Notes on a French Village

Servian continues to amaze me! Our new house has given us the chance to meet new neighbours and with it some lovely surprises. Our next door neighbour, Isabelle, is a gourmet cook and specializes in traditional French cuisine. During my recent trip to inspect the new house, she invited me to join her for coffee on the outside step, "un petit pause" before returning to her fig preserves for her restaurant. It was during this conversation that I learned about her passion for sharing her knowledge and how she hopes to be able to offer small, intimate cooking classes for visitors. What a gift to our village and for our guests. I have tasted several of her dishes and know from experience that her reputation is well-deserved.

Arnaud le Gourmand, is a small grocery store that opened up on the Grand Rue. He specializes in local produce, wine and specialties. It's interesting to watch how the village is embracing this return to small stores and away from the large, impersonal mega-stores. I wish him well.

The daughter of the previous owner of our house shared with me a view of Servian from several decades ago. As we wandered down one very small, twisty street, she pointed out how many stores lined this street. It wasn't called "Rue de Commerce" for nothing. The were two bakeries, one pastry shop, two hairdressers, a butcher and a variety of other small, independent merchants. I wonder if these days will return.

Dominique is an enterprising young man with deep roots in Servian. He has taken his love and knowledge of local wine-making and turned it into a viable business in the nearby town of Pezenas. He is collaborating with local artists and providing a venue for them to display they work while clients come for specialized tastings and courses on Languedoc vintages. He also organizes tours, meals or special events. What's amazing about all of this is the reasonable cost. Because he is fluent in English and French, he can connect with both locals and visitors with ease.     

New Beginnings

The only constant in life is change and for us, it means we have purchased another house in the village. This time, it we have chosen a bigger home with more connection to village life. Our new home is located off the central Place and is part of an original wall that likely existed in the very early days of habitation. Needless to say, it has gone through many changes and now has all the modern conveniences but still retains some of the charm of the past. While we will add our own touches to the house, there are many features to remind us of the families who lived there before us. 

We were delighted to discover that the house at one time belonged to a well-known, local artist. Perhaps, his talents still float around the house to inspire others.

We are looking forward to welcoming a new generation of visitors to Servian to share our house and the region.

There is an excitement about taking on this new venture but it means that we will be saying goodbye to the house that, for thirteen years, has been the focus of our dreams of living the French life. We can only hope that new owners will find "le temps retrouvé" as we did.

We will post updates as we settle in and make small changes. Watch for the Swan's newest adventure.

 

Travels in Languedoc: Secrets of January

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, alain.curta@orange.fr

 

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/

Taken from Nicola's website

Taken from Nicola's website

 

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:

http://www.painting-in-france.com


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





  

Preparing to Leave

Christmas celebrations are over for the year as family start to head back to their respective homes around the world. The Christmas tree will come down tomorrow and other signs of Christmas will be put away for who knows how many years. This has been our first family Christmas in Victoria BC in over five years. 

But now, the time is fast approaching to pack up and head back to France and Languedoc. The weather there has been clear, warm and sunny. Friends wrote that the Christmas market was truly amazing this year and the dinner at Le Grand Cafe was a sell-out success. For our Canadian friends experiencing their first French Christmas, it was a highlight.

Reading over my book, Travels in Languedoc, I am reminded of the delights of finding the village Marché de Noel and sampling all the special foods and wines. Three years ago, M et Mme Aluze presented their first vintage of wines along with the home-made patés and saucissons. Last year, Mme Arnaud featured the family recipes of sanglier et figues (wild boar & fig) served on pain d'épices slices. Hm-m-m. 

Along with several other items, I followed the recipe in the book to make the pain d'épice for the book launch on Dec. 20th and it was a tasty reminder of Mme Arnaud's small gift last year. It's wonderful to be able to recreate memories of life in Languedeoc when we can't be there in person. But soon, we will be enjoying the treats of January and spending time discovering more secrets to a memorable visit.

And Now for the Book!

Three years ago, in response to much encouragement and many requests, I began a book to address the frequently asked question "What is the best time to visit Languedoc?". After much research and experimentation and working in close collaboration with Monique Guezel, our house manager, I have finished the book, "Travels to Languedoc-Secrets to a Memorable Visit". It should be published in early November and available for purchase just in time for Christmas. The book is laid out as a monthly guide to the region. It features regional information, anecdotes and many of Monique's recommendations along with her special recipes for each month. 

For those of you who have journeyed to Languedoc, we hope that the book brings back memories of your own travels. For those thinking of coming, we hope the book answers your questions and peaks your imagination.

The book will be available as an e-book and in soft and hardcover as well. It can be purchased on this website. Watch for more announcements shortly.