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The last few days of October were as hot and balmy as August, the markets were thronged with visitors and full of flowers. Great clumps of chrysanthemums in purple, white, crimson and gold jostled against rank upon rank of pierrot-faced violas and armfuls of more exotic blooms, a wonderful sight which brought out a rash of resident artists.

November came in with a deadly northeasterly and brought a sudden drop in temperatures. From a pleasant mid-afternoon twenty-five degrees to a perishing early-morning minus one. The lemon trees were hurriedly moved to their winter quarters and in Cahors the plane trees shivered and dropped fifty percent of their leaves in forty-eight hours. The vines glowed red, then rust and finally a golden yellow. Soon they’ll take on their winter persona and be no more than stark silhouettes against the winter skyline.

Autumn Vines

Autumn Vines

The menus in the cafes and restaurants have changed too. Summer salads and grilled fish have given way to the hefty casseroles so beloved of the French. Cassoulet of course, wonderful fried Confits and steaming plates of lentils with bacon and sausage buried beneath. Food to feed those who work all morning in the fields, but equally appreciated by those of us who don’t.

Today as I made my way round the market stalls the produce had undergone a subtle change. The sun is still warm but the air is decidedly sharp and winter is just around the corner. Long white navets, a turnip much appreciated in these parts, Jerusalem artichokes and piles of Savoy cabbages stand side by side with piles of shelled haricots, sold by the shovel. The man on the fast food stall was doing a brisk trade too, his summer Paellas had been replaced with a vast Daube or a steaming pile of Couscous. It smelled absolutely divine, but unfortunately it was only ten-thirty.



I turned my back on temptation and bought a guinea fowl and a kilo of Jerusalem artichokes from the man by the cathedral door, his fingers, roughened by a lifetime of work on the land, were the same colour as the vegetables. His amiable face was the same colour as the wine he’d secreted behind him, just to lubricate his lunch of course. He tipped the muddy tubers straight into my basket and told me he’d seen me at the fete du vendange in our local village. This wonderful excuse for yet another fete is the grape harvest. In our village one is invited to taste the new wine along with enormous wild chestnuts roasted outside over an impromptu barbeque. Of course the whole affair is preceded by the usual four-course dinner. It’s a Pot au Feu in our case, vast joints of beef, vegetables and herbs slowly cooked for the whole day and served with litres and litres of wine from the hillsides, with the local children proudly acting as waitresses. The night was cold and starry, the men of the village soaked up the wine like sponges, our local rock band was on grand form and the beloved got quite carried away. It was a wonderful night.

Maybe next year I’ll dance with the man by the cathedral door.

© Amanda Lawrence 2006

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Crisp, Cold and Sunny in the Quercy from French Vie

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