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Smallville: A Matter Of Taste

Peter B Farrell dreams of living in France when he goes on a cherry picking expedition.

For more of Peter's flavourful accounts of his holiday in France click on Smallville in the menu on this page.

A busy day lay ahead. The itinerary was worked out by my brother Kev and his wife Diana. Accompanied by their son James, we would take in cherry picking, wine tasting and a tour of the ancient city of Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue region.

That is, once we had removed all the rubble from the upstairs terrace. James had just demolished an old concrete cistern with a sledge hammer. We set to work with a will ferrying the rubble downstairs, ready for the skip. I could see the house taking shape, once the internal walls were up and plastered.

As we set off I consulted my journal and crossed off Angers, Cahors, Albi and Nimes. After a four-day stay in the Languedoc region I had already decided that we could afford to live in Beziers.

“Yes, I’m sure we could manage a small apartment.“ My appraisal of the current financial situation seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“An early morning call at the local boulangerie; breakfast on the terrace over Le Monde, catching up with the sports news in L’Equipe...” Hadn’t my wife realised the advantages of a leisurely life in the sun?

“It can get a bit too hot, pass the sun-cream;” was her reply.

My success at ordering croissants surely proved I would soon be up to the language, once we were mingling with the locals, but I was ignored. We had arrived for the cherry picking.

Julien, a family friend had invited us to the home of his grandparents who had a small fruit farm nearby. We were made welcome and cherry picking proved an easy task after guidance from Julien’s grandfather. Within half an hour we had picked enough of the luscious fruit to produce jam to see us all through 2006. We were then invited into the farmhouse for refreshments where we enjoyed some typical French hospitality.

“Cerises, trés bon;” was all I could interject into the conversation but luckily Diana was on hand to interpret.

Cherry picking could become a regular pastime and a change from gardening. I helped load the trays of cherries into the boot.

It was a short journey to Villeveyrac with the well-preserved 13th century Abbaye de Valmagne. We joined a tour of the ancient buildings which terminated in La Cave where we were invited to sample the various wines on offer. This was a first for me and after trying about half a dozen varieties I found it difficult to choose; it was just red or rosé to me.

“What’s wrong with the Leaping Lizard you were fond of?” Margaret reminded me of my liking for Australian.

“Just imagine driving round the vineyards, sampling the wine.” I wondered if they employed casual labour in the grape picking season.
It was left to Kev and James to select the wine.

“Better take some of each;” and I was reminded that we hadn’t gone wrong yet on a wine trail that had started in Angers. I found time to enter the wine labels in my notebook alongside the favourites, St Pierre de Trapel and Minervois.

“Don’t forget we have to get the jam made tonight.“ Back on the road Diana reminded James that time was of the essence if we were to visit Aigues-Morte; but he needed no invitation and headed for the Camargue with skill, nonchalance and breathtaking speed.

“Look, flamingos, you’d never see that sight back home.” Another plus point which failed to impress.

“Look, the white horses of the Camargue.“

“There are horses back home you know.” Margaret was taking some convincing.

I gathered that the “Morte” referred to Dead waters. The ancient walled city was originally a port built in the 13th century but the sea had receded. Tourists like us packed the square, all wanting to be photographed in front of the statue of Louis IC.

What I thought to be a white reclining statue turned out to be a bizarre mime artist; a still life who had an unnerving effect on a visiting coach party when he moved to pick up some coins.

“I’ve seen better in Norwich market place.“ Margaret was not impressed and I had to agree.

Pausing only to collect a brochure from a local estate agent we made our way back to Gignac for the last time; tomorrow we would be starting on a four-day journey home.

That evening and under Diana‘s supervision, the cherries were cut, stoned and soon boiling away merrily. Left to set, the jam would be bottled the following morning. A barbecue had been planned by family friends for our farewell and it proved to be a memorable one; course after course complemented by the wine from the Abbaye de Valmagne.

It would be difficult settling back into our normal routine back home but plans were afoot to buy a holiday home. Failing that we had an open invitation to come back, perhaps when the house was finished.


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