The Sights and Sounds of Fall

I’m sitting here listening to people walk by on the street. I know they’re walking by because I hear the leaves crunching beneath their feet. I love that sound; it really evokes the whole season.

This morning, I had to make a quick run to Mirepoix. I decided to go early, so it was still chilly and the mist was hanging in the air. It was the first day when I looked at the countryside and saw that the leaves are changing because it’s Fall and not just because of the draught. It always looks so beautiful to see the hillsides in their multi-colored autumn wardrobe. It just makes you want to smile.

On Saturday, there was a protest that came through the village. There is a plan to build a windfarm up on the hills above Sonnac and in one or two other places in the area. I’ve gone through many areas that have them and I don’t find them unattractive. But this windfarm has several things that make me turn against it; one is that it is a private enterprise and it’s not entirely clear who is going to benefit from it. Some of what I’ve read makes me believe that it won’t be the taxpayer.

But the big thing that turns me against it is the idea of doing anything to destroy the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. I have no problem with windfarms in fields. But cutting down trees to get the construction materials up to where they need to go, just seems wrong to me. I think this area is  extraodinarily beautiful and marring it for an “iffy” project seems to be taking a mighty risk.

I’m really trying not to be a NIMBY and being logical about it. I’m a big believer in alternate sources of energy. But we shouldn’t forget that the biofuel movement turned out to be not such a good idea as things stand today. Shouldn’t we think carefully before destroying big hunks of forest that we can’t put back if we’re wrong?

Ciao for now

Randy

Grapes

I know, it seems like an odd thing to write about, but this year seems to really be a banner year for grapes.

Unlike most people in our area, I really think about grapes first as something to eat and only secondarily as something that becomes wine. That’s because although I do have the occasional glass of Blanquette Methode Ancestrale, I’m not really much of a drinker. I never have been, to be honest, not out of any moral or other conviction, but because I don’t really like the taste of alcohol. Methode Ancestrale has only about 6% alcohol, so it is light, sweet and not particularly alcoholic, really right down my street to be honest.

But grapes as an edible fruit are something else.

Like so many other things, I had started to lose the taste for grapes when I lived in L.A. We had beautiful looking grapes pretty much all year round, but most of the time they were… well, tasteless. Their main attribute was that most of them were seedless, which makes eating a grape a simpler thing.

When we moved here, the first thing I noticed about grapes was that we had a lot more varieties of them other than mostly Thompson Green Seedless and Red Flame, with the occasional Concord thrown in. Here, at grape season there are Italias, Chasselas, Danla, Muscat and more. The seedless variety is almost an afterthought and we don’t see that many of those in most places.

This year, my grape of choice is the Muscat. Muscats are dark purple, with small to medium fruits and mostly tiny seeds that you almost don’t notice when you eat them. But what really sets a Muscat grape above the pack is the taste. They’re always delicious, but this year they are truly divine. It’s hard to even express the full, sweet, heavenly flavor that the hot dry summer seems to have given them. Suffice it to say that if I have to choose between eating a dessert and eating a handful of Muscat grapes, this year the Muscats win over just about anything else I can name.

They are so good, that as soon as I run out of a batch, I immediately run out to the store to buy more. Indeed, I think I have developed a previously unknown condition called Grape Addiction, and it has nothing to do with alcohol. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when grape season is over, because there will be nothing that can replace the pure awesomeness of the Muscat.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Fresh produce and failure

When we were walking Shmoo yesterday, we stopped into the garden of one of our friends. All the gardens around hers have tons of red, ripe tomatoes, but hers are just not doing well at all. It was actually kind of sad to see her plants looking all kind of sick and miserable, while the garden next to hers had tomatoes bursting with ripeness.  Now, she happens to be an amazing, experienced gardener, but clearly this year, something went wrong.

On the other hand, she later stopped over and gave me a huge, bucket full of figs that were ripe and bursting with flavor. In fact, there were so many of them that I almost didn’t know what to do with them. However, I found a recipe for fresh fig bread that I doubled. I now have 4 loaves of fig bread sitting on the counter and they smell divine.

I am much better at cooking things than I am at growing things. It probably means that we made the right decision to not buy a garden. I have to remember that when we were back in L.A. we had a gardener who took care of it, and when I wanted something planted, HE planted it, not me. I didn’t have to do anything to get my clemantines and lemons except go out back and pick them off the trees.

I did have a year or two where I grew tomatoes. But in L.A. it’s not all that complicated. Once you put the plants in the ground, they get so much sun all summer that you have more of a problem with too many tomatoes than anything else. Although I did have to move them every year because of some kind of disgusting bug that would eat the plants if you left them in the same place two years in a row.

Still, I really can’t bear to plant things then have them die. It always makes me feel sad, like losing a pet. If friends who know what they’re doing have problems, what hope would I ever have?

Ciao for now.

Randy

Noise

I have come to the conclusion that noise is the one thing that will destroy all relationships in life.

We’re all more or less sensitive to it; but for some it is the element that pushes us over the edge and causes rational beings to snap.

Case in point: how do you have a vital village without having the noise associated with businesses? Everyone wants to be able to walk outside and get their bread every morning, or run down the street to the butcher shop to pick up something for lunch. But having businesses means that you’re going to have noise.

Bakers bake in the middle of the night, their machinery is loud. They have “things” that run with loud motors. If you happen to live right next door to the bakery, the sounds are gonna get you. Especially during the warmer months when people want to keep their windows open. So, which is worse: being hot inside or having the noise of the bakery coming through your window?

Same thing with the butcher shop: commercial refrigeration units have powerful motors. It’s impossible to keep the food cold any other way.

There are also the people who come to shop in their cars, stop in the middle of the street without really parking and leave their engines running while they make their purchases. That makes for a powerful combination of noise and pollution.

But what about the neighbors? I think it’s really a dilemma without an answer. Personally, I’m not bothered by either of these things (well, the badly parked cars with their engines running are annoying), but I know people who are. Not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of the noises makes people go a little crazy I think.

During the day, the worst noises in any village, in my opinion, come from the hideous little motorbikes that the kids tinker with to make them even noisier than they are to begin with. If you have them circling a village where the sound is trapped between old stone walls creating an amplifying tunnel, I assure you that you dream of knocking them over with a big stick. If you are trying to watch television or talk on the phone, you have to actually stop what you’re doing because it is impossible to hear anything.

Now that, unlike the motors of the various businesses, is actually illegal. The problem is that you can’t have a police force dedicated to doing nothing but give tickets to noise offenders. All of these things depends on individual civility and a certain sense of neighborliness.

Also, when you have village houses that share walls, you are also faced with shared noises. I know of a case where an elderly neighbor swears that he hears the people next door to him doing construction work in the middle of the night, which they swear they do not do. My guess is that the wooden stairs amplify the volume of their footsteps and that is what he hears and misinterprets. Because he has health and insomnia problems, this has seriously impacted his relationship with these people. It has now become an insurmountable issue and they have, understandably, given up trying to make nice.

Unfortunately, what happens is that the “offended” party becomes angry from the noise and then lashes out either verbally or otherwise. Things tend to degenerate from that point. My guess is that there are feuds in every village in France (and elsewhere) that have started and lasted for years because of the issue of noise.

So, can we do anything to resolve this? I don’t think so beyond a certain point. JM and I have changed our television viewing habits: moving the TV away from the wall, making sure the sound is not too high, not watching (most of the time) after a certain hour. Our neighbors also make an effort to not be overly loud.

But we all have to live, as does the village. If we wrap ourselves in cotton wool, we miss out on more than we gain and we will all be the poorer for it.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Mambo, the most famous dog in France

To be honest, this is a real horror story.

On August 10th, a group of adolescents “hanging out” in Perpignan came across a small, stray dog.  A 22-year-old girl caught him and gave him to her 16-year-old friend who then doused him in lighter fluid. The dog escaped, but the girl caught him again, gave him back to the boy who doused him in MORE lighter fluid and set him on fire.

The terrified, tortured dog ran away screaming in agony while the group of kids laughed! A nearby neighbor, who was an ex-police officer, called the cops who came and got the kids names.

Poor Mambo, as he is now known, was burned on 30% of his body and it wasn’t until the following day that a local couple managed to catch him and take him for treatment.

It didn’t look good for the little dog, but the forces of animal rescue rallied behind him. Many famous actors and sports figures donated money for his care, as well as thousands of regular folk. And Mambo rallied and has survived.

Yesterday was his day in court. Animals are not permitted in court, but Mambo was given special dispensation to be there as witness to the horrible crime he suffered. Because the young woman is an adult, she was able to be sentenced at a regular tribunal and has received 1 year in prison, with 6 months firm (no parole) and the rest to be determined depending on her behavior.

The boy will be judged in juvenile court at a later date.

The spokespeople for the SPA say that poor Mambo is the tip of the iceberg in mistreatment of animals. He’s one of the lucky ones, because he has been saved. But how many more domestic animals are being mistreated and no one knows?

What horrifies me is the cruelty of those kids, who clear have no sense of empathy for another living creature. Even the ones who did not participate directly did nothing to stop the horror. What does our society have to look forward to in the future with kids like this growing up to take over the world? What do parents feel like when they know that their child has done something like this?

Mambo was lucky to have publicity behind him, but we can’t save all of them, and that makes me want to cry even more.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Time is flying

I can’t believe we’re at mid-September already. The month seems to be just flying by. In fact, this whole years seems to just be whizzing past at lightning speed; I guess it’s a real sign of getting older.

Things are now really calming down in the Possum Kingdom. We drove to Limoux the other day and only saw one or two cars on the road between here and Ajac; a total contrast to August when you would get caught in mini-traffic (that’s being with 5 other cars on the road). On the other hand, it’s the time of year when we have to start keeping our eyes peeled for deer, boar and other wildlife running across the road in front of the car at unexpected times. That’s because it is hunting season and the critters haven’t learned to look both ways when crossing.

I know that hunting is a necessary evil in this area, where the boar population has really expanded and there are no natural predators to keep them under control. It appears that domestic pigs have bred with boars and the hybrids have much bigger litters than wild boars do naturally. A couple of boars can totally decimate a field overnight. Still, knowing this doesn’t make me like it any more.

One of the things that really bothers me about hunting is seeing the hunting dogs kept in kennels in the garden area along the Hers. I feel so bad for those dogs, who seem to have no activity or mental stimulation at all when they are not out hunting. They are so eager for something of interest, that they run to the edge of their enclosures to watch us walking up on the railroad tracks, as if that is one of the high points of their day. They don’t look mistreated, just ignored.

I know that I have a different idea of dog ownership than those who have hunting dogs. I don’t want to put my morals or beliefs on anyone else. But I still find it heartbreaking. Also, I know that the hunting dogs are kept VERY thin and every time we see one in the village (usually lost) they are painful to look at. The couple that we’ve brought home and fed just gobble down what we give them because they are so hungry.

The people I know who hunt aren’t bad people, they just have a different attitude about things than I do. I can’t help having what I suppose is a “city” mentality. But I do wish that there could be more of a meeting of minds about the way to treat their dogs.

Ciao for now.

Randy

It’s here

Fall really has made it at last. Yesterday was particularly autumnal, cool, rainy, dark. I loved it!

Okay, yes, I’m insane, but I just love when the weather gets cozy. As long as it’s not bucketing down with rain when I’m out with the dog and no raincoat, it doesn’t bother me when it rains. I think it’s rebound from all those years in L.A. when you have no appreciable rain for so much of the year, then it all comes on the same day in January or February, causing mudslides. Having normal rain on a regular basis is just easier.

Where it really is noticeable that Fall is here, though, is on our morning walk. Now, at 7 a.m. the sun is still not up. It’s light enough to see, but definitely no need for sunglasses. And, if I time it right, I get to see the sunrise, which is often spectacular and makes the whole walk a joy. Still, I know that in a few weeks we’re going to have to change our routine and go back to walking along the road. I really like that less because it’s noisier but also more dangerous. People still insist on driving way too fast in and around the village, and there are times when it’s downright scary!

The other wonderful thing about the weather right now is that the house is always comfortable again. We don’t need to close up all the shutters and windows for most of the day, so we can get all the light and air. We’re back to needing a light blanket for sleeping and our bedroom stays at 19 degrees (66 F) which is just about right for a good night’s sleep.

So, call me crazy, but I like it.

Ciao for now.

Randy