September 2007
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Het weer in de Gers


caroline bril

tabac tractors
The tobacco is cut and gripped by a chain of metal teeth that
carry the plants over to the trailer of the second tractor.

hanging tobacco
Then the plants are hung for a few months to dry, before
being shipped to America and turned into cigarettes, cigars
and rolling tobacco

Mums lamb
Perry's mum, Rhona, with her favourite 'family get together
food', Leg of lamb.

in bassoues
Eating under the eaves of the medieval village of Bassoues

six years
Six years.

It's moments like this that we dreamed of when living
in the city

opa deffis
Monsieur Deffis has probably picked more grapes
than the lot of us put together

casse la croute
On casse la croûte!

vendange 2
The second vendange of the day. Olivier's daughter Ingrid
made it a three generation affair.

The fruits of a good day's work

First her teeth, then her eyes!
My wife is falling apart in front of me. I thought I was an old crock, but there are bits dropping off this woman at a rate that is frightening. Last year, I finally had to succumb to glasses. Now Caroline has become a squinter when trying to read the small print on tins of food. A visit to the optician and she finally got what she had wanted since a child. Specs. We look like a couple of Benny Hills, screwing up our eyes with our specs half way down the nose. She went for the naughty librarian look. She can stamp my book any day!

Fête de Puydarrieux
Every village has its fête. A three day excuse to have a good time, get drunk, eat too much and dance to DJs who still think that Boney M are cool (or are they again?). Puydarrieux's fête is in September. It began with a dinner at the salle des fêtes on the Friday. Apéritifs began at 7.30pm. Pastis, muscat and Floc de Gascogne flowed over the bar and our local gendarme and his line dancing club entertained us. Finally we sat down to eat around 9pm. The volume had already gone up three clicks. As the wine and food was passed up and down the long tables, we felt very much at home among people that have become friends from a sea of strange faces just two years before. It was a late affair, no really.

The next day we were invited to join Alain and Véronique, our neighbours (and Ernest the carpenter's son) for the Serenade. This entails a bus full of musicians who are driven around from house to house in the village, playing very loud 'Banda' music for half an hour, then moving on to the next house. Before they arrived, about 14 of us sat out on the terrace for apéritifs for at least two hours. We then retreated to the large dining table for foie gras, charcuterie, duck and chicken and several different wines. The bus pulled up and the room suddenly felt small as a ten piece brass band started up around us. The bass and snare drums had to stand outside, thankfully. The music is real oompah oompah stuff which causes an automatic swinging of glasses and loud singalong 'La La Laahs'. You get the picture. The bus pulled away and an impromtu boules competition began. Four teams of extremely well oiled players threw, cursed and laughed until it was too dark to see the pois. That was the cue to drive up to the salles des fêtes and start eating and drinking all over again. Perry was last seen jiving with Caroline to Boney M...

Olivier and Valérie Taran have a pretty farmhouse to the north of us. Among other crops, they grow tabacco. Olivier had mentioned that they were about to harvest and hang the tobacco, so we offered to help. We arrived to find three generations and several cousins at work. Firstly we rode shotgun with one of the tractors to the top of the field and saw how they cut and harvest the plants. Then we went back to the farm and helped sort the plants for hanging in the huge drying tunnels. Sadly, due to a wet summer and an enormous storm which washed away many of their plants, they will not have a good result this year.

Er... Houston we have a problem
Yep, that old internet is great when it works, a nightmare when it doesn't. And it always seems to happen at the moment you need it most. Perry was creating the brochure for his client in Cornwall where every day contact and document exchange is a must. So he had to carry his iMac in the car to Trie several times a day. Thanks to Alison at the SpotOn gallery, he could get the job done. France Telecom sorted it out in the end and we discovered that a far off lightening strike had blown our modem. A full two weeks later, that little green light came on again. Phew!

Peter and Rhona
Perry's mum Rhona and her husband, Peter, came for ten days. Peter's first visit. Despite the internet problem, they managed to have good time and being off line meant that Perry had more time for them too. They ate out at Bassoues, did the markets and discovered the wine store that sells a very good red at 1,32 euros a litre. Shame it doesn't travel well. Rhona made a load of pickled onions which will be ready by Christmas. Shame all the cheddar went so quickly!

6 years and Thierry
Believe it or not, it is over six years since we walked down the stairs at the Tropical Institute in Amsterdam to take our vows. To celebrate, we ate out at the Auberge du Lac in Puydarrieux. Thierry, the owner and chef, pulled the stops out and served up some gorgeous lamb, gesiers, magret and paté. Followed by his legendary îles flotantes. This time we got a little extra on the plate...

There was a knock at the door. Alain Deffis, who lives in the village came to invite us to join his family's vendange the next Saturday. We arrived early to help load the big half barrels onto the truck and we all drove a few kilometers into the Gers and Alian's cousins' farm. Using the old grape scissors we found in our barn, we joined the twenty odd volunteers among the rows of vines, baskets in hand. The chatter of gossip, funny tales and serious politics all went on between the vines. Fleeting converstaions as each moved on up the row, like a flock of long tailed tits twittering away and flitting from tree to tree. After a couple of hours the job was done and the feast began. "On casse la croûte!" was the cry. No need to say it twice, we all washed our sticky hands and dug in to rôti de porc - home reared - chicken, salad, chunks of bread and the wine from 2006. 2007 will be a year to remember too.

That afternoon, Olivier Taran asked a few of us if we would like to help him pick his grapes too. We agreed and joined his small family group in the old vineyard. He will plough the vines up this year. They have become a time consuming hobby with less and less return as the plants get older. Another small part of the French landscape changing. We were invited to return for dinner that evening and gladly accepted. The simplest of food was so delicious in a way only the French can cook, with the right surroundings and with the right company. Merci Olivier et Valerie.

A dieu, Noëlie Deffis
The three Deffis brothers, Noel, Lucien and Marcel were not there that day. Sadly, their mother Noëlie fell asleep in her chair that morning and died of a weak heart. A few days after the vendange we were with the same people at the church in Puydarrieux. Sophie, who's wedding we had attended a few weeks before, now stood to read the lesson at her auntie's funeral.

Until next month,

A bientôt.

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© 2007 Perry Taylor and La Baguette Magique, France.