Monday, May 13, 2013
The past three weekends we have been off to the springtime whirlwind of flower festivals. (If it didn’t seem too childish, I would have ended this opening sentence with dozens of exclamation points.) These Floralies are the best part of our best season. They happen all over France in such abundance that we fill up our weekends without driving more than 30 minutes from home.
Each Floralie has a different flavor. The menu runs from chic and elegant to casual and adorable. Mix in a few outings for hardcore plants people parlaying latin, add one or two chateaus served up in some beautiful villages and you get the whole moveable feast. The after dinner production, so to speak, is the prima donna of all plant fairs, one that takes over the whole village of St. Jean de Cole.
The first of our region’s fairs is held at the chateau of Neuvic, a fairytale setting with ancient roses clambering up the walls. Today the rose vendors will have no trouble inspiring you to attempt the same display at your humble abode. With this Renaissance backdrop the fair seems to fall back in time. There is a hustle and bustle of vendors and ravenous early customers swoop in to scoop up the best of the day’s offerings. As the day wears on the atmosphere becomes more relaxed as the crowd transitions to include families on an outing after a big noonday meal.
The following weekend the plant sale of La Brande is in the middle of nowhere. Clearly a destination event for those in the know. This is a plant fair for new, rare, and unknown plants. Nurseries come from all of France to show off their speciality: shade plants, peonies, old roses, old fashioned tomatoes, ferns, and all sorts of other mysterious plants. The place is rustic and cramped. The paths are too narrow to pass. The collective adrenaline fills the air with electricity like just before a thunderstorm. It’s hard to differentiate between rage and ecstasy. It is a serious plants person’s paradise.
Rain or shine we always make the effort to visit the third festival. Perched high on a hill the Montagrier Floriale is the most charming and intimate. The little Romanesque church and it’s surrounding grounds make a welcoming spot for local vendors to set out their happy summer flowers. The villagers have created a beautiful variety of bouquets from their home gardens to set about the interior of the church. All so simple, elegant and no high-handed frilly-dilly stuffiness. The lunch time barbecue will be sold out by 1:00 and families and friends will linger into the afternoon to welcome the fact that today’s purchase of tomato plants signals the gentle beginnings of summer.
Trumpets! Fanfare! Better, or at least clean, clothes! We’re off to the extraordinary festival at St Jean de Cole. This past weekend was their 32nd year. Here the main street of this medieval village is lined with bright masses of gaudy color. It’s a bit like walking the yellow brick road in multi-color. The over the top atmosphere is contagious and everyone is gay and in a buying mood.
No one will leave here without one great big splash of color to brighten up a garden corner.
And if you want to know this years “it” rose this is the place to be. Seems that peppermint stick or grape soda are the colors for 2013. And oh, the floral displays! There is no expense spared to show off the talents of local florist shops and fill the interior spaces with as much, or more color, than can be found out of doors.
Tom has the tractor running. Holes are appearing, compost is everywhere. Time to get those wonderful new purchases into the ground. As it says on the side of our soap dish, :
“To dig and delve in nice clean dirt
Can do a mortal little hurt.”
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Monday, May 6, 2013
A voyage along the Canal du Midi is a surreal experience. The waterways of the canal make for a languid dreamlike journey. The sense of floating on a cushion of air for mile after mile lulls one into a dream-like state. The “speed limit” is 8 km per hour so the country sides passes by slowly. Because of the engineering feat of keeping the canal level the countryside rises on one side of our view and is below us on the other side. Nowhere but in a canal can you be on a boat and look down on rooftops. Only on a canal can you completely confuse reality by being in a boat on a canal which is also a bridge that spans over a river. It is a magic carpet view of the world. Castle and church spires appear in the distance, then rooftops of village homes at the feet of these grand buildings. The sound of the muffled boat’s motor is soft and steady; the landscape’s powerful silence is stronger than this rumbling mantra.
So silently we glide through and past these quiet canal-side communities. Several times we come to cities. Ancient cites started by the Romans to protect their roads leading to the north. The canal has been important to the growth of these places, a new road to usurp ancient ones. The waterway usually slides right through the center of town. A haven of treelined peace for the city center.Our intimate boat world seems strange passing through railroad yards, past apartment buildings, and then surrounded by modern downtown businesses.
Outside of the few human habitations and the explosive excitement of the locks, there are few intrusions into the tranquility of the voyage.
The canal du Midi was conceived and started during the reign of Louis the IV. This was the late 1600’s and work was done by hand, demanding 12,000 laborers at it’s peak. It is a waterway to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The canal was to be a safe and quick route to transport goods within the confines of France, thus avoiding a long ocean voyage and attacking Spaniards. Wine has always been the most important cargo of the barges.
One passes acre after acre of vineyards and it is a lot of fun to tie up the boat and make a visit to one of the wine producers. Seeing the enormous containers of wine waiting to be bottled you can see how this one commodity kept the canal going for years and years. And, of course, one cannot fully understand and appreciate this region unless one accepts the responsibility of stopping the boat to sample the nectar of the locals.
But the most hypnotic, dramatic and memorable part of the journey are the trees. In the 1830’s 42,000 trees were planted along the canal to shade the boats and the tow paths. Now over 200 years old, their stately statuesque presence defines that route. Like ancient giants, these sycamores stand sentinel along both sides of the canal. Straight-a-ways, S curves, narrow and wide loops are all signaled by the glow of the smooth, light-colored bark and the soft green of the never-ending cloud banks of foliage. Trees, only trees, can give this sense of shelter, powerfulness and beauty. Mile after mile of them seeps into one’s soul to create a sense of peace as profound as only nature can give.
A great big thanks to the friends that added so much to the joy of this adventure!