Monday, March 31, 2008

Dangerous thing when you start thinking

I have been quite ill over the past couple of weeks suffering from Vertigo. I don’t know what caused it although it now appears that it may have been a simple ear infection and more importantly I didn’t realise what it was.

Many of my friends across the Internet have sympathised with me and my various ailments as I tried to pin down exactly what the problem was. I knew I was being sick, constantly and I knew I was getting dizzy, sometimes falling over as a result and I made all sorts of perfectly valid deductions which led me inexorably up the wrong path.

I was simply very tired. I had a touch of food poisoning. I had become allergic to one of the many prescribed drugs I need to take. But at no point did I think – oh – dizziness, being sick - that’ll be vertigo.

The situation deteriorated over a period of time until eventually I agreed that a doctor be called. Now I live in France but English is my first language so there were some words I needed to look up in the dictionary to find the equivalent French word in preparation for this rare treat, a visit by the doctor.

And there it was - the French word for dizziness – Vertige - means vertigo - and suddenly everything fell into place. The doctor arrived and I told him I thought I had vertigo. He then checked me out pretty thoroughly before looking fairly serious and saying – I think you’ve got vertigo! He prescribed a remedy that I am taking and which, after 3 or 4 days, seems to be working well.

All this gave me some time to think. Lying in bed feeling awful is a good time for sorting out your brain. So, I thought, I planned, I considered, and when I could, I came back to my trusty laptop and connected with the world outside.

I thought a lot about communications and the fact that I could struggle to my laptop, without the energy to even dress and send off a message which would be received as if I was in the best of health.

I thought a lot about the possibilities of faceless communication, which the internet now provided.

I thought a lot about Internet blogs and groups and forums.

And I thought a lot about how easy it was to be misled by the very medium that was supposed to be opening up communications.

And then I got to thinking about my own posts on various forums, discussion threads and blogs.
About how often I have realised that what I have said has been completely misinterpreted by the reader - sometimes because I have expressed my self badly, and sometimes because the reader and I simply speak a different version of English.

Then I got to thinking about gardening for food and I thought about some of the mantra’s now being pushed out in front of us and how they too were being slightly misunderstood – either by the reader or often by the speaker.

I thought about globalisation and globalisation of the food chain which is almost universally abhorred.

I thought about my own attempts to eat locally, grow my own food, buy from farmers at our wonderful markets, go to the farm and collect food or wine.

But then I remembered a report someone had made me aware of which said that the carbon footprint of a leg of New Zealand lamb being eaten in the US was LOWER than that of a leg of lamb raised and eaten in the US. And while thinking of that I thought of the tea I drink, of the coffee I drink.

Yes, a lot of what I consume is grown locally but some is not and cannot be.

Do I want to give up drinking tea and coffee – a simple solution. I should encourage all my European and American friends to give up drinking tea and coffee immediately. But what happens to the people who grow that tea and coffee, who rely on me drinking it to feed their families?

We have a very involved and complex society and far too many people are trying to give us one size fits all solutions. I think I just want to say:

It’s not that simple.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why do I garden?

It’s been a cold, wet miserable sort of day here today. The temperature has struggled to get above 10C(50F), the sky is completely filled in with grey clouds and it’s been raining on and off all day.

As I look out of the window I can see my cherry tree in blossom with much of the blossom now blown to the floor, where, in it’s damp state it has stayed. Several other trees in the orchard are also in blossom now and when they can survive the winds the bees are out and about fluttering from tree to tree doing their little piece of nature’s magic.

I have getting on for 30 trees in my small orchard with a mix of cherry, plum, apple, pear, peach, fig and walnut. Every year they blossom and then produce some fruit. Some years a lot of fruit, other years not too much .

So, what do I do to pay them back for this largesse? Well, actually, not a lot! I bought the property about 4 years ago and the orchard was already largely in place. In between the trees there is meadow. My maintenance of the orchard simply comprises cutting the grasses when they get too long. I don’t collect the cuttings preferring to let them drop back on the ground and become a natural mulch etc.

In the spring I need to prune some of the branches out but again this provides some nice scented wood for the barbecues we’ll have during the summer.

And then throughout the summer, I get to pick all sorts of fruit. Some, like apples and pears, fall and I collect them quickly from the floor to use in a sauce or a pie or a salad. Occasionally I make a fruit chutney to store for those long winter nights when, sitting around our wood fire, we can enjoy a snack of homemade bread and preserves.

Some days I decide to make jam and will pick the fruit, first thing in the morning so that the jam can be made, bottled and set aside before the end of the day.

This next year, hopefully, I will have my first harvest of kitchen vegetables to go with that fruit. I’ve added tomatoes, onions, garlic, beans, lettuce, cabbage, pumpkin and strawberries and am still hoping to find room for some squash. I've got seeds for radish and spring onions for catch crops and some carrots, beetroot and parsnips.

And then there are the best days in summer. Those are the days when I can take a book out under the shade of one of the fruit trees and simply sit and enjoy the garden. Sometimes, people walking or cycling along the road will call and I’ll wave back, other times no-one will pass and I’ll enjoy some precious moments of undisturbed peace.

Why do I garden? For sure, it is fun to plant a seed and watch it mature into an integral part of a meal. Picking fruit and preserving is also very pleasant, especially when, in the depth of winter you can open a new jar of fruit or of jam. And, of course, I know where my food has come from, but that’s not really an issue in this part of France. No, I think I garden so that I earn the right to sit there and watch the world go by.

And that I love to do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Prunes and Grapes

This part of France is renowned for both it’s wine production and it’s Prune production. The hot long summer serves extremely well for "sun drying" plums as well as many other fruit and vegetables.

I particularly noticed the grape vines, all now standing up straight and clean after being visited by the local vintner for a wash and brush up. Vines, some of them 100 years old, have survived the winter as they were left after the grapes were carefully removed last fall. As soon as the weather warmed just enough to work back out in the open again, the grape growers returned to the fields, tending the vines, and pruning them by hand to leave just two short shoots with five buds on each. I find it quite astonishing that the wine production for the whole of this part of France will eventually grow from just two small branches on each vine.

Bergerac, my local wine region, produces about 42 million bottles of wine from about 20,000 acres. That’s 2000 bottles per acre. Out of interest, someone once told me that there were the same number of vines as the vineyard produced bottles of wine. So my friend Bernard, with 22 acres has about 45,000 vines from which to make his 45,000 bottles. He will have visited each and every vine over the past two or three months and pruned them by hand, cutting everything except the 2 branches with this year’s grape buds already on them, carefully selecting with his experienced eye, which buds to cut and which to leave. 45000 vines, 90 days pruning (7 days a week) it still works out at 500 vines a day! It makes my pruning look very small scale!!!

But now, the mammoth task is completed and the vines are ready for the uncertainties of the weather to encourage them to grow "just right" so that come the Fall, the grapes will be, exceptional!

This is a time of great hope in the wine communities of South West France

Monday, March 24, 2008

Markets, Markets, Markets,

France is famous for it's markets and the Perigord region is no exception. Today, as on every Saturday morning, I visited a little village market in a town about 15kms (10 miles) away. It is the preferred market of both my wife and I. It's a beautiful market and is in the village where we moved temporarily when we first came to live in France, so brings back fond memories and friends.

When I say small, I guess there were about a hundred stalls in total. A huge array of food, both fresh and preserved, of seafood, fish, meat, cheese, dairy and fresh sparkling vegetables from not very far away. People selling fresh bread and cakes, hot crepes and waffles, croissants, pain au raisin, pain au chocolat and brioche to die for. There was the old lady, standing in the rain, with her two baskets of leeks. She sells leeks every week at 1 euro a kilo - about $1.50 for over 2 lbs - right through the year. She never misses and never sells out yet always leaves with one basket empty and the other with one or two bunches of leaks ready in case someone stops her on her way home! The apple orchards were there selling about a dozen varieties of locally grown apples and of course dried plums, prunes, being sold on every corner.

Then there were the traders selling the household stuff, cleaners, cloths, pots and pans. Some wonderful hand woven wicker baskets, a silversmith venturing out to sell his winter produce of bracelets and rings, and the local Immobilier, trying to spot anyone not local and tempt them with a very nice property at less than a million euro. I counted about 5 vinyards represented, all selling wine by the bottle or by the bag (box?) and even one selling "en vrac" - basically loose. i.e you take your own container and they fill it with red, rose or white - AOC of course, not vin de table!!!

Of course the half a dozen cafes where normally you see people spilling off the sidewalk into the market were earily still today, as the heavy rain had driven all but the most hardy - or maybe foolhardy - inside to sheltered accomodation. I bought my fruit and my vegetables for the coming week then sheltered from the rain under one of the arches surrounding the market place and had coffee whilst my wife ran off and bought a birthday present for a niece. Over coffee / after coffee we chatted to several people, the weather halting just long enough to hold a conversation with a local pepiniére(nurseryman) about an almond tree growing on plum stock - no, apparently there isn't a problem with cross fertilisation from my other plum trees

And then we walked back to the car, via the little, narrow, back lanes, behind the 12th century houses, and looked at all the "potagers"(kitchen gardens) being prepared for the spring plantings. I marvelled at how many had already planted lettuce, onion, cabbage and other, not so easily identified, green things and wondered if I would get my tiny little plot planted in time to reap the harvest.

We drove home having done our shopping, relaxed with friends and generally had a pleasant morning despite the weather. Ah, France, c'est la vie n'est pas!