Category Archives: France

Mimosa Festival at Roquebrun.

Roquebrun Mimosa

spring in Languedoc

 

Roquebrun holds the Mimosa festival each year on the second Sunday in February. This year the weather was perfect and the crowds turned out for a day in Hérault’s spectacular winter sunshine.

Roquebrun Mimosa

sweet scented Mimosa

The mountain village of Roquebrun enjoys its own unique climate. Sheltered from the worst of winter winds, the village nestles in a picturesque valley by the river Orb and is a tourist attraction for walkers, picnickers and canoeists all year round.

Mimosa flowers in February when the air is filled with its sweet perfume. At the Mimosa festival, you can buy a bunch to take home, but don’t leave before you’ve tasted the local wines or visited the Mediterranean garden centre which clings to the rock face above the village.

Roquebrun

February in Roquebrun

In the afternoon, the parade of decorated floats takes place and children in fancy dress take part in the following procession. People with broken arms (yours truly) are advised to keep away from the crush and let someone else take the photographs.

mimosa festival

competition for best decorated float is wicked!

Himself handles a camera very well from time to time, but I find I need to be specific about the kind of photographs I like to use in my website posts. As soon as my back is turned, he finds something he likes better and i’m sure to find pictures of his favourite things when I look through.

Like this one.

 

Harley at the Mimosa festival

on himself’s wish list

Bikers love the twisting climbs through Hérault’s river gorges. I get just as much of a thrill standing still and looking at it!

mountain road

stunning scenery

Who wouldn’t feel great after days of grey winter weather getting outdoors into pleasantly warm February sunshine and breathing in all that clean mountain air?

Colour comes back into your life with springtime Mimosa and new almond blossom. So just to please his old lady with the sad arm and wrist, himself took a lovely closeup. The boy done good.

 

February blossom in Roquebrun

more signs of spring

Thank you for visiting my website.  You can find my author Facebook page at Celia Micklefield or tweet me @CMicklefield. Or you can drop me a message here. Your email remains private.

Till next time. Broken bones permitting . . .

Féria festivities Day #3.

Rejoneador at the Féria

bullfighter on horseback

The rejoneadors are bullfighters on horseback. Not the same as picadors, these are matadors who are also dressed to kill. They don’t wear the suit of lights. Their costume is less flamboyant, but very smart.

They come to our Féria to demonstrate their horsemanship and to take part in the afternoon session devoted to riding skills. The horses are beautiful and very well tended.

Féria horse

waiting to perform

After, the horse show it’s back to fun and games attempting to outrun the bulls. The lads lie down in front of the entrance. The first bull comes tearing out.

racing bull at the Féria

the bull cleared the line of boys

Those boys are glad the bull can jump! Now they scramble to get up and clear out of his way. When he turns around, chances are he’ll be very angry.

This bull was particularly energetic and very clever. He spotted a gap in the fence and made for it. Soon, he was running in the space reserved for the toreros.

Four bulls come to chase the boys around the arena. To escape, the lads must either clear the perimeter fence, or jump in the pool of water. In theory, the bull won’t want to get in the water. In theory!

Toro piscine at the Féria

so bulls don’t like water, huh?

Sometimes it’s best not to move a muscle.

bull at the Féria

whose move next?

There’s never a shortage of youngsters who want to chance their arm.

young bloods at the Féria

getting ready for the next game

There are prizes for the best performance. Top prize went to a local young man, Antoine, who can somersault a charging bull. I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to catch a good shot. Here’s one I borrowed to show what I mean.

bull somersault

are they crazy?

Antoine did a clear somersault first, as in this photo.

On his second one, he landed on the bull’s head between the horns and then pushed off into a forward somersault. Amazing.

I wished I had a real movie camera to capture that moment.

When the games are finished on the third and final day, it’s time to relax with food and music.

At the very end of the three day Féria, Toro de Fuego blasts off with more fireworks.

toro de fuego

more fireworks to end the show

 

A model of a bull, loaded with fireworks ends the show with a bang!

 

 

Féria festivities Day #2. Dressed to kill.

The first day of the Féria ends with disco music and foam party that goes on way past midnight. Best to wear your not so best clothes. You are going to get very wet. Kids love it, as do mums and dads. Even grandmas like me have been known to enjoy a little dip in the suds. It’s a great way to open the fiesta. Kids go home exhausted.

foam party at the Féria

pumping up the action

They’ll sleep like logs ready for another fun-packed day.

On day two of the Féria, the professionals arrive.

They wear their suit of lights, the traditional costume of bullfighters.

Matador at the Féria

Matador in his suit of lights

The traditional design of the torero’s costume is steeped in history. The description, suit of lights,  refers to the thousands of sequins and reflective threads of gold and silver embroidered on the silk. The donning of this 18th century costume is a ritual in itself, whereby the torero attended by his squire is literally dressed to kill.

Here’s a lovely video by Mike Randolph about the making of a suit of lights:

After the morning session of our Féria is over, lunch is usually paella cooked in enormous pans or a variety of meats grilled over vine wood on open fires. In the afternoon, it’s time for the Games.

Languedoc bull games

waiting for dancing with bulls

This is going to be exciting. Mothers and grandmas wait with bated breath. Their sons are gathering in the ring to pit their wits against this great beast. Grandfathers look on proudly.

The young bloods of the village lie down in front of the bulls’ entrance.

When the beast charges into the arena, he will, in theory, leap over the prostrate bodies in the sand.

There’s a bellowing noise. The crowd goes quiet. The bull is coming. Look out!

at the Féria

glad he made it!

That was some weight that just went thundering by. The boy in the green shirt near top left of the photo can hardly believe his eyes. There’s more fun to come.

I think he lasted all of three seconds.

These boys have got to be fast. In my next clip, one of them wasn’t quite fast enough.

Day two of the Féria ends with live music from a big band with dancing girls and fireworks at midnight.

Sleep well. There’s another full day tomorrow.

Féria fireworks

fireworks light the night sky

Siesta, then Fiesta! Summer in Languedoc

July is time for Fiesta. Here in our village, every July sees three mad days of celebration. But, it’s hot. It’s hot, Hot, HOT. You can’t sleep it’s so hot.

 

So, if you want to enjoy the three days of Féria, take that afternoon siesta when you can. You’ll need the extra energy to get you through the nights.

First Day of the Féria

The first day of Fiesta begins with games in the arena. A travelling company sets up their bull ring and apprentices from the bullfighting school in Béziers demonstrate their skills with the cape.

Fiesta bullfighting

a proper Paso Doble!

The young man in the photo above is a native of our village and, as you can imagine, raised great cheers from the crowd.

Fiesta crowd

young men admiring bull ring skills

This trainee matador also had female admirers. One young lady in front of me took off her hat and threw it into the ring at the end of his performance. Maybe her telephone number was tucked inside. Who knows?

He bowed and acknowledged her gesture of respect and admiration before returning her hat.

Another young trainee who raised hats from heads and bottoms from seats was a young lady!

female matador

brave female matador in training

There’s interesting history on the question of female matadors. Until 1975, women were banned from the top job. In 1999, Cristina Sanchez, Spain’s only female professional matador at that time retired after 10 years, blaming male attitudes for her decision. There’s more information on this subject here, on WikiGender.

And here’s a video about other women matadors:

 

There are strong arguments against bullfighting, but here at our fiesta, there are no kills. You have to admire the agility and elegance of these performers. That bull can weigh up to 700 kilos. You need guts to stand in front of that.

Oh, and by the way, that T on the boarding there? It doesn’t mean this is the way to the toilets.

bulls' entrance

Toro!

Alien in my garden? Don’t look if you’re squeamish.

There was an alien invader on my garden wall. Coincidentally, I’d just written the post about cicadas and their life cycle. It’s certainly an alien concept, living alone underground for all those years. The video clip I linked explained why we’d been finding holes in the soil and we’d found empty nymph cases which we assume had fallen from the trees and shrubs.
So, when I saw the nymph attached to the rear wall of our house, I assumed it was empty.

alien cicada

I didn’t want to get too close

But it moved. And it split. I thought this transformation would be over in seconds, but, no. It takes a while. You have to be patient. And the longer I stood there with my camera, so close to this alien on my wall, the jumpier I got.

Can you bear to continue?

alien cicada on the move

it’s coming out!

I switched to video and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Nothing was happening. This video clip would use up all my Coolpix memory and take hours to upload to YouTube with our crappy Broadband speed. I’d no choice but rely on stills.

alien cicada

feeling squeamish yet?

Ah, Jeez, it’s like a blob of green snot. With eyes.

Can I hold on? Dare I stay here? What’s going to happen next?

cicada alien

getting really spooked now

Is that thing looking at me? Look out! It’s moving again.

cicada alien

I’m willing it onward.

Oh, help. I don’t know if I can stand much more. Its legs look slimy and its eyes are weird. If its wings come out in a hurry, will it fly straight at me?

cicada alien

a face only its mother could love

At this point, I can hear an alarm. It’s the bread machine which lives in the utility room. This is a coincidence. Only the other day, I recorded a short clip of dough going around. I called it alien bread because it looked so weird.

 

I have to go and take out the loaf. Normally, I love the smell of freshly baked bread. Now? After getting so close to green snotty insect life?

But, I have witnessed something wonderful, haven’ t I? How many people get to see the birth of an adult cicada? I dash back with my camera at the ready.

There’s a fluttering noise. Have I missed the final stage? Have I missed the chance to take a photograph of brand new, shimmering wings.

I round the corner.

The wall is empty.

But the nymph case is gone, too.

fat sparrow ate the alien

fat bastard!

I am bereft.

After all that? That poor little blob of green snot had lived all by itself in the dark, underground, waiting for its chance to emerge as a new creature with wings, to rise into the tree tops and sing its little heart out (if it’s a boy), only to get picked off the wall by Captain Fat Jack Sparrow.

I want to cry.

Its struggle for life is unbearable.

I’d never make a wild life photographer.

But you can see why I like writing stories where strange things happen.

Summer at the market. More sexy French food.

You can tell summer’s here. The aisles in the markets are full of summer visitors and lots of them are children, eating pastries in their push chairs or tagging along at the side wearing that out of school for the next two months face.

At Clermont l’Hérault, the Wednesday market features in one of Mick Alec Idlelife’s stories. He’s currently working on reformatting a collection of stories with unusual endings for ebook publishing.  There’ll be more news about him soon.

In the meantime, here’s what we saw (pun intended) today at the market.

It looks like an ordinary saw. It’s amazing the notes he can saw from it and the sounds carry so far . . .

We filled our bags with fresh fruit and vegetables. All the seats on the pavement café behind the stall were taken.

summer fruits

Irresistible!

Himself went next door and helped himself at the sausage man’s stall. The sausage man knows us now. When he sees himself coming, he gets out a big bag. The aromas, the colours and the sounds of a French market are always a delight.

And would you believe it? We found a new bar, or at least a recently refurbished one. Neither of us had noticed it before, but today, large and welcoming, a fifties style retro diner with a terrace overlooking the market canopies. So, of course, it had to be done, didn’t it? Up the stairs to a view over the market. The ideal spot for people watching.

summer hats and shades

summer hats and shades

A writer always watches people. Look at these two. Are they together? Or did two people wearing hats like that just happen to stop at this stall at the same time? What is she looking at? What is he looking at? I know ‘cos I was there.

Holidaymakers?

Certainly.

French?

I think not.

This picture is crying out for a caption. Why don’t you send me some ideas? Just for the fun of it. I’ll look forward to that.

Don’t forget to FOLLOW CELIA so you don’t miss new posts.

Cheers!

Edit: 13th July – I was contacted by Natalia Paruz – ‘The Saw Lady’- you should visit her site. Her music is beautiful. And watch the video clip of the musical saw festival. You will be amazed.

Summer in Languedoc. Writers take notes!

It’s SUMMER. That’s official. The tourist information offices are full of bright, coloured pamphlets and brochures with endless lists and calendars of things you can do through July and August.

Some places here were built for summer. Take Cap d’Agde. Although the history of Agde, just inland from the coast on the banks of the river Hérault, goes back to the times of ancient Greece, the resort around the marina at the Cap didn’t exist until the 1970s.

In summer we have water sports for all the family. There’s just about every water sport you could name. My new short story of the month, Aquapark Blues, is set in a water slide park. You can find it here. (This link will work until the end of July when another new short story of the month goes in.) I hope you have a few minutes to read it.

But if you don’t care to participate in water sports, there’s one you’ll love to watch: WATER JOUSTING.

summer water joust

A fine spectacle at the water joust

Water jousting takes place every summer

in Agde, Marseillan, Meze and in Hérault’s own Little Venice, Sète. When the water jousts first began in the 1600s the blue boat, manned by bachelors of the town would be set against the red boat, manned by married men. I don’t know who used to win most often in those days, but every year you are guaranteed a fun-packed show, full of thrills and spills. But don’t be fooled that this is all good, light-hearted fun. The teams may behave in a gentlemanly fashion, but the competition is deadly serious.

Watch this video from the Sète Tourist Office.

Isn’t that exciting? Don’t you just love the sights, sounds? The atmosphere? This is one of the reasons I love where I live.That’s why writers should carry a notebook. Wherever you go here, in summer you’ll find another story around the corner.

The instrument used as the barges approach one another is the hautbois. Today’s modern oboe has a similar soprano timbre. It was a good choice of instrument, together with a drum, for water jousting as the sound is clear and penetrating. It’s clearly audible over all the other noise.

water joust

serious competition

With all this excitement, how am I ever going to find time to write?

Thank you for visiting my website. Please subscribe at FOLLOW CELIA so you don’t miss new posts.

New Vine watch Report tomorrow – PLUS news of guest contributors this month.

Fire jumping on the summer solstice feast of St John. How Languedoc celebrates.

solstice

the sun and moon in a solstice embrace

On the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist, many villages here in Languedoc, celebrate with some kind of fire jumping party. The date, rather conveniently some might suggest, coincides with Pagan midsummer rituals when bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits. Summer solstice was a magical time of year for the ancient peoples.

Today, children enjoy the festivities put on especially for them. Last night our village laid on a disco party with snow machine. The kids were thoroughly soaked before the bonfires were lit – a good idea for those planning to jump the fire later.

St John's eve snow and fire jumping party

disco with snow machine

Snow machines turn up at most of our outdoor summer parties. On the evenings of Soiree Mousse, you wear your old clothes!

snow before the fire jumping

getting clothes wet before jumping the fires

Volunteer firefighters are in charge of the bonfires. Our village has its own firefighting equipment, all manned by residents – a schoolteacher, business people etc. Cadets are welcome and many village children learn the ropes when they are quite young before becoming volunteer firefighters themselves.

The firemen prepare the bonfires using grubbed up vines. The smaller pile is for the youngest children.

vines for firejumping

old vines make good bonfires

If any of the children don’t look wet enough to go fire jumping, they must douse themselves with water from the firefighters’ bucket!

firejumping preparation

getting thoroughly wet

The fires are lit. The kids are getting excited. There’s a lot of shouting encouragement. Health and Safety? Risk assessments?

 

Why would you want to spoil the fun with rules and regulations? Nobody ever gets hurt. There are so many responsible adults on hand to see that doesn’t happen. Watch the short clips I took last night to see the fun. Here and here.

Is this too dangerous? Should this tradition be stopped? Would you let your children brave the fire jump? What do you think?

Thank you for visiting my website. Please feel free to leave a comment. I love to hear what you think.

Waiting for Gary. Second attempt.

Friday June 14th.

Time: 10pm.

Conditions: warm. A good night for waiting for Gary.

We’d been to The Shack for mussels and chips. We love that place. Salubrious, it isn’t. Situated right next to a main road and a filling station, it hasn’t got the best of views. What it’s got is atmosphere – maybe it’s because I’m such a truck lover I like places that look like truck stops. Anyway, food’s good and hot and there’s plenty of it.

Mussels

good food for Gary watching

Himself and I had a litre of vino collapso between us and wended our way home. It wasn’t properly dark. June days are long and neither of us wanted to be indoors, so we decided on a spot of Gary watching.

You can’t wait for Gary without the special equipment. So, out came the special equipment.

Gary watching equipment

special Gary watching equipment

After a few sips of the special equipment, Writer in Languedoc thought it would be a good idea to make a little video clip. No sooner had I stopped filming, but, you guessed it! The little bugger shot across the wall behind me and hid behind the French window shutter. You can view the video clip here.

Now I know you can’t compare my efforts with those wonderful wild life programmes we see on television. You know the ones I mean, where people talk in hushed voices while they’re waiting for the wolf, or the bear or the yeti. But when the very creature you’ve been waiting for shows up the second you put the camera down, the frustration of Gary watching must come close to waiting for a . . .  rhinoceros or a lesser spotted alien.

Himself went indoors. I stayed put.

11pm. It’s dark. There’s a chattering noise from behind the shutter. A dark shadow of movement. Stealthy hands pick up the camera. Shush. Don’t breathe. When he moves, it’ll be fast.

There he goes!

Gary

Gary the Gecko caught on camera

Gotcha! Not quite all of you, Gary. You move so fast.

So photographic ambitions mount. I shan’t settle till I get a good photo of Gary hanging around in the lamp light, catching moths and chomping them.

Wednesday Vine Report #8

Vine watching has made me notice things more. By paying particular attention to what’s happening in the vines, it’s as if my eyes have been opened to much more besides. I’m seeing flowers and wildlife I never noticed before. The mountains around us change with the light. Sometimes they completely disappear into a blue haze. At other times, when they are backlit, they seem close enough to touch. The rest of me is becoming more attuned to my surroundings, too. I can feel shifts in the weather; sense changes in pressure. I can tell with my eyes closed when there’s a storm on the way. And, hey, I must be benefitting from all that extra walking I’m doing up hill and down dale.

The weather is peculiar this year. Although we’ve had days warm enough to wear flip flops and a few evenings warm enough to eat outdoors and do a spot of GaryWatching, spring has stayed generally much cooler than usual. Also, we’ve had more rain. As a result, weeds and grasses are growing to monster proportions. There’s more work in the vineyards.

vineyard weeding

clearing between the vines

Weeds love the weather we’ve been having: cooler, damper. They’re not welcome. They have to go. Out come the tractors again, towing their little rotavators. In the picture above, note the air-condtioning unit on top of the cab. When this grower’s grandfather tended the vines, he wouldn’t have had such a luxury on his horse and cart!

cultivator

getting ready for the next row

Drivers have to swing out into the lanes to make their turn for the next row. Where there is no lane to use, the turn is too sharp and the pattern of work shifts to tilling alternate rows. In places where it’s narrower still, they work every third row, backwards and forwards through the vineyard till it’s all done.

Then you get a clear picture of those familiar stripes running through the land.

vineyard rows

working in the vines

Our Mademoiselle Merlot is now quite a lady. Here she is in close up, showing healthy babies on the way.

Merlot grapes

sunshine in the Merlot vineyard

High winds this last week have caused some damage to the vines on the outer rows where the stalks have been snapped clean away from the branch. But our baby is looking fine and has come through the gales in good condition.

Rainstorms always come to this part of France in early spring at the transition between cool weather and the powerful heat of summer, but this year it’s happened later.

There is STILL snow on top of Canigou and until it’s gone we can expect more cool winds. However, the vineyards look good to me.

Merlot vineyard

Merlot vineyard looking toward the coast.

The hill in the far distance is Mont St. Loup which overlooks Cap d’Agde, a popular holiday resort with French families. Every water sport you can think of is there. In July and August Cap d’Agde is as packed with people as our vineyards are full of grapes. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the picture.

As for the Chardonnay vineyard which, you remember is across the lane. Here’s this morning’s photo.

Chardonnay vines

Chardonnay reaching for the sky

Chardonnay vines

Chardonnay vines a few weeks ago

I was standing in my usual spot to take this picture. It’s only a matter of weeks since I said that in a short time you wouldn’t be able to see through the foliage to the earth between the rows. The contrast is remarkable.

I’ll keep watching to see what the growers do about all that whippy growth. My feeling is most of it will be cut back.

vineyards

another view of rolling vineyards

More vines further along this morning’s vineyard walk. There are so many lanes criss-crossing through the vineyards, you can take a different walk every day and catch different views of the countryside. Sometimes, something unexpected happens, like the day I saw the perfect circle drawn in the sky by a fighter jet.

This morning’s surprise was a solitary figure hand-hoeing between the vines. My camera is always ready so I asked him for permission to take his picture. When he learned I was going to put him on the internet, he was happy to oblige.

beans and grapes

pulling up beans

Between each vine, this wine grower is using the space to grow broad beans. I hadn’t seen this before. Whether there is mutual benefit to beans and grapes I couldn’t say. My French isn’t good enough to understand everything he was saying and his French sounded Spanish. Many of the growers in our departement of Herault came from Spain to find work and settled here. They speak French, but with Spanish intonation. It’s lovely, but difficult for me to follow.

He insisted we took some beans. They’ll be fantastic lightly steamed and with a knob of butter on top.

broad beans

they don’t come much fresher than this . . .

I hope you’re enjoying this weekly catch up with what’s happening in the vineyards near my home. I’m certainly enjoying putting it together. I’d like to say thank you for visiting my website. Do please leave a comment if you wish and don’t forget to sign up for news of new posts.

Cheers!

Celia

P.S. Due to computer problems, I’m posting this week’s report early, while my machine is up and running. It keeps turning itself off. The poor old girl is due for retirement.