Archive for the 'France' Category

France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Wine Courses

Fire in the Corbières

Driving home from work the other day I could see smoke in the distance. When only 10 minutes away it was clear that this was a major fire and that it was not far from our house. By the time I arrived in our village , fire engines were screaming down the narrow lanes and the road past our house was closed off.

The Cave Cooperative at the end of our road became the nerve centre of operations as the full force of the emergency services swung into operation. After persuading a fire officer that I only lived a short distance away, he let me past. The children were out, so I took a stroll down the drive to see what was happening.I did not have to go far as by now a huge pall of smoke dominated the skyline and the fire was increasing in intensity at an alarming rate. Fortunately the wind was blowing the fire away from our direction into an area with no dwellings just pine forest, garrigue and vines.

There then followed a massive concerted effort on behalf of the fire service to bring the fire under control. 240 firemen, over 100 appliances and 10 Canadair were deployed to tackle the blaze. Four years of drought, tinder-dry forest, blazing sunshine and a steady nor’wester soon fanned the flames over a considerable area. Around midnight the wine changed direction and the smoke spread over our house. My wife and I decided we had better pack a few essentials in case we were asked to evacuate as the fire was by now less than 2kms away. She packed our wedding album, the kids’ favourite toys and passports. I packed my record collection and saxophone.

It took 2 days for the fire to be extinguished. A stray spark from a vigneron’s tractor had been enough to ignite the biggest fire in France this year. Over 900 hectares went up in smoke, it was all over the papers and even made the national news.The response from the emergency services had been nothing short of fantastic. All through July and August fire engines are based in villages around the Languedoc to enable a rapid response in the event of a fire. Most days for the firemen are filled with endless rounds of poker and petanque waiting for the call. When it did happen, they were on the scene within minutes.

Despite the extensive area affected, no houses were damaged or people injured. The vines also played their part, acting as firebreaks and preventing it spreading even further. They stand like an oasis of green surrounded by an ashen lunar landscape. Unbowed, although a little singed, this majestic plant shows again what a great asset to the “paysage” it is. Perhaps the authorities should take this into account when deciding when and where to grub up vineyards.

The vines have survived, the fruit is now being harvested and the quality is looking very good. I may, finally, be able to use “a hint of an autumn bonfire” in my tasting notes for the 2008 Corbières this year.


A trip to the Tax Office

I jumped in the car when I realized my TVA (VAT) return was due and sped off to the Tax office in Narbonne. What I’d forgotten was that it was the day the Tour de France was in town and the whole local population was heading in the same direction.

An hour later after what should have been a journey of 20 mins I decided it was best to dump the car and walk. A good move as it turned out, as all the roads in the City Centre were blocked off and much impatience and general intolerance was in the air.

I arrived at the Tax office 10 mins before closing for lunch and the place was deserted – unheard of on deadline day for Tax payments. The guy at the “accueil”, normally man of few words and even less sense of humour was positively chirpy. He checked the form, corrected a mistake without treating me like a moron, and offered to take it to the correct dept. I wish I’d taken a photo as it probably won’t happen like that on the next visit.

By the time I left, Narbonne was at a standstill. I joined the throng, weather was fabulous, the team coaches arrived and the riders emerged. After each one had been individually introduced to the waiting crowds it was down to the start-line in front of Les Halles, the indoor market. I watched the départ and then waited a full 20 minutes whilst all the support vehicles, team buses, police, medics and a huge caravan of Press and TV went past. 

A normal round trip of 60 mins had taken approx 5 hours, yet it’s not often that a rather routine chore combines with one of the world’s greatest sporting events. Paying tax has never been so much fun and the cerise on the gateau was that the stage was won in Nimes 4 hours later by the Brit – Mark Cavendish. 

I must leave it to the last minute next time……..