25 Jul 2007

Fête de l'olivier Bize Minervois

Well, the Olive Festival certainly was a grand affair – the village was bursting at the seams. I heard from someone that it was the busiest yet, with over 15,000 visitors. That’s quite something for a village with a population of under 900. There was even a security person trying to sort out the bottleneck of traffic over the bridge. Hundreds of stalls lined several of the streets, the promenade and the church square.
The festival is held in conjunction with L'Oulibo Olive Co-operative, 2 kilometres from Bize, that sells some beautiful olives and produces lovely oils. Well worth a visit – you can taste all the olives, tapenades and also the different oils.
The history of olives in this area is interesting – in the 50s olives were produced on a large scale but a very severe winter killed most of the trees. They were mostly replaced by grapes but now seem to be coming into their own again. The specialty olive of the area is the Lucque, quite long and curved a bit like a crescent – more expensive than the other sorts but really delicious.
At noon, the aioli competition kicked off. I was a bit slow off the mark getting to the venue, so couldn’t get close enough to see the competitors grinding madly in their mortar and pestles.

But I did get to see the judges taking their adjudicating responsibilities very seriously. Well, with gusto (and wine) anyway.

I had visitors for the day and overnight – Mo and Robin and their three kids (from Edinburgh, camping for a couple of weeks down near Perpignan). It was a beaut day for them to visit, with so much going on. There were pony rides for the kids. But the catch was that you had to lead the ponies around the village yourself! I got out of that one – Robin took two, Mo took one, and I took the photos.

Many stalls of food – not a burger or hotdog in sight. But moules and escargots by the bucket load.

Even though the centre of the village is small, there’s so much hidden away – there are always surprises. I’ve never seen these doors open before – there is a wine cave off the courtyard behind these two beautiful archways.

And here’s Miki, looking after his stall of imported Brazilian jewellery, looking très très français!

The weather was not too hot, but warm enough that there was a good crowd down at the pool.

And a couple of pictures around the village that I took early in the morning before the crowds arrived - it really was shoulder-to-shoulder most of the day.

There were soooooo many stalls – and what did I come away with? A bag of fried onion bits for sprinkling on salads, and ….. this …….

The Troisième âge folk had a stall outside the Club rooms, selling handicrafts. I bought a few numbers in a tombola, and then Claude and Illyette cornered me and reminded me that ALL the funds raised from the sale of the goods would go to the club. They also jotted my name down on a list to go to Corsica next year for a trip with the club. Sounded good to me!

And so, for 10 euros and much to Claude’s delight, I am now the proud owner of a green plastic / red crocheted – wait for it – SERVIETTE HOLDER!    

And the reason it’s looking SO nice here is that Mo turned her hand to folding the serviettes. She chose midwifery as a career, but I suspect she missed her calling...
And the day finished off with fireworks, again down in the riverbed and music on the promenade.

20 Jul 2007

Tour de France 2007

A quick trip this afternoon to Saint-Pons-de-Thomières about 35 kilometres north of Bize to catch the Tour de France on the Montpellier to Castres leg of the event. As I got close, the road was – not surprisingly – closed off, with signs showing a deviation. Deja bloody vu – I’m off on another unplanned scenic tour through the mountains. 

But I certainly got to see some pretty spectacular scenery (when I could take my eyes off the road for a second). When I did arrive into town from the other direction, parking was at a premium with all the main street closed off and I ended up parking on the outskirts quite a way from the centre.

But my timing was good as it turned out. Not long after I joined the crowd and got into position at the side of the main street, a parade commenced - floats and other commercial vehicles. Lots and lots of them. 

And many of them were throwing out all sorts of things into the crowd – packets of coffee (!), key rings, posters, hats, books, toys, sweets, packets of pretzels – an amazing array of stuff. The crowd was having a great time amassing bag loads of goodies.

Sage and Indigo: take note – I didn't come away empty-handed. I managed to get something for you (one each ...) for when you arrive here in August.

And I only had to wrestle two young children to the ground to get them. Easy.
And there was a bit of an Australian thing there as well – a vehicle in the parade with a bicycle-riding kangaroo on its roof ..... 

....... and a spectator who not only had an Australian flag, but also a blow-up kangaroo complete with joey under his arm ….

Nice buildings in the main street of Saint-Pons –

And finally the riders arrived, one or two (perhaps the leaders?) accompanied by gendarmes on motor bikes, and then a little later, the main group. What a sight. I was in fact in a pretty good position and got my finger on the video button of my camera in good time.

It may be obvious by now, given my recent postings of video clips, but I’ve found out how to use the video recording thingy of my new (mostly useless) digital camera. So, for normal photos, I use my old faithful camera, and my new-ish one (that only seems to take blurry photos) is set permanently to video. It does mean that I’m carting two cameras around all the time, but I’m having fun practising.

So watch this space – because this weekend is the Bize Olive Festival - Fête de l'Olivier - one of the village highlights and busiest weekends of the year. And I'm feeling trigger-happy.

18 Jul 2007

14th of July in Bize Minervois

The River Cesse in Bize certainly plays a large part in the activities of the village. Last weekend of course was the 14th July celebrations and kicked off on Friday night with a demonstration of motocross / dirt bike riding. A large mound of gravel was built on the dry part of the river bed, behind the dam wall of the pool. Run-up tracks were laid down, starting under the bridge and a launch ramp was put in place.
A big crowd from the region seemed to have descended on the town for the event, and they put on a good show. I think the riders are all pretty young – possibly some are the same little sods who are putting in some practise hours around the village late at night lately!

’s house is on the other side of the river and a perfect viewing spot for a few pre-fireworks drinks and some food, and apparently she does this every year. Again, the village is full of people – and when it’s dark, there’s a traditional parade of the kids with their lanterns, down along the river bed.
And then followed by fireworks …

Barn renovations:
An update : I met with the architect at his place in Roubia last week, to sign some papers. What I didn’t realise until I got there was that all the ‘artisans’ would be there – the plumber, the air conditioning man, the tiler, the builder and the electrician. And we all sat around the table, much paperwork and many stamps were produced, and there was much signing to be done by all parties. A new experience for me indeed. However, not everyone was present – the plasterer had forgotten the appointment, and the carpenter was unavoidably delayed! – so their bits will have to be dealt with by mail.
But the bottom line is that things will start happening mid-September! I must remember to take many before and after photos ……something to look forward to…

9 Jul 2007

In for a penny in for a pound

Sandra and I decided to have a BBQ for the French walking group as a thank you for making us feel so welcome and for their patience with our struggling French language. When Claude (the president of the club), suggested a maximum of 20, I said ‘fine’. Thought it would be a bit of a squeeze, but figured what the heck – the more the merrier. Well, as it turned out we ended up with 32, including the 7 English-speaking people who sometimes come on the walks. A bit of last minute panic to get extra chairs and seating, but ok in the end.
So yesterday was very busy indeed, setting up the courtyard with tables, chairs, two barbecues and food serving benches, and preparing many salads and desserts. Sandra and I had spent most of Saturday doing a big shop – firstly to Ginestas to fill up our containers with rosé and red, then down to Narbonne for meat and salad stuff. So actually, it’s been a very busy couple of days. And Patrick, Sandra’s husband, did a fine job in the afternoon playing roadie, stringing up lights (strings of lanterns no less) and power for the music. He also took charge of one of the bbq’s (sausages) and confessed later that it was the first thing he had cooked – EVER! I figured he wasn’t an old hand at it when a few sausages went astray into the fire and he was prepared to write them off - I mentioned that it was OK to do a salvage job and keep on cooking them! Not a problem ….
But an interesting observation on the difference between French bbq’s and what I’m used to. Most people arrived en mass and on time. But Claude and Illyette were running a little late, and they were bringing the aperitif – again, a giant bowl of the blue punch made with champagne and Blue Curacao.

Sandra and I already had a drink in hand (by this stage of the day, we figured we’d earned it), but when offered, no one else wanted one. They wouldn’t drink anything until the aperitifs arrived. And 30 minutes later - after the punch - everyone sat down at the tables. Sandra and I looked at each other - and figured it was time to get cooking! So, I figure that the French idea of a bbq is a much more structured affair than I’m used to – it did make me laugh. It also made us get a move on and get the food out! I was an absolute lather by the time everything was served, but all in all a good evening. Music was good, songs were sung loudly and even a bit of dancing at the end. And the storms that were forecast (!) held off and we got just a little bit of rain at midnight by which time all the guests had departed. Patrick, Sandra and I sat under cover, drew breath, drank fine wine and did a postmortem of the evening. Conclusion – a fine time was had by all - a resounding success.
I was so busy during the evening, that I didn’t get a group picture, just one before hand - before the addition of extra seating!

The week before, Bonnie and Terry (who live in Agel and who come on the walks) told us about an event being held at the chateau in their village.

It was to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the revolt of the vignerons – led by a winegrower by the name of Marcelin Albert who was from the nearby village of Argeliers and is now somewhat of a local hero.
There was a luncheon on the day – put on by the village boules team - and the avenue leading up to the chateau was the laid with one long trestle table. A pleasant afternoon indeed.

The starter was half a melon, but of course not just on its own. So much better with a good measure of Muscat!

The swimming pool down at the River Cesse has been worked on and is now up and running properly, with a ladder installed on the little foot bridge and a life-guard on duty for the next couple of months between 2.00 and 7.00pm! A small island of gravel has been formed in the middle, and the overflow outlet made smaller, so in fact that water is a bit higher now than is shown in the photo.

Moving sideways

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