The Fairs of Fall

This weekend our Fall Fair season continued with the always amazing Foire d’ Espezel on the Plateau de Sault.  JM and I missed last year’s, as it was precisely the weekend that we were in California moving Mom; so this year we were determined to go.

Fair weekend reminds me of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena; somehow, the weather ALWAYS seems to be nice for it, no matter what. This year was no exception.

We start to get in the mood as soon as we hit the road towards Puivert. The higher up we go in the foothills, the more beautiful it gets, as the colors become more intense and you get that real “fall is here” feeling. I always feel that I should stop the car just to get out and enjoy the view, but since the road is very narrow and windy, it’s not such a good idea.

Our dear friend Bernie arranged her visit this year so that she would be in time for the Foire, and she followed us in The Imperial Palace of Ireland (as JM has dubbed her sturdy little car). This was her first time to Espezel, so we were eager to get her reaction to the route as well as the fair.

We like to go early, so that we can park, but not so early that the food stands aren’t all set up yet. I think we timed it perfectly this year, as the wonderful smells were already hitting us when we parked the car.

They changed the layout a bit from previous years, and I have to say I quite liked it. This was not at all like Mirepoix last weekend, where I felt that there were fewer vendors than usual; the place was busy as ever.

The “Espezel Plan”  is easy: we go in and walk the entire main section, looking at all the stands but not buying on this first tour. You have to see EVERYTHING before making the all important purchasing decisions. I’m kept in control by the fact that JM is there, because I know for a fact that there are things I would buy if I was alone that I don’t because I would get the “evil eye” about spending on stuff I don’t really need (although there was a gorgeous sweater that I really wish I’d bought, evil eye be damned).

Then, we turn back and start making our choices. It’s always hard, because every table has something tempting on it, and it is very, very hard to know which ones to buy from. I tend to let JM lead the way on this, because he does seem to have good “fair sense”  about picking places. We bought 3 kinds of cheese and probably could easily have gotten more, but you have to show SOME discipline! I couldn’t resist a big chunk of pain de campagne from the same stall; even though we are lucky to have wonderful bakery 2 doors away, sometimes you just HAVE to try new bread. I have to say it proved to be as delicious as it looked, so there are no regrets.

We just HAD to buy some Aligot (for those who don’t know, Aligot is a specialty of mashed potatoes stirred in a giant cauldron with cheese until it is blended into a melty, smooth, marvelous thing of wonderfulness) and we also got some Tartiflette, which is sliced potatoes cooked with cheese and bacon.  Okay, so none of it is diet food, but you’ve gotta enjoy in life!

We continued along and I added half of a Noix de Jambon (a small, dried style of ham) to our basket. Then we turned towards the section with the animals where there were also vendors selling cooked food for lunch. Bernie and I both just had orders of fries; okay, yes, MORE potatoes, but in my defense, one of the main themes of the fair is the Potato of the Plateau de Sault, so you just HAVE to eat them!

Following our healthy meal, we went to the animal enclosures. I checked out the chickens and found someone who had Araucunas, which I really want (they lay green eggs!), but unfortunately, our chicken coop hasn’t been built yet, so I didn’t have anyplace to keep them. I took the breeder’s card though, and we’ll have to see what’s what next spring.

There were loads of beautiful horses and donkeys, but no cattle or sheep this year. That is due to an outbreak of Catarral Fever (Blue Tongue Fever) that is highly contagious to bovines and ovines, and a huge problem to local breeders. Their animals have all been vaccinated or are in the process of being vaccinated, but most of the departments in the region are in quarantine right now, so clearly, gatherings of animals from different breeders would not be a good idea.

We then continued our circuit and went back to the main drag to check the booths we hadn’t returned to because of our detour. We found some truly outstanding grape juice bottled by a local vignoble that also makes Blanquette. I would say it’s one of the best juices I’ve ever tasted, and we took the gentlemen’s card so we can go to buy more from him when we’re gong to be in Limoux.

A last stop for some pastries (we had to, didn’t we?) and then it was back to the car.

I don’t think we could have done anything else that would have made us as happy as a day out at the Foire d’ Espezel. Even though we always wind up spending more than we planned, we know that the money is going directly to the producers of the products we buy and helping to assure that the Foire will be in operation for many, many years to come.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Crime in the Possum Kingdom

And this isn’t just someone stealing walnuts off of a tree!

A few weeks ago I posted about how the entire village got together to march in protest over the possible closing of the local creche (nursery school). There was a great deal of discussion about where the money earmarked for the school was going, and there were accusations launched at the Communauté des Communes, which has been charging rent for the premises used, etc.

Last week it came out that the person acting as treasurer for the association that runs the nursery school had siphoned off 85,000€ (approximately) over the years! He turned himself in, because I suppose he figured it would be better than to keep waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall on his head.

Needless to say, the village is furious, because people feel as if they were used and betrayed. Totally understandable.

Then, a few days later, something even more shocking was revealed. This takes a bit of background for those of you who don’t know France.

Post Offices in France, unlike in the U.S., also function as banks. This is particularly useful for people living in a small community like ours, who can’t get out to a bank in a larger town. But many people in big cities also have accounts in Post Offices. In particular, up until the end of this year, Post Offices have had the right to offer a savings passbook called a “Livret A,” which offers a very good, tax-free interest rate. This is something that many people who have never earned a lot of money rely on, and may, in lots of cases, be their only savings. In January, banks will also be able to offer these, but that’s the future.

It turns out that someone in our local post office has siphoned off money from at least 3 or 4 of these accounts (the full extent of it is not yet clear), and it was only discovered because the son of an elderly resident had been given power of attorney to handle his mother’s affairs and discovered that instead of 15,000€ in savings, she had 300€! The son immediately went to the Postal authorities and an investigation was carried out.

The village is now rife with speculation and insecurity. The Postal Affair will probably take weeks to sort out so that it is known how much money was taken from how many different accounts. The person accused is denying all involvement, and the whole thing is just downright ugly.

Whether there will ever be enough evidence to take either of these cases to court, I don’t know. But because we are a small community where many people are related to each other in one way or another, it is not a comfortable thing.

It may not be as big a scandal as what is happening in the international banking world right now, but in a small village like ours, where everyone knows everyone, it is perhaps even more shocking.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Apple Season

This weekend is the 10th Annual Fete de la Pomme in Mirepoix. This, along with next week’s hug agricultural fair in Espezel, is one of our favorite events of the year. First, you’ve got the amazingly creative apple sculptures that are built in the center of the village (pics will be posted shortly), second, there are APPLES and lots of them!

Being mainly morning people, JM and I got there early yesterday, just after most of the vendors had finished setting up. I like that, because it’s easier to park and there are fewer people wandering around.

We were much more reasonable than we’ve been in the past, limiting our purchases to 3 bags of apples (Fuji, Honey Crunch and Pichounnet), a few apple filled pastries, some cherry jam (I KNOW! What is that doing at an apple festival!), some organic saucisson, a duck paté and a couple of bottles of apple juice.  I would say we spent a total of 25€, and all of it went directly to the people who raised/made the food.

That’s important, because we did notice that there seemed to be fewer vendors this year. I suppose that is a sign of the economic times, and that’s sad. Even though I enjoyed walking around when it wasn’t super crowded, I’m actually hoping that it got VERY crowded as the day went on. Regions like ours count on this type of event for the small grower to remain in business. We are lucky to have access to excellent quality products at reasonable prices. But that only remains the case if we support those doing the work.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Everyone worries about it

The economy, of course. It is the subject of conversation in our local paper; the neighbors talk about; everyone worries about it; you can see the concern everyplace you look.

I do feel that JM and I are in a better position here in the Possum Kingdom than we would have been if we’d stayed in L.A. First, the things we buy are definitely cheaper here. We are stingy with  our heating oil and keep our house at a temperature during the day that makes our neighbors shake their heads in disbelief, but we’d rather wear an extra sweater than call to have the fuel tank filled up any more than is necessary. We had a “pile” of would delivered yesterday. It is considerably less expensive than oil, so if we want to warm the downstairs we can just light more fires this winter.

We’re also lucky because we can buy most of our produce from local growers. I try to pick up things on the market on Saturday, choosing the vendors who are our neighbors. First, it helps them, second, it helps me, because their prices are very, very reasonable and the things they sell are as fresh as you can get without growing it yourself.

And, speaking of doing it yourself, I was talking with our neighbors Yves and Hélène over the weekend. They live in Perpignan and come to the village on weekends. They DO have a garden and have always been very generous in sharing their bounty with us. I try to go over water for them during the week when it’s very hot in the summer and we haven’t had a lot of rain. We think we may do a joint chicken raising co-op. They have the space and Yves can build a chicken coop. I live here all week and can feed and water the chickens and collect the eggs they lay. We are pretty sure we will not eat any of them though, because I really don’t think I can eat someone I knew personally.

What surprised me in all of this is that JM is not against the idea! Usually, he gives me the “look” that means he thinks I’m completel deranged to even think of doing something of this nature. But I guess the promise of all those fresh, free eggs is winning him over.

We’ll see where it goes and I hope I don’t regret it in the dead of winter.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Happy Birthday Possum Mom!

Today is Mom’s 85th birthday and her very first birthday here in France. I thought we should do something special, so yesterday (it just worked out that way) we took her out to lunch at Le Commerce in Mirepoix.

We were lucky that our friends Peter and Margaret, and Fiona, John and 11-week-old Aiobh (who is the cutest baby in the world) were able to join us. I’m afraid that Aiobh got all the attention, as everyone in the restaurant thought she was a beauty.

As always, with good company and good food in comfortable surroundings, a terrific time was had by all and I know that Mom really appreciated her celebration.

It has not always been easy for any of us these last 11 months, but now that Mom is settled in her own place and all of us find our lives getting back to normal, it has all worked out for the best. This was a particularly nice way of celebrating that as well as a birthday.

So, once again: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Ciao for now,

Randy