Discoveries, old and new

I made another trip this morning into the countryside around the village to take a few more photos for the geology lecture next week.  The features we were concentrating on were olistoliths – rocks which stand up from the flatter ground around them, the result of movement of a block of limestone over another layer of rock and its collision (underwater as it was 300 million years ago) with a coral reef, which broke up the limestone into these distinctive features.  The same formations occur in the Guilin area of China and around Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

There are three of them in this first photo, a large one on the left, a smaller one on the right and a very small one in the centre.  The view also shows how dry it is here now – in the season when we should have had most of the year’s rain over the past couple of months, we have had no proper rain since November.  The garrigue on the hills looks as it always does, because it’s evergreen and adapted to drought, but I hope we’ll have enough rain for the spring wild flowers.

We followed this tiny road through some very dry vineyards towards Vailhan and past the gap between an olistolith and its original limestone block.

At Vailhan, the church and presbytery (the latter is now a very good restaurant) stand on another olistolith.

It will be an interesting talk next week, just as it was fascinating to travel through familiar landscape with someone who knows so much about the geology of the area.  The vinegrowers are very lucky in this small area around our village because there is an unusual variety of different kinds of rock, due to forces on the different formations 300 million years ago, and resulting in a terroir (an untranslatable word meaning the geological and meteorological elements that make up the character of a wine) where different varieties can be grown very close to each other in suitable conditions for each one.

The Cercle Occitan is a group in the village which I belong to and which promotes Occitan language and culture, Occitan being the indigenous language of much of southern France from the Alps to the Pyrenees (and including some small areas in both Italy and Catalunya).  It is still spoken by many, in spite of the discouragement of the French state and its centralised educational policies.  As well as language classes, our group organises  a programme of cultural events, not all directly related to Occitan issues, like this lecture on geology.  After each lecture or meeting about 40 or 50 of us eat together and continue the discussion.  Next week’s lecture will take place the day after St David’s Day, the Welsh national day, when we usually make a Welsh meal in our house for 15 or 16 friends.  This time Lo Jardinièr and I have offered to make cawl (Welsh lamb stew/soup) for 40 people.  Others will make the first and last courses.  I’ll post the recipe, as promised!

The village shop has recently been taken over by a very enthusiastic young couple who are willing to carry on as before, but still to try out new things.  This morning I found that they were offering chicken livers confit (cooked in duck fat), so I couldn’t resist trying them.  I made a salad with sliced endive, grated carrot and a few slices of fennel and added a dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I cooked the livers in the duck fat (if I’d had fresh ones I would have fried them quickly in olive oil), added them to the salad and deglazed the pan with a bit more balsamic vinegar to pour over them.  Served with bruschetta and a glass of local red wine, it made a nice lunch for this in-between season when spring is clearly on its way at last.

Going back 300 million years

This morning I had an interesting trip to the viewpoint near the ancient church above Roquessels, the village where we buy wine, with a geologist who is going to give a lecture to our Cercle Occitan about the interesting and unusual variety of rocks and soils that make up the terroir for vine-growing in this area.  I’ve been asked to take photos to illustrate his talk and I’ll be able to tell you more about what he has to say next week when I’ve heard it all, but it was fascinating listening to him describe what we saw today, pointing out small details that I might not have noticed as well as the broad sweep of landscape.  It wasn’t a good time to photograph the view down towards the sea, so I shall have to go back later in the day when the light is better, but I think you can see what an impressive vista it is and see the sea sparkling in the distance.

I’m always interested in human impact on landscape, so I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the roofs of the village houses below us, built this way and that – i gam o gam as we say in Welsh – to protect from the heat and, in earlier days, from attack.

 And beside the road leading to Mas Rolland we found these fossils, relatively recent according to the geologist – a mere 25 to 30 million years old.