We have been mostly sitting quietly at the Gîte , the kids have been delighting in the novelty of having a garden to play in and the two French daughters of the owners to play with.
As usual with kids the language barrier didn’t hold them up for long as they quickly developed their own way of communicating and if all else failed then one of the four would run up to us and ask either in French or English “How do you say …. (whatever it was) .. in French/English please?
I have a passable French vocabulary but the little French girls had to quickly learn to slow down the delivery of their questions if any of it would make sense to me. Mostly we managed in spite of our limitations.
Usually when we are away from home on holiday we all delight in going for long exploratory walks and exploring exhibitions, cities, villages etc. This time naturally the walking is out, so we decide to take a little driving tour and Himself makes a picnic lunch of crusty French baguette, cheese, tomatoes and some fruit to take with us. (yes, I know that “technically” tomatoes are fruit, but they wouldn’t spring to mind if I only mentioned cheese and fruit).
I don’t have to ask where we will be having our picnic because I think I can easily guess.
I know the place well, Himself and I have detoured down the maze of little roads through the vines every time we have been in the area together, stopped in this spot for a a while and each time he tells me the same story of why it’s special. I’m sure he knows that I’ve heard the same story at least nine times now, but I actually wouldn’t care if he told it to me ninety times because it’s one of those moments when you see a special look in someones eyes.
This look comes as they cast themselves back in time and remember fondly the moments that made this place special. There is a special sort of emotion attached.
I have my own versions of those places too and yes, I know I’ve told Himself the same story over and over and over when we are in those places. I know he already knows it but I will tell him again next time, and neither of us need to apologise for it.
We recognise it’s part of loving one another that the tradition is, you get to these places: one tells the story and the other listens just like it’s the first time.
This is how we end up at a single tree in the middle of the vines.
Himself went on a grape picking adventure when he was young and ended up returning for many seasons to pick grapes for the same farmer and his wife. The picking was hard work and there was a lot of be done in a short period of time. You had to be strong, fit and prepared to work very hard. They rose early and burned calories. They would stop for a hearty three course French lunch made by the farmers wife and refreshed and refueled, return to these vines and continue grape picking until late in the day.
There were no coffee breaks, no rest breaks, just solid work from start of the day until lunch time and after lunch until the early evening. Everyone pulled their weight and did their bit. A few time a few of the other workers came from other countries, most were locals but all toiled equally hard during the grape harvest. Lunchtime was the massive feast and fuel of the day, there was either water or wine to go with it (the law of the time was that each worker was entitled to 2 liters (67.6 oz ) of wine per person per day! *)
I wasn’t there in the grape picking days of course, but I did enjoy meals made by the farmer’s wife when Himself and I visited in later years: the tomatoes were gown in a veggie patch close to the farmers house and I can verify that they tasted like no other tomatoes I have tasted in my life, they were rich, juicy and busting with so much tomato flavour that you were spoiled for life. No other tomato I have had before or since measures up.
Every now and again Himself and I have a conversation about the farmer’s wife’s tomatoes, it’s always exactly the same conversation but we never tire of it and we both get equally misty eyed and start making “yummmmmm” noises a lot. He understands completely. So do I.
The memories of the work done with these vines in the late summer heat, the chat, jokes and laughter that echoed out between them into the surrounding vines are things that come back to Himself each and every time this spot comes into view. Naturally we think it’s a good idea to carry on a little tradition of visiting these particular vines whenever we are in the region so that Himself can fondly his working days there and both of us, the later visits to the old couple, the farmhouse and those fabulous lunches.
We back the van up to the base of the tree to take in the welcome shade, our city kids sit in the boot of the van as the “ground is dirty” (yikes, I’ve got city wimps for kids!), I sit in the boot of the van (only because getting up off the ground is a stupid task to undertake on crutches and I’m accident prone you remember) and Himself finds his favourite spot at the trees base and goes quiet as he munches and reflects on all the previous times he’s been here.
I remember the farmer’s face, he passed away a few years back and the farmer’s wife’s smile and voice (she now lives with her daughter and this is where we had our recent French lunch) and know that I will never get sick of hearing the story again and again. The grapes are picked mechanically these days, but if you can see far enough into the hazy distance, you can see and hear the past.
Of course we are here in April, it’s Easter and not in September/ October when the grapes are full, sweet and ready for harvest. We look instead of the budding vines in spring time and they still have about 5 months of growing and ripening yet.
* Ok to clarify the wine thing, it was a lower alcohol wine, even a thirsty Himself never once managed to drink his allocation, the law was probably centuries old and made in time when the cleanliness of drinking water was questionable. Luckily the French government has since recognised that even low alcohol wine drunk in this volume is not good for your liver so this law has been rescinded since Himself’s grape picking days.
Although now sadly no longer owned by the family Himself worked for, I take photos of the vines and views surrounding us, and later of the surrounding countryside that will later in the year be laden with grapes.