Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

For this week’s Photo Challenge, Descent, I am looking down at the road leading into St. Jean de Buèges from the mountain that straddles it.  We walked up as far as the path would take us, then pulled up a patch of stony ground to sit down.  We started to count cars going into St. Jean but after half an hour and only 3 cars (which is why we love this place!), we continued climbing.

I Love looking down at the village from this vantage point, with the birds!

 

My feet resting before the DESCENT into St. Jean de Buèges

My feet resting before the DESCENT into St. Jean de Buèges

 

For more height-defying photos taken at the top of the world, you can take a look at my post UP which shows a view from above to the Descent below…

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Fromage by any other name would smell as…sweet?

PERSONALLY, I wouldn’t put the live fretting chickens, roosters and rabbits next to the cheese display.  I would think the ‘aroma’ of one would influence the sale of the other.  But no one asked me, the FDA was nowhere in sight and this is the way it’s been done for hundreds of years…voilà.

Welcome to the weekly frenetic Friday market in Ganges, France where the streets are closed to cars for the day and fresh, homegrown and homemade EVERYTHING is on offer.

But we needed cheese.  And the best cheesemonger was, indeed, right across from the rabbits.

Best and busiest…so you had to know exactly what you wanted…quickly…and in French.

We saw our chance and seized it…no one at the counter.

Bonjour Madame…Bonjour!    Yes, can I help you?

Ok, we remember the name of the cheese.  Oui, s’il vous plaît.   Tomme de vache…yes, she’s going right for it…we got the name right!  Uh-oh, people are gathering…a little pressure.   Combien monsieur? How much would you like?

(Now here is where all these years of shopping at Costco have trained our North American minds that more is better)

The people in line know if they want 100 grams or 150 grams and they know which of the 250 cheeses on display they would like.

We just know…about that big.  Put your 2 hands together to form a wedge…it’s very precise.  Comme ça?  she asks.  Like this?

Say smaller, say smaller, say smaller says the little voice in my head…’Oui, comme ça’ is what comes out of my mouth instead.

There are 8 families of French cheese…Fresh, soft with natural rind, soft with washed rind, pressed, pressed and cooked, goat, blue, processed.  Then within each family you can have different types of milk…cow, sheep, goat.  This creates between 350 to 400 different varieties of French cheese.  With lots of variation within each kind, that amounts to about 1000 different sorts of cheese.  Phew!  ok, now which one do you want and how much can I get you?

Cheddar, Kraft singles, processed,bagged, shredded mozzarella…there, we have pretty much covered what is found in an American grocery store.

The woman was, in all honesty, very helpful and actually let us taste a couple varieties…until the crowd started to gather around us.  At that point tasting was over and it was down to ordering.  The 100 grams method to be sure, is a more accurate way of ordering than making a wedge with your two hands.  The wedge method gets you enough cheese for the neighborhood, which is what we had when we walked away.

The chickens, roosters, rabbits and pigeons were still there, fretting, cackling and cooing,  less concerned about my French ordering skills than they were about their immediate future.

And,  it is amazing how quickly one can acclimate to the ‘aroma’ in an outdoor market.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: ENDURANCE

The old stone villages of southern France are the picture of ENDURANCE, this week’s photo challenge. Built in the 11th and 12th centuries (and some before!) these villages have withstood the test of time.

Two and three stories high, these medieval stones tell a story heard over centuries.

 

 

 

We learned a new word in French…FLOODING…INONDATION!

The weather in the south of France has been spectacular…gorgeously sunny and warm…until yesterday.

Yesterday a ‘système’ moved in over the departement we are in…Hérault…and is sitting on us.

And I mean sitting…St. Jean de Buèges is deep in a valley…sitting.

Pas de probleme…we are on holiday and this is all part of ‘living in place’.

…so we close the alarm, go back to sleep, have a leisurely breakfast and watch the torrential rain through the open shutters.  Watch and listen.

Today when the rain stops and fog lifts we and the other townspeople go outside to investigate what 24 hours of downpour, thunder and lightening have done to the village.

The stream bed, which has been bone dry for the past 2 weeks, is now running in a torrent with white caps through the center of the village.

There is no school today…the buses were told to stay off the road because of ‘inondation’.

Young children in plastic slickers and colored rain boots lean over the railings lining the town, over small bridges, to witness the torrent of water coming down from the mountain and rushing through their town.

The Buèges river has overflowed its banks and the soccer/camping field is under 7 inches of water.

And there is a wonderful earthiness in the townspeople coming out to see how much water has fallen in the last 24 hours.  They gather in the center of town and the talk is of the flooding and the grape harvest which was to begin this week.  Only meters away from where we stand are rows and rows of vineyards with big, ripe black grapes waiting to be plucked and churned into wine.   Yes, how the weather affects the grapes.

So we watched the cascading torrent through the stream bed in town, we walked just outside the village to see the Rivière Buèges rushing and flooding its banks; we stopped into the Bar du Chateau for a hamburger and frites lunch; we walked some more after lunch and we came home to watch François Hollande give a press conference.  a good day.

And on our way home, we watched as  two young girls played in the (new) stream that was running down the front of their property.  Dressed in boots and raincoats, and accompanied by big sticks and their big black dog, the girls were playing in their front yard, in the stream…playing…together…outside…make believe…playing.

Please click on the gallery below to share  what we saw!

 

 

What doesn’t make you stronger, only makes you fatter

There is nothing more illustrative of “Journey. People. Culture. Food.”  than the traveling baker to the small villages in this area of the Cévennes.

St. Jean de Buèges, like many of the local villages, is not big enough to support a baker (or a store of any sort, for that matter) so the baker, the Boulangère, comes to us.

Pinch me!    How long have I dreamt about a traveling pastry truck driving to me?! Continue reading

Pic St. Loup, 658 meters of fun for the whole family!

We’ve photographed it…several times…different kinds of light playing off the mountain.

Lovely from afar, guidebook said the closest you can get is 4 km away…the rest is by foot.

Nah…let’s go take some more pics.

But the guide on our walking tour of Montpellier said, standing on the top of the Arc de Triomphe (they have one also, and she has the keys to the medieval (read steep) steps up)…yes she said standing up there looking over the entire city of Montpellier on one side, quaint French countryside on the other…that is the beloved Pic St. Loup.  Cherished mountain of those in Montpellier and the Hérault Valley, watching over our city.  The north face is a 90 degree angle straight up, but the south face meanders and is a lovely walk for small children and grandmothers alike.

Ok, I’m in.  I fall in between there somewhere.

Wrong.  I forgot for a moment that the French are a hardy bunch.  And I would like to meet her grandmother!

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

For this week’s photo challenge, Humanity, I choose to highlight one of the most delightful experiences where all kinds of people come together for a common pursuit…the weekly market. Being in small town, southern France at the moment, markets are all around us, the closest being in the town of Ganges, in the Hérault Valley, north of Montpellier.

Every Friday, hawking food and everything else you can imagine, there are artisanal bakers, butchers, fish mongers, cheese makers, olive producers, fruit and vegetable farmers, alongside people selling skirts, tops, sneakers, leather handbags, records and CD’s, incense, pottery, flowers and even one stall selling mattresses (HOW do you get that in/on your car?) and did I mention the live chickens, pigeons and rabbits?!

They are there week after week, sometimes making a sale that doesn’t even equal a Euro, and always with a very pleasant, “merci, bonne journée’.

Even if my pantry is full, I go to the weekly market…it is a grand celebration of life and humanity.