Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Look back at 2011...September to December

    Because what was meant to be the final Marché Gourmand had been rained out, we got a bonus one at the start of September

 Here we all are trooping through the streets to the outskirts of the village... watch the fireworks.

    September is the beginning of the hunting, gathering and preserving season. Windfall pears and plums made a year's worth of chutney.
    This is probably the best month to visit--and we had friends around for almost the entire month. Lots of candle-lit dinners outside, much popping of corks, loads of fun, and many days out.
 On this particular day, we drove east to the Canal du Midi, and then on to the ancient village of Minerve, which was besieged by Simon de Montfort in 1210.

Some of our friends even timed their trip so they wouldn't miss the annual hazelnut festival in Lavelanet.
 The big lunch always takes place in the halles that are normally home to part of the Friday market.

And the first course is always an indecently large serving of foie gras.

Meanwhile, very large quantities of meat roast on a spit...

 Foie gras out of the way, you line up outside for your portion, return to your table (where you find big pots of the local version of cassoulet) and continue eating and drinking. Pace yourself. There's still cheese, dessert, bottles of bubbly and coffee to come.
A member of the confrérie in official garb. I'm a member too but, so far, all I have is a small scarf and a medallion.

   One week in Paris hadn't been enough so, in October, we went there for two, staying in a couple of different apartments.
 Here's the view from the first one we stayed in on the top floor. I suspect it had originally been a maid's room.

  And here's the elevator/lift that took us there. You know those spiral stairways that wind round and round and round (often seen in European films with someone chasing someone else down them)? Well, in this apartment building, there was just room--but only just--to retrofit the smallest elevator imaginable in between the banisters. I'm not exaggerating. All you could shoehorn into it was one person and one piece of modestly-sized luggage.
  Our first weekend in Paris coincided with the fête des vendanges in Montmartre, which celebrates the harvest of locally-grown grapes.

As with any festival, there was plenty to eat, and even more to drink.
 October can be a wicked month for weather. It was raining chats et chiens a few days later so we scuttled over to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, the closest place to escape the downpour.

What we hadn't anticipated were the incredibly beautiful scientific instruments on display.

 Back in Léran, we watched the transhumance, the movement of flocks or, in this case, a herd, from their summer pasturage in the mountains to lower ground, part of the village's first foire agriculturelle.

    A month of walks and a day of remembrance.
 The start of one of the walks we take most often begins with this "cathedral" of plane trees that passes past the grounds of the chateau.
 Soon after, you get a fantastic view of the village--and a sense of how it's surrounded by green--and the mountains.
 This time of year, you're really conscious of the continuity of the seasons, of how new growth like this will be ploughed under come spring to feed next year's crops.
And how the remains of the harvest are also dug back into the earth to feed it. Cattle make their own contribution.
    Remembrance Day in France is marked with great solemnity in every community, and by everyone, however young they are.
 The littlest kids of Léran sang the Marseillaise and later laid their posies and bouquets on the war memorial,
 The firefighters from Laroque d'Olmes were there too.
Our mayor made a speech and then named every one of the 44 soldiers from the village who had died during the first World War, and those who had fallen in the second. After each name was read, an elderly former combatant intoned "mort pour la France" -- "died for France." Wreaths and posies were set around the memorial and then...
...courtesy of the mairie, kids, firefighters, everyone, we all trooped into the village hall for aperos and snacks.

Another walk, this time about half an hour's drive from Léran, just east of Lavelanet, at the village of Roquefixade, which is dominated by a vast cliff and a ruined chateau. 

    Scenery around here is jaw-droppingly magnificent with wave upon wave of mountains stretching to the horizon.
     Christmas was coming. Our village choir sang indoors in Mirepoix cathedral, and outside in one of the village's squares.
      Supermarkets were groaning with foie gras, oysters, champagne and all the other necessities for a traditional French Christmas. I really, truly, deeply loved this arc des oignons (and other alliums) in Carrefour in Pamiers.

Now we're into 2012. Hope this past year was as good as ours. A belated Happy New Year to everyone. May you live long and prosper. 

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