me and we're all three in Avignon.

I've missed them terribly these past couple weeks. They've been with their father. It was his turn to have them during vacation. I gave them up to him upon our return from the States on the 11th, and have felt not a little bereft ever since. I missed their curiosity. I missed the structure they give me. I missed their easy presence and acceptance of me and our lives. I didn't miss their terrible bickering, jealousies and constant struggles for dominance one over the other (even with four and a half years' separating them!). As that story from the Magical Tree House series so beautifully described using a tiger and a lotus blossom for symbolism, you have to accept the ugly with the beautiful. They come as a pair.

I know, and cringe at, the quantity of TV and computer time they've had these past weeks. I know nothing has been expected of them, the meals have been haphazard at best, and between the heat and the running of the b&b, outings have been ever too few. Erick just couldn't manage more, not for not wanting to, but, it just wasn't possible.

So, I got them back wired and wiggy, ready to clobber each other, tired and out of sorts, hyper-excited and under-exercised. Such is life. We piled into the car with all their things, crates of toys we'd brought to Arles back in June, Filou, roller blades, etc., and headed up to our house in Avignon. On the way we stopped by the organic dairy in Tarascon to purchase our fresh, raw milk.

It is Ramadan, a time when the local Muslim population makes their own variant of fermented milk. I arrived just before a few van loads of Moroccan men come to get their fresh milk for this important element of their regime. One of the ironies of this world is the awkward co-existence of the Arab peoples and their French hosts and employers. As an example, I didn't have exact change for the farmer, but she reassured me that she trusted me to pay her the Euro I owed on another visit, something she wouldn't permit for the clients waiting outside. How sad that our local Moroccans make up a far larger number of her clients than the local French (or random American such as myself) yet she has this mildly antagonistic relationship with them.

Back into the car and home. We had time to chat about the boys' memories of Michigan, the program for the next few days, the kids who'll be living with us this year (our new boarders), the brief chores that awaited them upon our arrival, what I'd planned for dinner, etc., I'm a chatty mom, but they willingly kept up their ends of the conversations. So far, so good.

Once in Avignon it was a mixed bag. Leo was helpful, Jonas less so. But then Leo was badgering and ordering Jonas about like a general. Already, over the past two years Leo has tried to take the place of the head man of the house with his brother, and I've done my best to calm him down and reassure him that I'm parent enough for Jonas. However, I've a sneaking suspicion that he's playing the role of father to his brother even more forcefully and frequently in Arles than here. In any case and whatever the truth of my suspicions, Leo was way out of control. Though I wanted Jonas to help, I fully sympathized with him as his over-bearing brother came down like the proverbial ton of bricks. Thus I spent a goodly part of that first hour orchestrating who did what, and getting Leo out of Jonas' space.

Jonas then proceeded to have a mild breakdown at the thought and act of putting away his clothes. To protest, he lay down on a nice cold stone step (not a bad idea really, considering the heat of the day). I left him like that and went out to clean the pool, he (eventually) came down to re-negotiate terms. I'd said, "put away your clothes and then we can jump in the pool, have dinner and ice cream as a special treat for dessert." He wanted a swim first. Now, in sticky, muggy weather a refreshing dip to gather his forces and finish his appointed task made sense. So I gave in and said yes, come and swim but promise to get your clothes put away right after. As things go, I had to give a bit more. He did obediently go up after his swim to put away his clothes, but hadn't finished when dinner was ready. He finally got everything put away closer to 10PM while I was reading The Odyssey with Leo. And then, at long last, he got his ice cream. Thank goodness for the lure of sweets! All's well that ends well on that point.

The shift has been made, and not too painfully: Daddy for Mommy, TV for books, no expectations for household chores, chocolate nutella for carrot sticks, town for country. We'll be set by Monday, I think.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goats in the Morning

Yes I can, when necessary, be a morning person. And how lovely it can be.

Amongst the many benefits beyond beautiful misty landscapes are a chance to chat quietly with Paul Pierre and Isabelle about the many variations and ways of personalizing a person's goat cheese making. For instance, they use rather little rennit compared to the standard practice. And, they don't necessarily chill the milk first before putting in the rennit and the whey. They leave it 72 hours rather than just 24 in their 20C/70F room, and the texture of their curdle is quite a bit softer than that of other colleagues.

There are also variations possible depending on how long the cheese is left on the racks in the 20C/70F room, before being put in the dehumidifier. And, it can stay longer in the dehumidifier, if a drier, firmer cheese is preferred. Likewise, the cave d'affinage can be set at 11C or at 14C, depending on the preference of the cheese maker.

Working with live enzymes: the art of fermenting. Temperature, humidity, and so much more play a part. Each cheese maker finds the method that pleases he or she. Trial and error, reading and learning, watching and following, and then off on your own path.

An evening at the sea - Le Grau de Roi

A popular destination all summer long, and at a lesser rate through the year, Le Grau de Roi is the beach and beach town for Nîmois and Montpellierans. Pizza, sandwiches, shell fish, pasta and ice cream, not to mention lots of fried everything is the predominant food choice. This is a family place. Rent a tiny apartment, walk out onto the beach, and spend the day reading a novel, schmoozing, and watching the kids dig tunnels to China, sand palaces, moats by the mile. The evening can be spent wandering the neon-bedecked little streets, shopping, munching, taking in the scene. Dogs are welcome most everywhere, and kids rule.

This is a place rich in history for locals, many of whom have tales to tell of how dad first laid eyes on mom as she stepped out of the surf.

Over the past few years the tradition of the Paillote has definitely become vogue. These are temporary restaurants set up right on the beach. There are four in Grau de Roi, and others further down the coast. The fare is a bit better than in town, definitely more expensive, and you are greeted with an unrivaled view of the setting sun, rolling waves, and should the wind pick up, some tasty and crunchy sand in your soup.

The Paillotes have their own showers. Why do I bring such a random detail up? Well, if you go swimming in the evening, as I do, and wish to rinse off the scratchy layer of white salt left by this most dense of seas, the Mediterranean, it is truly necessary to take a shower before dinner. But, the city-provided showers are turned off at 8PM.

At this time of year, end of August, the sea is warm as bath water, easy to slide into with nary a glance back.

Day Two making cheese

The milking part is pleasant, warm, clean and easy -- or relatively so. Goats are clean and intelligent animals. From what I've seen of cow dairies, there is no comparison. To put it simply, tales of being shat upon, or filthy teets at a cow dairy are not exagerations. Plus they are large and stubborn animals, cows. Sheep, I'm told are quite stupid. Should your lands flood, goats will find the high land, climb a stair well or a tree, what-have-you. But sheep will simply baaaa and drown. So, here I am amidst a range of goats of different ages and races, and what a pleasure it is. They leap quickly into place for their feed and milking. They make room for you to put the suction cups on their teets. No kicking, relatively minimal farting, and perfectly at ease with the handling and manipulation of our hands upon them. The milk flows quickly and smoothly -- numerous hygienic measures are followed sensibly and not onerously -- and a short hour later, we've milked all 36 and are ready to head to the dairy.

Just a note. Before milking, the goats are given some fresh hay to pump them up a bit. Then they munch away on their grain while they are milked, and afterwards they can head out to the pasture, or eat more hay in the manger. Salt licks are on the walls in the barn. And, should you try to milk them dry, it is nearly impossible. We milk till the teets are softened and supple, but even then, if we hand-milked there would be more. So, you stop when there is far less.

Today I helped flip and return to the molds the cheeses poured into their molds yesterday morning, and already flipped once yesterday evening. I didn't maul them too badly, and after a hundred or so, the gesture began coming naturally. As with any repetitive gesture, be relaxed. Tension makes everything worse.

We then moved onto the tiny cheeses -- much appreciated by restaurants and makers of toasted goat cheese salads. Again, we had a metal guide for 90 molds. However, we had to place these 90 molds on the stainless tray before placing the guide on top. Getting the spacing right is an art, and in each instance a bit of fiddling and putting back in order necessary. With these guides, you can practically dump your curdle on top and simple smooth it around into the molds. I tried to do it a bit more elegantly than this, but truly...

Then our clean up, prepping cheeses in paper for selling to Aurelie's various clients, and back out the door. Tonight, we'll turn the tiny little cheeses I filled today. As there are 580 or so, I should get some good practice with that flipping wrist action, don't you agree?

Meantime, Filou got a nasty little weed in his paw -- what the locals call espégao, or la folle avoine -- resembling a tiny shaft of wheat. It is pointy and akin to an arrow, it wants to go in, further and further, and is terribly difficult to remove. He has had these twice in the past years in his ears, but this time it is between his toes. Shepherds are good people to bring sick dogs to. Aurelie helped me remove a bit of the points of this nasty thing, and to disinfect the wound. But, 24 hours later, he is still limping and the wound is weeping. The verdict is to keep disinfecting, and let the wound abscess to push out what is clearly still inside. If we've not accomplished this by tomorrow, I do have a veterinarian beside my home in Avignon and will see if he can help.

Mon brave chien accompanies me nearly everywhere, lying so calmly at my feet (or at the feet of the head of the household). He enjoys the goat barn and has made friends with the resident mama cat who's a master huntress of rats, rabbits, mice and more. However, when I disappear into the dairy for an hour or more, he wines at the door, not accustomed to my abandoning him in this manner. Perhaps he'll get accustomed to this just like his mistress?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day One making cheese

I arrived early this morning to be able to spend a bit of time with Isabelle and Paul Pierre and their family before joining Aurelie (their former intern, now the resident goat-cheese maker) for the morning milking, la traite. Isabelle has just finished five days of chemo, and is clearly exhausted and much affected by this most recent round of treatments. I’d thought she was on more paliative care now, but, I suppose it is difficult for an oncologist to not wish to do the utmost with his arsenal at hand. I hope she’ll be better when I visit next week. Her weariness is deeply visible in her eyes, and in the hesitancy with which she approaches breakfast: coffee or chocolate, bread or no, jam, and which flavor. In each case her husband encourages, suggests, does for. He waits a bit, but sees that if she’s not nudged towards a choice, she’ll simply shut down and stop. She’s mentally in and out, almost mini-naps with her eyes open. As she puts it her head is dans la pâté.

And yet amidst this moment of sickness and family intimacy, I've been welcomed to share, to learn, to participate. I tell little stories, but keep them short. I'm attentive to her level of energy, and seek a smile or two, but go no further. It is more aptly a time for quiet and simply being together.

When the sound of Aurelie’s arrival reaches the kitchen, I clean my coffee cup and walk the short trip from the kitchen to the barn to watch and most importantly, to do. Aurelie is relaxed with me, at ease and pleased that I'm eager to get in and mettre mes mains à la pâtee" as we say here ("get your hands dirty" is the closest equivalent in English). I’ve watched so many times, but had never laid my hands upon the milking machines, nor the teets aka mammary glands aka breasts, called mammelles here.

The first gesture of the morning is to prepare the small mangers with yummy feed. Today it is organic corn, but normally, there is a blend of soaked corn and soaked and sprouted barley. ¾ of a coffee tin is put into each manger. Then the goats are allowed to come up to feed. They are all waiting, in their pecking order. As with many animals there is a world of hierarchy amongst the goats. The first goes up the ramp, all the way to the furthest manger (the only one open to her) and puts her head down to eat, triggering the mechanism that locks her in. The next follows suit, and the next, etc.,

The next movement is to do a quick squirt of the premier jet, putting it into a bowl that the dogs will enjoy. Then, the clean and prepped milking suction cups are attached to the teets. There is space for 12 goats at a time to feed, and 4 sets of suction cups. To each her turn. Aurelie massages the warm, firm teets to help the goats with let down. The younger goats often release their milk slowly, whereas some of the older seemed to have double the milk. Teets come in all shapes and sizes, but those of these goats were all-in-all pretty easy to place into the cups. I had memories (doesn’t every mother?) of massaging my painfully full breasts to send milk flowing into Jonas’ mouth when he was a newborn – he was a particularly bad nurser. In any case, touching and handling these goat teets felt normal and quite pleasant. Beyond helping in the milking, the goat cheese maker/shepherd also does this to better know his/her goats, with all their individual quirks. For instance, spotting a cyst requires knowing what the normal teet felt like before the cyst appeared. It is good to learn to distinguish the firmness that is a sign of full milk ducts, or simply lumpy bumps, or something to worry about etc.,

Aurelie is using the system and structure designed by Paul Pierre and Isabelle when they set up their business here twenty two years’ ago. With their design and architectural backgrounds, Isabelle and Paul Pierre were creative and originals, yet observant of known-methods. The plumbing, the flow from barn to milking station to barn, a system for soaking and subsequently straining the barley. This all takes place in the barn.

The fresh milk is then transferred to the dairy on a small trolley where it is put through a strainer into 15 litre bins. These are placed on shelves made of 1 ½ in PVC (rows of 2). Into the full bins of fresh goats' milk -- that she did not cool down -- Aurelie puts an eye dropper of rennit (6-7 drops per litre), and a ladel-full of whey from an earlier batch.

The dairy is kept at 20C (70F) and the now treated milk will sit for three days and ferment gently till the curdle is nicely taken. When ‘ready’ the curdle will be a solid mass amidst a clear liquid, with a fuzzy white skim on the surface.

My next job is to remove day-old cheeses from their molds and place them on stainless steel racks – as neatly as I can, leaving a minimum of thumb prints, rubbing off a minimum of cheese, and--as my skill-level permits--place them in neatly staggered rows. I did my best,... and gratefully, Aurelie is a very patient teacher.

While I was handling these more solid of cheeses, Aurelie was flipping out and returning to the molds the far softer and more humid cheeses from the evening before. (Goats are most often milked twice daily, and so the cheese-making can occur twice daily).

I moved my firmer cheeses to the de-humidifying room, and the molds to their large baskets to be first doused in a bath of acide de soude, and then into the dishwasher. We then hosed down and cleaned off the two meter by one meter stainless tilted trays upon which we put the cheese molds. These drain directly into open plumbing, and down the drain. In some farms, the whey and small milk solids collected in this manner are fed to pigs – a source of protein-rich liquid for their feed. Yet another example of the intelligence and non-waste possible on small, multi-animal family farms. However here, there are no pigs, and thus the whey is treated as gray water, dispersed through the septic system.

Once our sliding trays are cleaned (there are 6, but this being August, we’re nearly at the end of the season, and are using only 4), we set up the cleaned molds (those that have chilled) in rows of 5 x 6. Upon these we place the stainless grid that permits to fill many molds at once. Aurelie takes a large quart/litre sized cup and uses it to ladel the curd from the bin into the molds. However first, she has gently poured out and brushed off the excess whey and the white fuzz atop. Her cheeses will be milder in flavor if she does not include the last. With a squeegee, we finish filling through the grid – filling the molds to nearly over-flow. A couple minutes’ wait is required as the curd descends, the whey already escaping through the holds of the molds, and then we transfer the grid to the next batch of 30 molds. And so on.

This morning, August 23, we milked 36 goats and made 130 cheeses with the three-day-old curd. We filled three 15 litre bins fully, and a fourth perhaps 7/8 or 5/6 full of fresh milk. Yesterday’s milk, alongside (but distinctly placed apart) the milk from the day before yesterday are quietly fermenting away.

Immediately after the milking we cleaned and rinsed the suction cups and tubes, followed by the molds, bins, etc., A last gesture is to spray down and squeegee the terra cotta tile floor. Aurelie has prepared her packets of cheese that she distributes Monday in weekly crates of fresh vegetables and more organized by a local AMAP (farmers’ coop).

There were three of us, and two hours later, we’re free to be off to other projects. Not so bad, eh?

Ahhh Fresh Bread

For the recipe, do take a look at the blog post on February 13, 2009.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wine Harvest just around the corner.

It's time. In the morning I hear the neighbors' machine harvester at work. Grape juice stains have sluiced onto the pavement as the tractors bring the over-full bins down to the village cellars. The heat of August -- and lack of rain -- have brought the promised conditions. Mildew and Oidium (variation of mildew) have attacked a few of the bunches and leaves over the season, but no further. The worst has been held in check by as-needed treatments of copper and sulfur (both permitted in organic agriculture), prudent pruning, and frequent scratching of the earth. Today, the breeze has lightened the heaviness of the heat, and any threat of an untimely thunderstorm.

Here at Mas Madagascar the harvest begins Tuesday with the Viognier, a white grape known for its heady perfumes of apricot and flowers. As of Thursday, it was already at a potential alcohol level of 15! This is quite high, but typical for this grape which can make nearly syrupy, heavy white wines. However, as Domaine Cabanis prefers a tart, crisp and lower alcohol white... this element has him just a wee bit anxious. The last week's heat has risen the degree in a flash, and plans to begin harvesting later had to be readjusted.

You'll notice in the photos that there is quite a bit of leaf coverage over the grape bunches. The syrah (the red pictured here) are pruned in the goblet form, and the extra leaves are left by design to limit the intensity of the summer sun's heat. But the grapes are low to the ground and benefit from the radiated heat of the earth and stones through the night. The viognier (green) is trained on lines, but there again, the abundant leaf coverage has been purposely left.

However, all is set. The team has been alerted (all but the Mourvedre grape -- a late-ripening variety-- are hand-harvested here), and will be here 7AM on Tuesday morning. Today, Monday, and perhaps part of Sunday it is clean-up time in the cellar. All week the machines have been rinsed and prepped. Mechanical elements have been fixed. The tractors have been tuned up (ancient that they are, they're still running). The electric pump tested. So much, so many strands to be gathered together for a harvesting season to flow smoothly.

I can see the tension in the eyes and face of this vintner. Stressful days are around the corner. He'll survey the harvest, but also be at the cellar to receive the bins, which will be pressed immediately (this being a white wine). The juice will go straight into tanks to be chilled over the next 24 hours. The chilling holds off fermention and encourages the solids in suspension to descend to the bottom of the tank as sediminent. The clear juice above will then be transfered to a different tank for to ferment. This technique is Débourbage (known as racking must or musts clarification), and permits a cleaner and brighter flavor as it removes potentially vegetal, bitter or ascerbic flavors. It's an added step that improves the final product, but if there is a glitch and the fermentation gets going before the wine's been clarified... you just need to go with it and say, better luck next year. Yet another crucial step requiring attention and control.

And thus shall begin Harvest 2009. May the good weather hold, and cool breezes be many.

Filou and one of his best friends, Bonzo.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where do I belong? -- yet another moment of belly-button gazing

Earlier this year I made a list of what has become French about me, and what is still American. The list was quickly tossed off, not entirely grammatically consistent, and well, more amusing than anything else.

After my month in the US -- the longest stretch of time I've spent back there since I moved to France in 1995 -- I'm musing yet again -- but I promise, this is the last time for a while. My desire now is to be where I am, and simply live day to day, with projects in the offing, granted, but still: Be here now.

I give up on wondering where I fit in. I'm an odd-ball with a collection of cultural experiences behind me, so, small-town girl and member of an established group/click I will never be. But that aside, how much did I learn? how much is simply me? how much is culturally and regionally dictated? I once declared that I preferred getting my au pairs from the Mid-West or New England -- sweet-natured, with a good work-ethic. I also reassure visitors that the Provençaux are sincerely welcoming and are thrilled when you make an effort to speak French -- as so many do not speak English (at least in the small towns, and Arles -- the English speakers congregate in St. Rémy de Provence, Avignon, and the cellars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape). So yes, I'm guilty of type-casting, and thankfully, I've accepted (humbly I assure you) being proved wrong a number of times. However, these ideas and regional codes do yet linger.

The United States is many countries. I repeat this ad infinitum to my French friends. Maine is not Texas, Oregon is not Mississippi, the coasts are different from the center. We have so many cultures in our very large country rubbing elbows side by side, and/or avoiding each other. However, in most cases, we manage to mix and accept each other amongst our numerous sub-groups. I love to point out that being from so many cultures, we have fewer judgmental reflexes, but wait for the person before us to show us his/her heart. What is rude in one culture is accepted in another, so best not to decide quickly, but allow the time necessary for a person to present his/her true self.

A friend currently living in Chicago and I have been exchanging comments about the worlds we prefer -- relatively hip, culturally curious, organically-minded, conversant with foreign countries, liberal politically, well-read, in movement be it dance, yoga, biking, hiking, exploring --and the worlds we tend to keep a bit of distance from (but which can often surprise us -- just have a car accident in Northern Wisconsin, as I once did, and you'll see... those good samaritans truly do stop to help anyone in need!) -- strongly religious, strongly right-wing, less curious about other worlds and cultures, abundant consumers of fast food and lowest-denomination media.

The United States harbors all of us, and graciously in most cases. But so do other countries. France has its share of the former and the latter, and of new immigrants and their many efforts at adapting to each other -- so I'm not going to boast of French superior tolerance and culture here, not to worry. What I've come to realize after living in multiple cultures for a serious length of time (Japan for one year, the US for 27 years, France for 15 years) is that each has its virtues and vices, and it is a choice of which level of imperfection we feel most at home in, or rather, which we choose.

My week of visiting the Vauvert Fête Votive had me mingling with the less-traveled, traditionalist, with deep local roots, and conservative (often rounder and a bit over-weight) part of town. It was fine, a bit different for me. All whom I met were gracious and pleasant to me, but no, I didn't converse much, I simply enjoyed my Perrier and watched the spectacle. I remember an evening last spring we went from a gathering at the Mairie (town hall, currently with a conservative mayor) over to the Cultural Arts Center (very left-wing/liberal -- and a hub of neo-Vauverdois, i.e. those who've moved here in their own lifetimes). We went from a room of hair-sprayed, poofed, artificially blond or red or black haired women, generally with a thick application of make-up (something I observe with wonder and curiosity as I just can't do the same) often a bit thick in the middle, sturdy, beside their booming, barrel-chested men dressed in red Provence-designed shirts, to a gathering of soft-spoken, nearly wispy, draped-linen and flowy scarf-attired, naturally gray and minimally made-up folk, who yes, did but rarely speak with the local accent. The vocal traditionalists and the liberal, frequently intellectual, outsiders. It was a strange moment in time. Where the twain ne'er shall meet.

This summer brought up many issues for me. With health insurance and health care the topic of discussion of the day, the public option in danger, and the general price of a doctor's visit 3 to 5 times what I pay here in France... I worry that I wouldn't be able to afford moving back to the US. However, in general I remind myself, once you have a job, you can earn more in the US than in France, or at least I should with a graduate degree, years of experience, a few languages under my belt, etc., and so, paying more for a doctor's visit is feasible where it just isn't counted into the budget in France.

I thought about the availability of fresh farm produce: the twelve month schedule of Provence, with organic farms and markets within very easy driving distance of my home, and a choice of three raw milk dairies, local fish mongers, and more vs. a six month winter in Northern Michigan, and a very short growing season of perhaps four months at tops? Silly as it may seem, I glory in the arrival of my early spring, my blooming roses, my wisteria and Japanese quince. I love the months of April and May in Provence... A huge wave of nostalgia washed over me as I contemplated that I'd enjoyed three months of good weather this spring, and my dear friends in Northern Michigan were only just getting a bit when I arrived early July.

But I also see the closed and frustrating aspects of France -- starting a business here is possible, but oopf! the paperwork, legwork, and sheer lack of encouragement! Compare that with the open, encouraging spirit of the US -- and in particular that special region up North. There is no comparison, though the French are definitely making headway. I see opportunities for what I know and can do in the US that I just don't see here. It would be a huge change, and not to be undertaken lightly, but...

But back to personality quirks. Am I simply too snippy and edgy to be in the Mid-west? And do I attribute that to living in Europe where observing peoples' diverse backgrounds, discussing politics, and weighing issues is commonplace? Or to having grown up in NY amidst the movement and intellectual spin of the East Coast? Can I become super-nice (and speak more slowly) like so many of the people I encountered this summer? I did pretty well in Seattle, a famously gentle and reservedly friendly city, and I even learned to drop my 'ly's in speech, just like the locals. So, with time...

I'm actually a very good friend to those around me. You can count on me. I generally say yes and help out however I might. I love kids, nourishing others, helping with and sharing projects, giving people a hand, laughing together (at no one's expense) and simply being with others. But yes, I permit myself to observe -- out loud. And that can contribute to open-mouth-insert-foot disease and its consequent misunderstandings in any culture.

The question(s) are as yet still up in the air.

Summer Pork Roast

Living in a house with meat eaters, well, it has to be on the menu every once in a while. So, I made one of my favorites this evening:

Braised pork roast with sun-ripened tomatoes

It's terribly simple, but also truly delicious.


- one pork roast
- 3 small onions chopped (about a cup's worth)
- a good handfull of cocktail tomatoes (about twice the size of cherry tomatoes), or other sweet and ripe tomatoes quartered
- olive oil for browning
- a touch of garam marsala, or a sweet Indian mix, or simple some thyme tossed in
- a drizzle of flavorful honey (no more than a tablespoon and a half)
- 2 cups of white/rosé wine
- a sprinkle of sea salt

I used my heavy Creuset enameled cast iron post to make this. It is oval and just the right size for a roast (and for no-knead bread, but that's another story).

I brown the meat on high in the olive oil, then remove it. Then I toss in the onions with a bit more oil, and today, as I had some spare salted and sweated, rinsed and tapped-dry eggplant, I tossed that in as well. When the onions were just sweated, I added in the spices and tossed all these about for a moment, then added the tomatoes and stirred till a touch of liquid appeared. I then put back in the roast, nestling it into the middle of all these good veggies. I drizzled the honey on top, sprinkled in the salt, and poured on the wine. I then covered, lowering the heat to the minimal possible, and let it braise gently for an hour. We're actually going to eat it tomorrow for lunch. So when it cools, I'll pop it in the fridge, to be put back on the heat 10-15 minutes or so before we eat. I'll also remove the cover for the last 5 minutes to reduce the liquid, and perhaps continue reducing after removing the meat, to get just the right amount of juices...

Now, considering I've been attempting to do a variation of the grape mono-diet -- permitting crudités, salad, and my ratatouille (yum!!) at lunch but avoiding all meats, dairy, and starch--this is self-induced torture to make such a good roast and only taste it (I'm not a purist, have you noticed? tasting is permitted!).


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ratatouille from the potager

Ratatouille. It's rather Proustian for me. Childhood memories of visiting France with my family, in the heavy summer heat of 1976, going from one friend's house in Garche (outside of Paris) to another's in Biot (Côte d'Azur, by Antibes), and on to Marseille, ending up at my godmother's in Rennes. In each home we were welcomed with that week's fresh (or day-old) batch of ratatouille. As my mother (the French professor) worked on my pronunciation of the French gutteral Rrrr and the quite particular ouille (oooiya), we enjoyed this most colorful and traditional dish (post discovery of the new world, but hey, traditions are made over a short few centuries, right?).

My brother and I, like mimicking apes or cuckoo birds, laughed and played with the marvelous sounds of this word. It truly is a marvel of linguistic beauty. rrra ta tooiya. And the French do care so much about getting the proper accent of their language. My brother had the best accent of we three, Mom always remarked. Though these days, we rarely hear it. He made some valiant efforts to communicate with Erick, the time or two we overlapped in Michigan these past years. And he certainly still has a strong vocabulary. He was teaching his sons the word libellule just the other day (dragonfly).

Every night, and often at lunch as well (if we were there and not off doing some touristy things ourselves, leaving our hosts a bit of peace and quiet during our brief invasion), we were served the ratatouille, till there was no more in the pot. One night we would have it warmed up, with pasta or rice alongside. Another day it might be served cold, with ham, pâté and good country bread as accompaniment, the latter to soak up all those good juices. Likely the best of them all was prepared in Biot with marvelous and fully ripe vegetables from their garden, or possibly from the little market stalls down in the village. Sweet, tart, dense, textured, savory, garlicky... I can see and taste it now.

Happily, by the age of ten I'd gotten past some of my worst food phobias, and would now eat strange things like eggplant and zucchini when cooked in such a dish. I'd been rather awful at the age of five, the time of my first French voyage. If I remember right, I'd even had a random and strange trick of biting and breaking any glass I was served. This only lasted a week, but I have this memory of being unable to drink without biting down. Rather akin to my son, Jonas, during his ninth month of nursing...

This morning after a leisurely wake up time (which truly, isn't appropriate in this land of mid-morning beastly heat, but I'm still just a touch in my Northern Michigan habits), I cleaned up and headed out to the vegetable patch. After tying up many a tomato plant, I collected a dozen gorgeous tomatoes, six or seven good sized zucchini and eggplant each, a handful of tiny orange bell peppers (not sure how hot these are, I only dared put one into the pot. For the moment, the others are highly decorative). There are still plenty of tomatoes ready to ripen on the vines, though due to a run-in with mildew their leaves are rather scraggly, which could prevent full ripening. We shall see. I remain ignorantly optimistic.

And to work on the ratatouille. Since living with Erick, I've opted for cooking the vegetables in three batches: the eggplant and zucchini are chopped up in even sized chunks, and put, the former in a casserole, the latter in a large deep-dish frying pan, with some olive oil and just enough water so they don't burn and will soften a bit (barely a half cup), a couple bay leaves, and a sprinkle of salt. I cover the pans to maximize the softening period. When the water evaporates--15 to 20 minutes or so later -- I let the now softened vegetables brown in the oil which has reappeared now the water is gone, stirring just enough so they don't stick. I then remove them from the heat and put aside.

Meantime, I sliced the onions and pepper, putting them in a deep casserole with olive oil to sweat, added in my tomatoes (their arrival stops the onions from browning), 3 or 4 more bay leaves, 6 cloves of garlic (at least) and another sprinkle of salt. The tomatoes, ideally, I'd let simmer for hours till they reduce and reduce and reduce to their sweetest potential. However, having already heated up the house (a sin on such a hot day), I turned off the heat beneath the tomatoes, to put it back on this evening once the windows are open again, letting in cool air to balance the heat put out by the flames beneath my pot. Thus, our lunchtime version was not the apex of flavor potential that I believe tomorrow's will be.

The first serving of the dish is thus a marriage of three distinct flavors. However, as the week progresses (always make enough to have lots of left-overs), the flavors merge and concentrate into a marvelous unity. And then, it could top a pizza, or crostini, be baked with cheese on top, or added to a lasagna. I had one au pair who even passed it through a vegetable mill and put it atop some spaghetti, persuading my son that he was only eating tomatoes (she was a bright one she was).

Ingredients: 5 eggplant, 5 zucchini, 10 or more good sized tomatoes (the extra can always be saved as sauce), 3 onions, 6 cloves of garlic, one bell pepper, plus sea salt, a cayenne pepper (if you like) many bay leaves.

Cooking time: two hours plus plus (if you count your slowly simmering tomato sauce on the back burner).

The Garden takes over

Summer abundance. Foliage everywhere. Bay laurel and thyme laurel reach new heights. Tomatoes weighing down their stems. Rose bushes in a sorry state due to too little water and some nasty little spiders. My garden greeted me and reprimanded me. How could you let me get into this state? No one here to care for me through a long hot summer? Barely watered grass, and the rest, completely ignored to do as it might.

My new sprinkler is missing a piece -- so it goes, perhaps it became a toy for the numerous children amongst the renters? -- so I set up the old one, with a very small radius, and every hour or two moved it about the lawn, close to the tomatoes as the evening (relative) cool set in and the danger of the burning sun had passed. I doused the compost pile for a few hours -- hard to make good black earth out of dry, dry, desiccated matter, and there too, I doubt the renters added to it. A pity. The range of plants along my back fence are out of the reach of my hose, so I hooked up a "home-made" attachment (one of my pool hoses) to better soak the climbing roses and the pink oleander. Perhaps one of the climbing roses is no longer (the one I planted this spring, surprise, surprise), but I'm crossing my fingers.

My sore thumbs, wrists and pectoral muscles are witnesses to my gung-ho effort (what is it about being in one's home, without children, and post-vacation that just spurs you on to crazy challenges?) to prune all the bushes. Now, I have to admit my gardening ignorance is high, and, when possible, I have delegated these tasks to others (in general strong men with the proper tools). But this time was different. I was on my own, and rather content to be so, and, I had only a very old and not particularly sharp pair of clippers at hand. Thus, with a rudimentary tool and will power, I went at those bushes, wacking off height, breadth and too many pockets of spiders to count. One pouch sent flying by my efforts landed a handful of miniscule, pale, nearly see-through, baby spiders upon my arms (and no doubt my hair too, but I wasn't really thinking of such as I just kept at it). Good thing Jonas wasn't with me. His fear of spiders already had him sharing my bed far more than once this summer.

Needless to say, I started in the somewhat cooler air of the morning, but by the time I had accomplished my tasks the thermometer was nearing 35C (93F) if not topping it in the sunshine, with more promised as the sun crossed the sky above. As I moved the hose through the kitchen to the front garden and my rose bushes planted there, I felt sad. I do hope my roses will come back next year. The combination of severe dry weather, and these spiders that leave white sticky deposits on the stems is a bit much. I was drastic in my pruning (after reading a gardening book stating that I could prune in August), and hope I've not delivered the fatal blow. They brought me such joy this spring. Never before in my life had I had a rose garden. Such a simple, and for many a trite, pleasure derived from the natural world surrounding me.

Spring in Provence is one of those moments that keep me here. Though the summer can be beastly me hot and send into hiding, the spring is magical, a moment of gathering momentum, colors suddenly transforming from pink to green, blossom making way for leaf, a range of tones and promise that enchants. I thought often of this as I looked around me in Northern Michigan. Could I give up spring in Provence for a new life in these northern woods? Would a magnificent (if very long) winter and glorious autumn compensate? Perhaps, but the nostalgia would be there.

Meantime, it is summer, I'm sweating buckets, and all is cooked, as far as the eye can see. Lethargy sets in, or restlessness. Next burst of energy I'll attack the spider webs all over the house, but for this, first to the store for more vacuum bags. At least the mosquitoes are few.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In my own home, at last

I returned to France a week ago, but I only came home to my house today. I saw off the renters this weekend, and now, slowly but surely, I'm taking back possession of my home. All the little things that add up to a relationship between an individual and his/her place of rest. I look around, I take stock and I begin to take care of, fix, clean, and more.

I've got the pool back to perfection, in a calm and leisurely way. It is time consuming to vacuum the bottom of a pool, but it is also a very soothing activity on a beastly hot day. Having found and killed a nest of wasps (not before being stung quite painfully on a finger/knuckle however), I then turned my wet, bathing suit-adorned body to weeding the tremendously over-grown vegetable patch. Now last week and the week before, I lent my hand at some little weeds, in soft sandy soil, easily removed from around some lovely strawberries and tiny carrots. Amidst my crowded tomato and potato plants, the weeds were anything but dainty. I felt I was removing baby trees. The soil was soft though, and the roots came easily (excepting my hardy crop of dandelion greens, but as I eat these, I'm not too worried by their very determined root system).

The front garden is truly a mess, so I soaked it and will work on it tomorrow morning. I think I just need to cut everything back. The rose bushes are straggly and in numerous cases diseased, and grass a passing memory. The jasmine and a huge orange flowered plant in front of my door are happily growing and growing and growing -- dwarfing a small rose bush or two beneath them. I clearly need to put some lavender plants out front -- something that is not too thirsty, but that will look nice through the summer (or at least through early August). I can see that I'm lacking summer flowering plants, having a predominantly spring garden. Ah, projects for the future.

The cane is so overgrown I have to duck under it to get to the pool, and the bay laurel and thyme laurel are trees in the making. I'm not looking forward to cutting back that sturdy cane with my sorry clippers, but I'll nonetheless make a go of it tomorrow morning.

The lawn has not enjoyed this hot and dry summer, so I'm soaking it progressively, from spot to spot. Happily I've a well, and a functioning pump! What more? Mail to go through, clothing to put away, and a shower to scrub. What is it about renters that they don't clean the shower before their departure? What part of "put everything back into the state you found it" is incomprehensible? But I'm not complaining. All the renters enjoyed my home this summer and were lovely and complimentary at their departure. So, though yes, there are minor things broken, some water soaked wood around my kitchen sinks (to be replaced next summer...), etc., the house seems to have come through fine.

One more thing, there is a day-long battle to wage against some very happy and prolific spiders in this house before Jonas enters it next week. And then, this quiet space where I'm all alone will be filled with my two kids plus four. I'm enjoying this peaceful moment for what it is -- brief and nourishing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

La Fête Votive de Vauvert -- Bulls, horses, carnival and more

When I moved to Arles, I became aware of a local tradition called the Feria. It was centered on the Spanish style bull-fights held in the ancient Roman Amphitheatre just up the street from us. However, it seemed most particularly to include plenty of sangria, paëlla, bull games in the streets and partying in general. It was different, you might say, from my childhood in the tree-lined streets of Westchester, NY. As Erick and I lived in the area of town most affected, I came to see it as amusing for the kids, but more than anything noisy, invasive, and akin to Frat House Row during pledge nights. A bit much? well, I have a thing for men pissing on my front door, vomiting on the sidewalk, picking fights and calling in the cops at 1 in the morning...

But, there is another take on local festivals. When you leave the big city of Arles (comparitively) and head into the smaller villages of the countryside, these traditional festivals take on a very different note. There is individuality amongst the blur of repetition. And more than anything, there is pride in traditions that go far back in time.

Being at the edge of the Camargue, the large expanse of marshlands nestled in the arms of the Rhône and the Petit Rhône rivers, the importance of the local manades (ranches), gardians (cowboys), chevaux blancs et taureaux (indigenous white horses and bulls), is intensely felt and shared.

This past week has featured the Vauvert Fête Votive, the week before it was the turn of the little village of Le Cailar (where my potter lives). The carni-folk set up shop right beside the town's new red, cement arena (aka le chaudron). Sand was deposited on numerous angled corners of the local one-way streets (to limit slipping as the metal-shod horses come careening by), metal barriers were put up to limit traffic and guide incoming horses and bulls. Outdoor bars and food stands serving Pastis, basic wines, sodas, fried foods, pizza and sandwiches got to work. Tables were set out with many a chair and bench. A bandstand was put in place to receive a rotation of different local rock bands -- including one fully white reggae band with a seriously tastless man in a wig of dreadlocks held on his no-doubt bald head by a snug, crocheted, red, green and gold tam.

Kids and parents roam the streets from sun up to sun down and far into the night. The focus of the day and week, or rather that which fixes its major rhythms is the arrival of the bulls herded by the snugly formed gardians atop their sturdy, white horses in from the outlying fields. This dramatic arrival is followed by bulls running through the streets, and numerous bull games in the arena: toro piscine (think water, crazy young men who've drunk too much and taken a dare dashing amidst smart and quick and powerful bulls); the courses Camarguaises -- men in white with red cummerbunds, accepting money for running around, leaping into the stands, and nearly being stabbed in the behind by smart and quick-footed, sharp-horned bulls.

Everyone is there, or at least everyone with local roots. Some outsiders or recent arrivals might find it a bit much, but, all the rest are out and about, enjoying a drink at a local bodéga (a temporarily transformed wine cellar with a splendid interior courtyard), taking in a concert or two, dancing le rock, watching their kids spin on rides or karoom about in bumper cars, autos-tamponeuses (useful new vocabulary word, don't you agree?), nibbling on sweet and salty fried foods, quaffing local wines from the Cave Cooperative and in general enjoying a week of festivities during one of the hottest times of the year (it reached 100F/40C more than once this week!).

With JP and his younger Brother Stephane and his family we went out multiple evenings for a drink, to socialize, to watch a sexy salsa dancer/singer and to enjoy the pleasure of Stephane's daughters as they took in the rides and general neon scene.
However, the highlight of the week for me was this morning's bike ride out to the fields to accompany the gardians, horses, and bulls into town.

JP woke me early (7:45 ... horror of horrors). I kneaded my bread and enjoyed a cup of chai, then we headed down to town where our bikes were waiting for us at his cellar. Once the tires were freshly pumped up, we headed out to the fields, about 8-10 kilometers from the village. Down small winding country roads, over a bridge, in the moist and fresh mist of the morning, past the Rivière le Vistre (one of the reasons the tiny village of Le Cailar is regularly flooded) and out to the fields of a local manade.

Once there, we parked our bikes and joined in a saucisse and fougasse laden breakfast alongside the Club Taurin to which JP belongs (in an attempt for this otherwise rather solitary man to connect with some of his neighbors and what he calls, le Vauvert profond). There were teens asleep on the ground, their faces rubbed gray with ashes (a local ritual), their eye-lids terribly heavy after a night of partying in town till 3AM, followed by after parties in the fields around camp fires, music, and ... The field was filled with many a Vauverdois there to enjoy a boisterous and communal moment, wine in hand, the fanfare (roaming brass band) lending musical accompaniment.

While we nibbled on bread, the above-mentioned anchovy and crackling lacedfougasses, , greasy saucisses, pâté and wine, the gardians were picking a few vachettes (female taureaux) from the herd and readying themselves for the ride to town. Other gardians, bicyclists, runners, and horse-n-buggy drivers gathered their forces, awaiting the signal to depart.

And then, it was time. We hopped on the bikes and rode quickly across the large field to be there just as the caravan of horses and bulls trotted past us. We were anything but alone. The most dangerous part of the trip was the large numbers of bicyclists and runners (who often tired and simply slowed or stopped right in front of us). One bull did escape from his guard, and a couple gardians dashed forward to get him back under control. Imagine a dozen horses, nose to tail, surrounding 5 small bulls, these last looking at all times for an opening to escape. It's pretty strange and marvelous.

The ride took about 45 minutes, past the river, over the bridge, under the trees, and at last past the recently built villas on the outskirts of town. Once at the town limits, the gendarmes held back traffic and we followed the circuitous route to the arena. Tadaaa... Time to watch young men dash about a sandy arena hoping to touch a bull's horn without getting stabbed, then out for a drink, and up to the Mas for a well-deserved lunch and a long nap.