“Meilleurs voeux et bonne santé”, the two expressions that begin any conversation on January 1. Apparently, the custom is to use these expressions with everyone you meet up until the end of January.
The day has dawned, as many of them have this winter, with clear, blue skies and warm sun. By noon, we’re in light jackets during our afternoon walks.
This morning, Giles and Isa instructed us on the first meal of the new year-it should include lentils to bring us money. As with so many of the anecdotes and words of wisdom on the local customs, we heed their advice and if nothing else, we enjoyed a good, hearty lunch.
The village is changing. The center is receiving a major facelift and hopefully this will rejuvenate business for the local merchants. Modern conveniences such as a small commercial center, new fire and police facilities and a large grocery store now mark the trend to development away from the center and congregation around the entrance to the village. What will it mean for traditional village life? The coming months should reveal the answer.
We welcomed a new/returning addition to our home this fall. At a flea market last summer, our friend, Margot, spied a painting by M Aubagnac who lived in our house from 1854-1939. The portrait is of a distinguished looking man, possibly from Montpellier. After carefully restoring the frame, we have hung him in our dining room. I recently spoke to a Servian woman who gives French lessons and when she realized where we lived, she said “I know who you are, you live in M Aubagnac’s house”. Her childhood friend is M. Aubagnac’s granddaughter and lives in a nearby village. A reunion is in the works.
I don’t know why the rhythm of life seems so much clearer here. Is it because of the church bells ringing hourly, the street sweeper who appears every Monday and Thursday morning to clear away leaves from the square, weekly rituals such as Monday morning washes when I routinely wave to my neighbour as we both hang our items on the clotheslines. Perhaps it’s our New Years day walk into the countryside. This year we walked up Montrose, the extinct volcano that serves as a longstanding lookout point between Beziers and Montagnac. Over the centuries, it has provided an early warning system for local Occitans, Cathars and French. Today, we walked around the remains of the medieval tower that did duty as an early semiphore system connecting towns all along the coast. From our perch, we saw the patchwork of vineyards showing various states of pruning: the white varieties all stood shorn and trained while the reds spread wildly out in all directions. As the weeks progress, we will watch field after field slowly being trimmed back into orderly fashion as small white vans and men in coveralls dot the landscape bringing symmetry and routine to the region. I enjoy watching the changing landscape during pruning, “la Taille” season. Last week, I passed a vineyard with it’s rows of unruly tops. Next to it were freshly pruned vines. I had this sudden vision of a corps of young army recruits with their wild hair just before the first haircut initiating them into the regimentation of army life. The next field, all the vines stood newly clipped “en brosse”, forced into the next season of regimentation.
Our good friend, Dominique George of “Le Wine Shop” in Pezenas recently wrote about the three pruning styles used in Languedoc. The Gobelet style, which originated with the Romans, the main truck is trimmed low with several spurs left for the next year. This is one of the few techniques where the vines are not trained along wires. The other two techniques are the Cordon de Royat which leaves only two long spurs trailing along the wires horizontally and the Guyot style which leaves one long and one short spur.The long spur is trained diagonally along wires. The next time you’re driving around Languedoc, check out the various pruning styles.
Life goes on in Servian, one must pay attention to observe the changes that occur almost imperceptibly. It means taking time to slow down, engage in community life and savour the small pleasantries of “la vie française”. Boone année et bonne santé a tous!