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Stunning Sunset

Stunning Sunset

Winter is knocking on the door in Southern France. Here in the Quercy, mornings are sharp and frosty, afternoons blue and brilliant and temperatures have dropped like a stone. The markets are now less than half their summer size, all the tender fruit and vegetables have long disappeared, with gnarled cold-weather warmers piled in their place. I discovered a new one last week. Whilst my weekly heap of leeks and endive, Jerusalem artichokes, red cabbage and celery was being weighed, the stallholder came across a measly rutabaga in my selection. I was late that day, and this was literally the scraping at the bottom of the box.
‘What’s this for?’ He asked, inspecting the wretched specimen minutely before throwing it in for nothing – I didn’t get a chance to reply of course. ‘I’ll find you something worth eating!’ He rooted around between teetering crates of overflowing vegetables and produced what looked like two radis noir. ‘Try these – they may look like radishes but they’re not!’ He held up an admonishing finger, ‘they’re navet noir!’ He threw them in my basket with a lordly gesture. The white-haired little lady beside me was hugely impressed.
‘Black turnips!’ She cried admiringly, ‘well, I’ve never heard of them, they’ll look so pretty on a mixed platter don’t you think?’ She turned to me to endorse her views. Actually I felt much more inclined to peel them, but this was clearly not the moment to say so.
‘You, Mademoiselle, shall have three!’ Bellowed the stallholder, whipping out said vegetables, juggling them deftly and taking control of the show. She was at least ninety years old, but she simpered and giggled like a schoolgirl. I left them enthusiastically discussing navet-serving techniques, and slipped off for a restorative shot of caffeine at the café.
November is generally the month of the congée annuelle – the French restaurateurs equivalent of our summer hols. The tourist season is over, waiters are worn to threads and premises could do with a bit of a revamp. It’s clearly time for a break. Two of the several café/restaurants catering for the centre of Cahors were closed, and my little café was in total chaos as a consequence. It was almost twelve-thirty; the two waiters flew from table to table, steaming plates of canard confit, steak frites and creamy dorade piled high on their arms. I shrank back in my little corner, sipped my coffee and drank in the heart-warming scene. Lunchtime in France, sacred ritual.
As I bumped home, vegetables rolling about in the boot of the car, the full glory of the autumn vineyards rolled out before me – red, ochre and gold – like a bolt of shimmering damask. Further up in the hills the oak woods echoed the colour palette, with just a touch of acid green on the frost-free southern slopes. November in the south may be cold, but it has its own unique charm, and it’s just as beautiful as ever.

© Amanda Lawrence 2007

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Winter Approaching from French Vie

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