A dull day weather-wise: flat grey skies, cooler than it had been for the past several days, a forecast of rain that never materialized. I knew the forecast since I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a small radio along on these trips, though there’s now wireless access throughout much of the house, so next time I will bring my computer and just look it up online. In the past I have enjoyed listening to Riviera Radio, which is broadcast out of Monaco, aimed squarely at English-speaking tourists and hip expats with money. On previous visits they tended to play a late of 90s-era Britpop, featuring heavy doses of tunes by The Verve, Blur, Oasis and the like. They seem to have altered format, so now they have a sometime odd mix of music, ranging from 70s disco to low-grade American hip-hop, with heavy doses of M.O.R. Elton John, Queen, Rod Stewart etc. I began to understand why my sister-in-law was so down on this station — listening to this stuff during the last harvest would have driven me batty too.
Very much to its credit however, they still play BBC news at the top of the hour, where I heard more about the student protests happening in various French cities against a newly proposed labour law that would make it easier to fire those in their mid-20s and under. My own feeling is that this is a left-ist policy gone too far, and which the latest government, desperately trying to bring back a level of flexibility and productivity in the workforce, and is adamantly trying to change. I don’t doubt that the students realize that this can only be the thin edge of the wedge, and are digging their feet in. It doesn’t strike me as a situation that is likely to end anytime soon.
After breakfast I headed out with the intention of walking the perimeter of the “north” vineyard, which I have never fully explored. Vanessa joined me, and we had a very pleasant walk around the circumference of the property. I took pictures of anything that took my interest, such as the chateau, small signs at the end of a row of plants bearing the name of the type of grape and the row number, and of any interesting local plants that popped up. It being a grey day none of the pictures were spectacular, but it was a nice walk nonetheless.
Dotted at odd intervals around the outside the grounds, and the small electric fence (designed to keep out the roving sanglier at night), were cork trees. Vanessa and I had a close look at them, and I explained how the tree bark was used in the production of cork stoppers for wine bottles. Even though I knew what it was, I was still surprised at how, upon taking off a piece of the bark, it was recognizably the same soft wooden material more commonly found at the top of wine bottles. On one of the trees I saw, the material was easily 6 or 7 inches thick, and came off easily from the relatively smooth and dark heartwood of the tree. The outside of the bark covering the tree is wonderfully wizened and gnarled. They have this ancient look about them, even if they aren’t actually as old as they might seem. Cork trees have the sort of texture that naturally lends itself to photography, even on leaden days like this.
The Thick Bark of Cork Tree on the Estate (The Darker Stuff is Heartwood, So You Can See How Thick the Actual Cork Bark Is)
By this point Vanessa had taken to collecting wild flowers in order to make a bunch when we got back to the house. Of course the very best wild flowers were on the other side of the electric fence. So every now and then I would lift her over it in order to grab some flowers of interest.
On the final leg of the trip back to the chateau we ran across a roadway which was obviously made from fill derived from a house that had been knocked down and “recycled”. Every now and then a piece of colourful tile would poke up from above the soil. In the end we had a hard look through some of it, and Vanessa was very happy to find a piece of nearly-intact earthen tile that still had the name of the manufacturer clearly stamped upon it. She very happily took that and her flowers back to the chateau, and I had a camera full of more shots that I needed to dump to my 1GB memory stick to look over later.
In the afternoon we took all of the kiddies for a “free-form” version of mini-golf, Cassandra in particular having a blast as she guided the colourful golf balls into their respective holes by any means possible. Annie came up with the “Annie Method”, which basically involved grabbing the golf ball and rolling it from a few inches away so that it almost always went in the whole. Vanessa just tore off and did all of the holes in the shortest available time.
Later we went to a local mini-mart where I picked up a “native” rechargeable battery outlet for the AA batteries my camera requires. The one I had brought with me, along with Erika’s hairdryer, seems to have died a horrible electric death. It’s not enough to have an adapter, but having the proper transformer also seems to be key. We also picked up ice cream for the kids, which went down very, very well of course.