The place behind the church in Neffiès was transformed from its everyday use as a playground and pétanque ground, and from the night before too, when it had been the scene of a fantastic lively concert by Occitan musicians Du Bartas. Last night it was filled with small low tables surrounded by cushions and long tables covered with pretty cloths, laid with wine glasses glinting in the light, netting floated from the trees and candelabras hung from the branches.
A group of eight or nine women, all dressed in white, had prepared a supper for eighty people to follow a tasting of local wines. Las Mascas – female sorcerers in Occitan – had conjured all this from the space and the food made entirely from local ingredients. And in between cooking and serving they toured the tables singing Occitan songs too. It was a memorable evening.
And the food? A delicious and inventive four-course supper:
A tortilla-like concoction of egg and nettle leaves, tapenade made with olives from the village, and salad made from locally grown chick peas with tomatoes, onions and wild herbs from the garrigue.
Mutton sausage with vegetables and aioli made with wild garlic.
Goats’ cheese from a farm near the village, served on a vine leaf and with rosemary syrup.
And chocolate gateau decorated with a mallow flower, just before midnight as the full moon rose above the plane trees.
Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.
First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:
And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.
In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).
This vineyard near Roquessels has turned the colours of the Occitan flag. These are also Catalan colours, on a day when people in the part of Catalunya that lies the other side of the border are voting in an important election which may lead to a referendum in which they can decide on the issue of independence from Spain. Believing as I do that political responsibility should be as locally devolved as possible, I’m following events with great interest.
The Occitan word for the wind that comes over the land, which means from the north where we are, is tarral and that’s what we have this week. In summer it is pleasantly cooling, but in winter especially when it has come across mountains covered in snow, it can be bitingly cold. It is a dry wind, though, unlike the marin which comes from the sea, because all the rain it has carried has already fallen on the mountains. The bilingual street signs in the village usually have the same meaning in French and Occitan, but this one is different. I don’t know how this narrow street got its French name as there are no mimosa trees in it. The Occitan name seems much more appropriate today as the tarral blows along it.
Olive trees blowing in the wind, showing the silver undersides of their leaves, and in the background in the photo on the left the vines have lost almost all their leaves and are beginning to take on their sepia winter colour.