Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chin Chin!

It's snowing at Stade Aimé Giral!
We had the unexpected pleasure of being invited along to the *drum roll* red carpetted VIP lounge for USAP's match last weekend.
(USAP for the uninitiated, is Perpignan's local rugby team and rugby is the Number One Sport here in the Deep South of France)
We rubbed shoulders with Perpignan's hob nobs and beautiful people, enjoyed a four course delicious meal and cheered USAP to victory from the best seats in the house. Apart from the fact that it was actually SNOWING while the match was taking place and that I had to forgo fashion pride and wear my full ski gear, including two pairs of ski gloves, it was a five star way to enjoy a rugby match.
At our table of 12, there were three bottles of excellent wine. With the dessert, we were served a toasty Rivesaltes Ambré. We left the table 2 hours later leaving most of this (free) wine behind us....
At the FREE bar at half time and full time, most people weren't even interested in going to the bar... a few people had a glass of champagne, others an orangina!!!  and there was certainly no rush on the barmen.
Now, close your eyes and imagine the scene in Ireland. Free wine with the meal and a free bar for the whole match. We're talking scrums and tackles and strategic planning, just to get to the bar! We're talking singing and dancing and uproarious behaviour, back slapping, pint gulping, high fiving, bear hugging, the fields of Athenry, then more pints, more chasers, pee-ing everywhere in the stadium and general tom foolery. We're talking girls in micro mini skirts, tank tops and killer stillettos. We're talking mayhem, folks.
The Mediterranean drinking culture sure is different .. even though Monsieur le Mediterranean actually drinks more than your typical Irishman, there is no binge drinking culture and one rarely sees a drunk French person. 
Slow and steady wins the race, it appears "Regular and moderate alcohol intake throughout the week, the typical pattern in middle aged men in France is associated with a low risk of  heart disease, whereas the binge drinking pattern more prevalent in Ireland and the the UK confers a higher risk," Jean-Bernard Ruidavets, MD, of Toulouse University in France says.
Be careful out there! Chin chin agus Sláinte!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A writers retreat in the South of France

Join author Rosemary Bailey for a writing retreat this Autumn in the small mountain village of Planès in the Cerdagne, the most cloudless region of France... From the 16th to the 21st September , escape above the clouds to the The l’Orri eco-lodge , offering time and space to write, think and dream. 

Optional yoga classes with Avery Sumner and meditative walks can further help focus the mind.
All are welcome, whatever you write, from personal memoir to fiction, travellers’ tales to biography. Whatever form you choose, articles, blogs, print or e-books, can benefit from a focused retreat with other writers.

Avery Sumner grew up on a self-sufficient homestead in the southern United States where she cultivated a love for barefoot living. As a child she spent many solitary hours in the stillness of nature and credits these early experiences for directing her to the life she currently leads as a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher and writer. Avery presently lives in the hills of the southernmost region of France where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean.The course runs from Monday evening to Saturday morning. There will be optional yoga sessions in the mornings and evenings, and a morning writing workshop with Rosemary Bailey.
Single room 600 euros
Dormitory accommodation 450 euros
To contact Rosemary Bailey please use the following email address:
Or you may contact L’Orri de Planès by phone or email.
telephone:  33 (0)4 68 04 29 47
More details here :

Sunday, February 17, 2013

La Carnaval and The Burning Man

La Carnaval here in the Deep South is celebrated in every town and village throughout the months of February and March. We have toodled along to the parades every year, watching the spectacle and the kids going wild having confetti battles. The sun was shining and the tramontane had died down this weekend , just in time for the parade through the streets of our village, Cabestany.
Sunny Carnival Parade in Cabestany
This is the first time they have had the parade in Cabestany and it seemed like the whole village was there. As we traipsed after the géants, we wondered, what the hell is La Carnaval about anyway? I asked some French friends and they didn't really know either "c'est la carnaval, quoi!"
So, what is the history of La Carnaval?
The word carnivale comes from two latin words : carne meaning flesh and vale meaning farewell ( merci wikipedia!). In the Catholic religion, it used to the the big blow out before lent began, your last chance to eat meat ( carnivore) and indulge in all kinds of naughty behaviour before you knuckled down and gave up joy for 40 long days and 40 long nights. Mardi Gras was what we call Pancake Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday when all the fatty stuff in the house was eaten up..
Now, here in France, there seems to be no specific date here for La Carnaval, and every town and village has their own parade on a different weekend during February and March. The kids get dressed up, there is much singing and dancing and parading about.
Monsieur La Carnaval... like a lamb to the slaughter
They also have their very own burning man ... in a solemn ceremony , at the end of the parade, the effigy called Monsieur Carnaval is burnt to a cinder - this represents burning all the excesses and sins of the carnival itself, or burning the evil spirits...
The boys watch Mr La Carnaval go up in smoke
If you really want to experience a Rio Type Mardi Gras, your best bet is to head South to Spain where adults and children get really into the spirit of it, dressing up and partying hard.
Sitges, just 35kms south of Barcelona, hosts one of the biggest and wildest carnivals in the world, partying like crazy for at least a week. See here for more details...
Et voilà, c'est ça La Carnaval!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Breaking news from France

Breaking news from France on the horse scandal.
Cheval meat is being sold as....... cheval meat. What a novel idea. You read it here first folks, seen in a local supermarket, they are selling horse meat as ... horse meat. Daring!!!

Cheval counter - local supermarket

Friday, February 08, 2013

Mind Your P's and Q's in Paris

The French have a reputation as being rude, arrogant and impolite. In Paris, even more so, ranking highly in polls as unfriendly, unhelpful and downright difficult. The metro and the trains are interesting places to observe the Pushy Parisians and anyone who has lived there, will tell of the angst just merely getting from A to B on a daily basis.
The National train service provider, SNCF, has employed over 100 stewards in the trains, to ensure that the Feckless French mind their P's and Q's and behave themsevles.
Their remit is to stop passengers putting their feet up on seats, to eliminate smoking, drinking, spitting and giving the finger, among other offences, i.e., to teach them some manners.
'Les agents pour lutter contre les incivilites' have a tough job , with a recent poll of commuters indicating that 97% of those polled had suffered some 'incivility' in the past month. Their slogan is "Il n y'a pas de petite incivilité ", there is no such thing as a small impoliteness .. sounds like they have their work cut out for them!!!
Anyone from Paris notice any difference since the Politeness Police have come into force?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Vineyard Tales - Mas Alart

Fred Belmas
The energetic Frederic Belmas owns and runs this small vineyard of 20 hectares situated just south of where I live in Cabestany.
He took over the family business which was started by his Great grandfather in 1897.

His Great grandfather, Jules, born in 1876, went to war in 1914 and employed a "chef de culture" to look after his farm, a Mr Baille, and hoped to God the place would still be standing when or if he ever got back. 4 years later, in a time before telephone calls and the internet, he came back to Mas Alart, dreading that he would find the place left to rack and ruin.
Not only was it still standing when he got back, the farm was thriving and not a centime was out of place - Mr Baille had run the place like his own, bringing in his own family to run the place like clockwork while Jules was at war.
The Great Grandfather was so thankful and relieved that he built a fine house ( La Maison jeune) beside the mas for Mr Baille and his family to live in for the rest of his days. That's the kind of family the Alarts are.
His Great Grandfather had bought the place to diversify and grow his business which was a textile factory in Vinça. With two sons, Jules thought that he needed 2 businesses to pass on to them and bought the farm which was around 70 hectares at the time.

In the early 1900's, he put the two names into a hat : textile factory or mas and the sons had to take their pick. Fred's Grandfather plucked out the farm and also his destiny to become a farmer.
Fred's Grandfather eventually took over the reins of the farm, which, like most vineyards in the region at the time, only produced sweet wines : muscat de rivesaltes and rivesaltes ambré.
Fred's Aunt Anne Alart then ran the vineyard from 1978 to 1995 and while Fred was busy studying for a degree in physics, she decided she had had enough and wanted young Fred , who was 25 at the time to take over. Fred dropped the physics like a hot potato , did a diploma in Montpellier in Viticulture and Oeneologie, worked side by side with the Aunty for two years and then was on his own ; master of the mas.

The first thing he did was buy up some land going a begging beside the vineyard with some well tended vines and started producing some red wine as up until that point, the vineyard was still producing 100% vin doux. In 2000, he bottled his first red wine and now produces 2 whites, 2 rosés, 4 reds and a very interesting selection of sweet wines.

Growing 11 different grape varieties, he had won many prizes in France for his excellent quality wines. He sells 80% of his wine at the mas itself and also in local restaurants : The Citrus in Cabestany, Les Flamants Roses in Canet, Boniface in Technosud, Can Vicens in St Jean Pla de Corts, among others.
You can also order online for delivery in France or Europe.
His wines are very reasonable priced. The award winning 'Dans la Vigne de Jules' is priced at 5€17, for example.

He lives on the mas with his wife and two children, Jules and Lili. Attending English lessons every week, you will be offered a very warm welcome at Mas Alart, where you can taste his wines in his interesting cave, set in the old stables of the mas.
Well worth checking out.

Mas Alart
RD 22
66 280 Saleilles
Tél: 0468505189

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