Since publishing Travels in Languedoc: Secrets to a Memorable Visit, Monique and I have been asked to continue sharing secrets of the region. So here is our first attempt and blogging on what we’ve discovered for January. While we will make mention of specific contacts that may be of interest to visitors, we want readers to know that we have no vested interest in promoting any of these people except that we have had personal experience and feel comfortable promoting their work.
January continues to reveal secrets that make coming here at this time an ideal month for anyone who wants to design a visit especially tailored to their needs and interests.
Winter colds and flu in January are as common here as in other parts of the world. However there are some distinct differences. It has been interesting to compare influenza rates between Canada and France and to ponder on the contradictions. France has lower influenza rates per 1000 people than Canada yet Canada has greater uptake on vaccination and keeping ones distance, alcohol dispensers and masks are the norm. In France, handshaking and bisous are common and there is no obvious proliferation of hand sanitizers. Monique says that rather than isolating oneself, exposing oneself to people helps build antibodies. Maybe this is true. Or maybe it’s “le vinaigre de quatre voleurs”. I came across this home remedy at the local market. It is designed to ward off all sorts of maladies especially anything contagious. The history is that during the Black Death, there were four robbers who preyed on the dead and dying, removing their valuables. What was significant was that they did not get the pestilence. When they were caught, in exchange for being hung, they shared their secret remedy. It is a wine vinegar solution containing various herbs and spices. It tastes awful but if it keeps away colds and flu, which so far I’ve escaped, then I’m willing to try it. It’s either the vinegar or the wine-I’m not sure.
Life here in January is a chance to check out some particular interests. At our weekly history lesson, the topic focused on the arrival of the Greeks and Romans in the region and how they have left indelible marks on the geography, architecture and history of the region. As we were talking, our professor mentioned that he conducts personal, guided day tours of the region. With his fluency in English and Dutch and his clear, easy to understand French, I realized that he would be perfect for someone coming to the Languedoc for a visit. He researches his topics thoroughly, provides such interesting anecdotes and of course, has great knowledge of the best places to eat and taste wine. He is based in Pezenas and I am happy to recommend him to anyone coming to the area. He can be contacted at: Alain Curta, email@example.com
The quiet of winter is an ideal time to begin or pursue personal passions. I recently began painting, watercolours to be exact. I found two contacts that I want to share as they both provide good opportunities for someone visiting even for only a few weeks. Last year, I discovered Udemy, the online centre for an amazing offering of courses. I found two courses designed and presented by Nicole Blakemore. I loved the format and found that it was perfect for me to spend time trying out new-found skills. What was even more exciting was to discover that Nicola lived in a nearby village. She offers courses and a place to stay for anyone with a keen interest in discovering or furthering their talents. Nicola can be reached at: http://www.painting-holidays-france.com/home/about/shop/
Monique mentioned an artist friend of hers who moved to the Languedoc specifically because of the light and particularly the winter light. This artist lives nearby and offers tailor-made courses for visitors or locals. Simon Roberts is a professional artist and illustrator who has such an easy, relaxed approach to teaching. Each week, we attend his atelier where he leads us through a specific set of watercolour techniques. By the end of the three-hour session, we take home a competed painting that surprises not only ourselves but our families. Could this be the start of a late-blossoming career? Simon can be reached at:
Painting is not the only visual art that is well suited to the Languedoc. Photography is another art form that thrives in the region. Because of the diverse terrains, the light and the mix of sea and mountains, it is a photographers paradise. Again, whether for the budding amateur or the professional, there are classes available for everyone. A friend of ours who is a professional photographer and developed with his own darkroom offers specialized courses for visitors and residents alike. Tony Tidswell can be reached at www.villaroquette.com
Monique explained that late January is the benefit concert season. Our village choir prepared a complex repertoire of Latin, French, German and English songs. We joined three other choirs in the cathedral in Beziers and with only 15 minutes practice, sang several songs together to a packed house. The beneficiary was UNICEF, a most worthy cause. As we sang variations of Ave Marie in the unheated, medieval church with it’s phenomenal acoustics, it was moving to realize that these words had echoed here for centuries. Making our way carefully down the darkened, narrow streets after the concert, we were reminded also, that it was in these same streets that thousands were massacred during the Cathar persecutions.
January is quickly coming to a close here in Languedoc, people are no longer wishing us “Bonne Annees”, the village Christmas lights are put away for another year and the vineyards are rapidly showing their pruned vines. Life goes on in the Languedoc, many things staying the same and reminding us of the rhythms of life, of history and of renewal.
May January offer you the chance to explore Languedoc and uncover secrets of your own. Monique & Andrea