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Cows of France

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Cows of France - France is home to 37 different breeds of cattle. This marvellous diversity is on display each year at the Salon d'Agriculture, the mammoth agricultural fair in Paris. The fair covers 7 vast exposition halls, and includes not only cows but pigs, sheep (49 breeds), goats, horses, all manner of poultry, and producers of fine quality agricultural products (including wine) who let you sample and buy their wares. The fair is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year and is always held in early March. Meet a sampling of France's magnificent cows!

Enjoy some photo stories:

The medieval garden at the Prieur de Salagon -

The newly renovated medieval garden at the Prieuré of Salagon in Haute Provence is evokes the ambience of a jardin clos of the Middle Ages.  The ethnological museum and gardens are located just at the south edge of the village of Mane in Haute Provence.  They maintain a limited English version of their website, www.musee-de-salagon.com.  Of note is that they have one of the best gift and book shops I've ever seen.

Winter blooms in Parc Monceau -

Parc Monceau, a block from our apartment in Paris, has a pretty good assortment of winter blooming shrubs and trees.  Here's what was blooming on February 14, 2013. 

Winter-blooming shrubs are entrancing not only because they offer the first flowers of pre-spring, but because they are almost always intensely fragrant.  My theory is this is the case to attract the rare pollinators in flight so early in the year.

Paris, by the way, is in the equivalent of USDA Hardiness Zone 8.

Pumpkin Peepshow - 2011 was a banner year for pumpkins and winter squash, especially in our Provence garden.  I can never resist planting too many of these beautiful vegetables simply so that I might revel in their forms and colors.  In fact, the beauty of winter squashes always sweetens the bitter news that winter won't lag far behind their harvest.  Now, the only challenge will be eating them all!  You wouldn't want to drop by and pick up a pumpkin, by chance?
Lavender & Co. - We had guests last weekend in Provence, giving us a good excuse to drive around looking at the lavender fields.  The lavender flowers seem to be opening ahead of schedule this year.  The process is long and tantalizing, beginning with just a blush of blue and slowly transforming into that sea of inimitable blue.  And as you'll see here, not all the blues are alike.  For me, one of the joys of visiting the lavender fields is that there are always beautiful wildflowers and herbs to be found growing at the edges and in the fields themselves.  They are the "& Co." I'm referring to in my title.  What a great opportunity for one of my favorite pastimes--photo botanizing!
Lunch at Ciya - Ciya (Kadikoy, Istanbul) is the restaurant I've most wanted to eat at in the entire world.  In late March, I finally got to experience it.  Is it a Michelin 3-Star?  No!  Does it have white tablecloths and fancy silverware?  No!  Does it probably have the most varied menu of any restaurant anywhere?  Yes!  Is its chef impassioned about traditional recipes, utensils, methods, and ingredients, including wild foods?  Yes!  Is Ciya devoid of pretentiousness?  100%.  This is my kind of place!
The Chteau d'Epoisses - Say "Epoisses" and I immediately think of one of France's richest, runniest, most aromatic (let's stay away from that "s" word) cheeses which, when brought to ripe perfection by a talented affineur (cheese ager), may be my very favorite--if I had to name just one--cheese.  Of course, like most French cheeses, wines, and even vegetable varieties, Epoisses cheese is named after the village of its origin.  And this village has one of the most beautiful châtteaux in France.  Notice I said beautiful and not grandiose.  Epoisses makes up for what it lacks in grandiosity (never a quality that counted for much with me) in history and pathos, for it is still inhabited by the last 3 members of the proprietary family.    Today you can visit the Château, and even arrange a cheese-tasting (you can guess of which cheese) in its dining room!
The topiary bestiary at Cormatin - The Château of Cormatin boasts some of the most beautiful topiary of any garden in France.  Hedges clipped into undulating ribbons, a labyrinth, and traditionally dignified complex pyramids commingle with an assortent of boxwood beasts both realistic and imaginary in a juxtaposition that is oh-so-French.
La Fte du Banon - Last month, the village of Banon, just 8 km from our home in Haute Provence, celebrated its namesake cheese:  a goat cheese soaked in <I>marc</I> (eau de vie), then wrapped in chestnut leaves and aged 60 days.  Come along with us as we visit the festivities!
Le Jardin du Paradis - Nestled on a hillside in the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel, this superb garden is full of inventive ideas for everyone.  Please note:  This slide show is intended as a photo supplement to "In Paradise," a complete article on the garden. 
My favorite restaurant - This is it!  I have found my favorite restaurant in all of France.  Yes, it just received its first Michelin star, but who cares!  What counts is your own experience there.   More than a restaurant, La Chassagnette (which means "little hunting ground" and is the original name of the farm) in the Camargue is a magical place that is the very embodiment of the spirit of the potager.  An ancient sheep barn transformed into a warm, contemporary space that invokes nature and invites conviviality, nestled into several acres of organic fruit, vegetable, herb, and flower gardens.  A young (31year old!) chef, Armand Arnal, who for me is France's brightest young and swiftly rising star, whose cooking is firmly rooted in tradition yet bristles with creativitiy...Simply the brightest cooking around!
Valensole all dressed up in blue - In July, the Provençal town of Valensole celebrates the lavender harvest with a village-wide festival.  Come along with Denis and me as we park in a field outside the village and descend to the festivities!
La Fte de la Vannerie at Vallabrgues - Once a year, the rather nondescript Provençal village of Vallabrègues comes alive to its glorious past in basket weaving.  Situated close to the Rhone, whose alluvial plain was great for willow-growing, Vallabrègues was once the biggest basket producer in France.  Of course, that was at a time when (imagine!) baskets were a major type of packaging--for fruits, vegetables, breads, and all sorts of other goods.  Things started to go downhill with the advent of wooden crates and then, cardboard and plastic.  The coup de grâce to French basket making on even the artisanal level arrived with the arrival of cheap Chinese imports.  Today, French basketmaking is an art in danger of disappearing.

Basketmaking was formally organized as a recognized métier in the region of nearby Arles in 1497.  Historically, most basket-makers were nomadic, and many of their number were Roma.  An old engraving shows such an itinerant vannier covered from head to foot in baskets.  But Vallabrègues was home to numbers of 'fixed' basketmakers, who supplied merchants with transport packaging and merchandise displays.

In 1990, the village of Vallabrègues decided to bring its vibrant history back to life with an annual basketmaking festival.  The festival includes a fair for basketmakers from all over Europe, echoing the foires of yesterday, which were major markets of the day.  There's also a special mass, where the willow is blessed.  But best of all is the parade, where everyone dresses in period costume.  Wagons bearing families coming to the fair bearing baskets to sell, Carmaguais in traditional costume, mounted proudly on their superb white horses, the confrerie--or guild--of basketmakers...the parade is a breathtaking sight.  In fact, it was so beautiful that I wept during a good part of it.  I was simply overcome with nostalgia for a time when things were simpler and people working with their hands had honor and dignity.  Come, take a step into this past time with me...
A botanical hike in Provence - Our part of Provence is full of secrets waiting to be discovered.  On the eve of Easter, we visitied the village of St-Saturnin-les-Apt, in the Vaucluse about 30 minutes from our house in Haute Provence.  While the core of the village was built in the early 18th century, the chateau looming over it dates in part from as early as the 9th.  Come with Denis and me as we walk from the old village up through the chateau and follow a path through the spectacular countryside that was the former domaine of the chateau.  See the early spring wildflowers and discover myriad architectural ruins along the way!
Stirrings of spring in Provence - Nothing is quite as thrilling as the very first stirrings of spring.  From one day to the next, a warm breath transforms the landscape from sere grays and browns to tender green brushed here and there with pinks and acid yellows.  I never lose my sense of wonder that somehow, spring once again has arrived...sometimes against all odds...
The flavors and fragrances of Haute Provence - Each year, around the second week of September, the village of Forcalquier celebrates local producers, chefs, and artists in a week of festive activities. On the final Sunday of the week (most of which I miss as I am in Paris working), a village market filled with an exuberance of diverse stands makes for a delightful afternoon.
Jardins, jardin! - Every year in early June, France declares a national garden festival. All over the country, normally private gardens open their gates to the public and public gardens host special thematic events. As part of this festival, the Jardins, jardin garden show this year was held in the Tuileries--right in the heart of Paris. While water was the overall theme of the event, the special focus was on terrace gardens, which is the sort of garden Parisians have if they have any garden at all. A series of superb large display gardens topped off the event. On a splendidly sunny early June day, take a photo tour with me of this year's Jardins, jardin festival, and reap a basketful of ideas for your own urban garden!
Antique French post cards--Roses - Are you a romantic? Like a bit of kitsch? Love anything having to do with roses? Or do you just enjoy imagining a time, before telecommunications, when people actually wrote, by hand, to communicate with each other? Then these old postcards are for you.
A Sunday stroll through Veules-les-Roses - Veules-les-Roses is a tiny coastal village about ten miles from our house in Normandy.  Like a Norman Hobbittown, everything is diminuitive in Veules.  A scant kilometer inland from the sea, an enormous spring gives rise to the Veules, the shortest fleuve--or river running directly to the sea--in France.  This crystalline, rushing river and the roses that flourish everywhere are the defining elements of this charming village of thatched-roof cottages.
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