allée of plane trees

allée of plane trees

the allées of plane trees that line the roads in and out of towns in southern france are one of my favorite things in the world. although sycamores are plane trees’ north american cousins, we don’t really have sycamores in the north, and so i find everything about these trees extraordinary–their patterned bark that looks like camouflage, their majestic size and long lives, their broad maple-shaped leaves that create such refreshing shade, and of course, the whimsical pom-pom seeds that dangle from their branches in fall.

plane tree seeds (Platanus)

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en route to autignac: day 4

en route to autignac: day 4

the mediterranean isn’t really a desert but it is very dry. agaves grow in people’s yards, occasionally sending up center shoots the size of trees. in the courtyard of the house we rent, next to the olive tree, near the grill, just outside the garage that used to be a family winemaking cave, there is an aloe plant, that, despite its reputation for healing powers, aims these needle sharp spikes at us at the height of our middles, and has created many more wounds than it has healed.

aloe tips

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en route to autignac: day 3

en route to autignac: day 3

there were so many things we didn’t know when we first arrived in the languedoc in 2010. we could more or less recognize olive trees with their green and silver leaves shimmering in the wind, but we were a few visits in before we realized that there aren’t species of “green” olives that are different from other species of “black” olives. rather, every olive left long enough on the tree will turn from green to black eventually, like sweet peppers and chili peppers that start green, and eventually mature to red. to those of you who grew up with olives as neighbors, this will sound laughably ignorant. but, to a northerner who had only seen olive trees in photos, or through car and bus windows, it was entirely new…

olives in varies phases from green to black

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en route to autignac: day 2

en route to autignac: day 2

olives define our region, not just culturally and culinarily, but, quite literally, geographically. the shortest and most accurate definition of the mediterranean region is, simply, wherever olives grow. that includes israel and lebanon, spain and italy, tunisia and algeria, greece and turkey, libya and egypt, and, of course france, from the spanish border north along the pyrenees, across the languedoc coast, past the rhone, through provence and the azure coast to italy.

olive tree leaves

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en route to autignac: day 1

en route to autignac: day 1

today we are flying to paris. when we land, we will head to the gare de lyon, to catch the tgv for a three-and-a-half hour high speed train ride to montpellier. in montpellier, we will take a taxi to the renault eurodrive office, where we will pick up our leased renault Kadjar crossover.  then we will drive 50 minutes to our rented house in the tiny 800 person village of autignac.  we will be traveling for about 24 hours straight, sleeping only when we can on the plane and train.

upon arriving in autignac, we will greet a few neighbors with two cheek kisses, and a few close friends with three cheek kisses, and i will probably sleep for 18 hours (which is what i did last time). once rested, we will head to the local intermarché grocery store to start provisioning our house for our 5 month stay, stocking the fridge, the pantry, and the medicine cabinet, and then swinging by the garden store Baobab to buy herbs for potting on the terrace. next will come the apple store, to buy me an iMac, and then to the art store Cultura, in Béziers, to buy the white poster boards i need for STILL backdrops. there is a chance we will make an ambitious and possibly ill advised one-day trip to Marseille and back, so that Steve can go to the knife shop at Maison Empereur, in order to buy one more in the series of chef knives he has used during each of our trips. when we are fully provisioned–with food, art supplies, cell phones, and wifi–then we will check in with the high school where we have registered our 15 year son for fall semester.

it’s a lot. so i’m giving you a heads-up that i will be off-line for a few days while we are in transit, and then sleeping off jet lag, and setting up our new temporary home. to give myself a little breathing room i have queued up a few STILL photos from our very first extended stay in autignac.  that was a long time ago, and it has been fun to look through the old images and remember how wide-eyed and naive we were on that first trip.  so, hang with me here for bit, and once i am up and running, we will be back to new images that i hope will come from deeper in the country, with a more nuanced perspective, than nine years ago, when we showed up in this place, so full of enthusiasm, and, in too many ways to count, so completely unprepared for what we were about to experience…

an occitanie nature assemblage

  • Kimbersew says:

    Aah! Take good care of your selves and each other. Transitions can be so rich and fascinating (and exhausting and confusing.) I’m sure it has something to do with the fresh curiosity and wide-eyed attention (and also the concern for the bare necessities and making sure you’ve landed with all your parts intact.) all the best of luck to you!

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