Sunday, September 16, 2012

Celebrating the vendange.

  It's grape-harvesting season again, which in our region--or any other region in France--means an excuse for a party. Last Friday, I read in La Dépêche, the local newspaper, that the town of Mazères was hosting a fête des vendanges this weekend.
  Mornings this time of year are glorious, mysterious and misty when you wake up, the mist quickly burning off to reveal a flawlessly blue sky. We were on the road around 9:30 a.m. and, less than an hour later, drove into Mazères, the last few kilometres finding ourselves behind chugging vintage tractors. Old tractors are an integral part of any fête around here.
We parked under some handy plane trees and walked into the town, noting how some of the houses are built from the same pink-red bricks you see in Toulouse and Albi. 
 And, wouldn't you know it, there was a vide-grenier to slow us down too. But this was no ordinaire event.
 For a start, an accordionist wandered through the crowd...

 A fenced enclosure on a side street was home to chickens, ducks, rabbits, this impressive turkey...
And a donkey that periodically sent the chickens into a fluster of feathers. 
 No home should be without one of these sad-eyed kids. Fortunately ours is.
   I was briefly tempted by the thought of a pink flamingo tapestry for my friend Jill's Florida Room. But all (!) I bought in the end was a vintage coffee tin with nasturtiums printed on it, an old blue enamel coffee pot, and 20 Michelin maps of various parts of France for a project I want to do.
      Meanwhile, one street over, in the square beside the church, you could buy crusty bread, knobbly saucisses made from duck, or with whole hazelnuts inside, local cheeses, fruit trees, balloons and those little remote-controlled puppies that yap so annoyingly you want to kick them.

And you could gaze at the line-up of tractors. This is just a sample.
  My favourite was undoubtedly this one, because of its lavishly upholstered seat.
 Not far away was the raison d'être--or should that be the raisin d'être--of the day.
 Being pressed into turbid-looking juice...
 And poured out for sampling. This grape juice is sweet and sharp at the same time.
  Across the square, apples were being crushed into apple juice.
 Our region is famous for its dried white beans. Here's what they look like when they're first harvested.
   They're fed into machines like these which separates the shells from the beans.
 Not completely. The last stage is done by hand. This trio of ladies sat around picking out each last little piece of husk.
 Finally, they were packed into bags and ready for sale. Next step, cassoulet.
 (PS: To return to the Nutella theme of the previous post, the little café where we stopped for sandwiches also sold pizza topped with bananas, Nutella and whipped cream, as well as Nutella-and-banana paninis.)

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