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We reunited a year after my daughter's COVID-19 semester abroad in Provence was shortened.

2023-06-24  Maliyah Mah

A mother-daughter excursion to this agriculturally rich, sunbaked region of southern France provided an opportunity to rekindle friendships and relationships.

southern France

I contacted my daughter Hallie, who was attending school in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence, on the evening of March 11, 2020. I informed her that we had scheduled a 7 a.m. flight for her to return home. the following morning, a bus to the airport in Marseille.

“What?", she kept enquiring. It was two in the morning. it is France. "What's going on?”

I had just recently visited her in Aix two weeks prior. Leap Year Day, February 29, was the day we travelled to Paris. All crowded, including Ste.-Chapelle, the Musée d'Orsay, cafes, and the Métro. Even though I knew that things were horrible in China and Italy, my positive thinking today seems irresponsible in retrospect.
Later, I discovered that Hallie's host mother, Marie-Paule, awoke on March 12 to find that all of her American students had left the previous night. On our daughter's bed, she discovered a collection of garments and trinkets that Hallie had planned to ship home together with a hastily written message that read: "Chère Marie-Paule, Please donate or recycle everything you can." Thank you very much. I'm hoping to see you again soon. (Thank you for everything; I hope to see you soon. Please donate or recycle what you can.)

After that, I spent several lonely months at home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. masking, testing, and cleaning up food. Amy and Jon, our next-door neighbours, welcomed us to sit on their porch and sip wines from the French Languedoc region's Domaine Montrose. Geoffrey, their son, works at the vineyard. Hallie and I had a bottle of rosé with Jon and Amy while we listened to them about Geoffrey's life in the south of France. ...or had before to COVID. It was simpler to picture France in the present tense from this distance while sipping this wine.

Domaine Montrose

The four stages of the réouverture were announced by President Macron in April 2021. On May 19 (stage 2), non-essential enterprises would return; some outdoor dining would be permitted at cafes and restaurants; the 7 p.m. The curfew, or couvre-feu, would be raised to nine.

Hallie was set to receive her French degree. I made the decision to bring her back to France as a graduation present. a chance to say goodbye properly and visit with friends. We were introduced to Geoffrey by Jon and Amy, and we planned a diversion to go see him in Montpellier.

On May 24, we arrived in Paris and boarded a subsequent aircraft. It was a clear morning, and the rising sun made the Seine below us sparkle gold. By the time we arrived at Marseille, the sky and the sea were an exhilarating blue and almost discernible from one another. The father and son sitting next to me put their faces to the window and chatted excitedly in fast French as the limestone cliffs of the Mediterranean shoreline rose to greet us.

With the windows slightly open to let in the breeze, we rode the bus into Aix. The plane trees were lush and green last February, when they were skeletal. Hallie remarked, "I never got to see it like this. We had leased the apartment next to Aix's famed Place d'Albertas, which was a roomy one-bedroom that was 'in blossom'. The owners, Patrick and Mireille, approached us on the street. Both gave us cheek kisses while wearing masks.

We were immunised, Hallie said hastily.

"We are also immunised," Patrick stated.

Patrick informed us inside of the lockdowns and the attestation de déplacement paperwork needed to depart their house. Literature enthusiasts Patrick and Mireille were interested to learn about Hallie's senior thesis, which examined the novels of French-Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé. Since I had previously stayed there, Mireille said that we were the apartment's first visitors. So as you can see, she said, it seems as though no time had gone.

We had dinner with Emma that night, a former classmate of Hallie's. Emma is exactly my age, a Briton from London. In Cadarache, a little town north of Aix, her husband Mark works at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). If all goes according to plan, ITER will grow to be the biggest and most potent fusion device in the world, providing an unending supply of secure, non-carbon-emitting energy.

Rwlated link : This Train Route Along the French Riviera Will Take You to Picturesque Mountain Villages, Hiking and Cycling Trails, and a National Park.

We opened the balcony doors when we got back to the apartment. Even though it was still daylight, the eerie calm was only occasionally disturbed by the sound of a moped. Hallie kept exclaiming, "I can't believe we're truly here. It did feel amazing and fleeting, like if our time was running out.
dinner with Emma,

The next day, we travelled to Montpellier by rail in the west for 3 12 hours. We ran across Geoffrey, Jon and Amy's kid, on the Promenade du Peyrou, immediately after the Arc de Triomphe in Montpellier. Geoffrey has been a resident of France for 11 years, has perfected his language skills, and was granted French citizenship in 2019.

A huge statue of King Louis XIV riding a horse serves as the centrepiece of the Promenade. The Sun King, or Le Roi Soleil, is the moniker Louis reportedly gave himself. The leader who would enlighten his subjects' thoughts and become the object they would revolve around. The expansive views of Montpellier from the park's esplanade were breathtaking.

We visited the Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier, the oldest botanical garden in France, after viewing the Cathédrale St.-Pierre, sometimes known as "Fort St. Peter" because of its fortress-like appearance. It was founded in 1593. We discovered a Phillyrea latifolia tree there, with a crooked, hollow trunk. Each one included a small piece of folded paper. Visitors confess to the tree their most intimate aspirations, writing them on small pieces of paper and tucking them into the notches, according to the sign that said, "This filaire à feuille large is the oldest tree in the garden at more than 400 years old." La boîte aux lettres des amoureux, or the lover's mailbox, is the name given to the tree.

It wasn't exactly a wish, but I tore a piece of paper from my journal and scrawled, "Vive la France." But as I stood in front of this ancient tree on a beautiful spring afternoon with my daughter and our new buddy Geoffrey behind me, I couldn't think of anything better to wish for.

Geoffrey remarked, "Vines are like people. We were travelling into the Languedoc countryside in Geoffrey's automobile when he said, "They have a lifespan." There were vineyards everywhere. A young vine begins to produce after roughly three years. It is strong for a time. It produces less as it gets older. However, the flavour of the elder grapes is deeper and more intense.

He remarked, "This is an exciting time to be producing in this area. Since the turn of the century, Languedoc has seen a revival. These days, some of the most affordable and high-quality wines in the world are produced in this region, in part because vintners there continue to use traditional, non-industrial methods to produce distinctive, high-quality wines.

"What is the commercial approach?Hallie enquired.

"Lots of additives," Geoffrey remarked. "Mixing without considering the terroir."

Since its founding in 1701, the same family has owned and managed Domaine Montrose. The current owners are Olivier and Jeanne Coste, children of Bernard Coste. Three different soil types can be found in their ancestral lands: clay-limestone, terraces made of pebbles that trap heat, and dark volcanic soil. This third variety of grape is uncommon in France. But more than only soil is included in a wine's terroir, according to Geoffrey. It also takes into account factors like weather patterns, terrain slope, and solar exposure.

As we slowed down and entered a lengthy driveway between rows of four-foot-tall vines, I could see bunches of young, bright green grapes. Lascar, the family's friendly huge dog, greeted us. He licked Hallie's palm before returning to sleep in the courtyard's shade.
Olivier and Jeanne

The Coste residence is a typical French country manor of the type prevalent in the south of the country. It is big, cosy, and stylishly rustic, with an ocher façade, gray-blue wooden shutters, and a roof with terra-cotta tiles. The north-facing wall was painted with a sundial, I noted. The Latin phrase DUCERE SOLE EO (Let the sun guide him) was written above it. The surroundings were lush, with cypress, tall, dry pines, low palm trees, and loquat trees bearing ripe yellow fruits.

Michel Le Goaec, who along with Olivier is responsible for the wine's development, was waiting for us in the above-ground cellar as Geoffrey led us through a pair of shabby wooden doors and into its cold, gloomy interior. Since 1995, when the vineyard began making its own bottles rather than just selling grapes in bulk to the neighbourhood cooperative, Le Goaec has served as Domaine Montrose's cellar master. He was kind enough to teach the fundamentals in English because my French is only fair and nowhere near advanced enough to understand the vocabulary of wine making.

The grapes are put into a pneumatic press after harvesting, which takes place at night. Fruit is gently squeezed against the edges of the press by a balloon, and the juice is then collected in an underground container. The grapes sustain the least amount of harm while using this technique, which relies on gravity. Some wines, particularly high-end rosés, allow the juice to macerate with the skins in order to extract colour and tannins. Other times, the skins are quickly removed after pressing. The liquid is then pumped into concrete (for reds) or stainless steel (for whites and rosés) tanks for fermentation after the sediments sink to the bottom of the tank. Michel clarified that he utilises a range of yeasts to create flavour differences. Le Goaec asserted that fermentation is finished when there is no longer any sugar left for the yeast to "eat."
I found it difficult to follow as he explained his blending procedure: "The first red is the most difficult; sometimes I must blend up to five varieties to discover the right notes." It was more of a conceptual barrier than a verbal one. Blending is a sensory ability that must be learned via years of trial and error. It marked the boundary between "how-to" and savoir-faire.

Geoffrey subsequently remarked, "There's a particular mysticism surrounding wine manufacturing. At the top of the Valros Tower, which is located next to the Montrose property, we were standing. YOU HAVE AVOIDED A VOLCANIQUE LOT! The sign stated. The location housed a necropolis from the seventh to the tenth centuries and a castle in the thirteenth century (you are at the top of a volcanic island!). Awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding landscape might be seen. The numerous appellations, or wine-producing regions, were identified by directional signs, such AOP Corbières and Minervois. Someone had written CANADA with a Sharpie arrow in one place.

Geoffrey opened his arms wide, pointing at the vines, saying, "Despite that mystique, at the end of the day it's all about this. “Agriculture. Depending on the weather. Winemaking is a simple profession at its core.

Lunch was waiting for us back at the house. Bernard Coste, his wife Marie, and their son Olivier, who now runs the family firm, were all people Geoffrey introduced to us to. Later, we got to know Valentine, Olivier's wife, and their three kids. I mistakenly thought Marie was the mother of the kids until I met Valentine since all the grownups exuded a natural, wonderful youthfulness. Your kids are so adorable, "Vos enfants sont si mignons." "Oh, my little kids!Marie chuckled.

While the adults munched on fava beans and engaged in small conversation, the kids fished for tadpoles in the stone pond. The Prestige, a rosé made from Grenache and Rolle grapes, was what we sipped. Mandarin and spice undertones were present. Bourride de baudroie, a stewed monkfish dish with vegetables and homemade mayonnaise served over rice, was the main course. We tasted the 1701 Montrose flagship cuvée, a blend of Roussanne from the garrigue, or scrubland, and Grenache Noir from the volcanic terroir. One of the top rosés in the world, the 1701 is partially matured in oak barrels.

Geoffrey continued

While we were eating, Bernard told us how his family's vineyard went from being a little weekend business to a full-time enterprise with a global clientele. It is often sold to nations with colder climates, such as Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Marie explained to me that one of the main reasons they chose to make their former vacation property their year-round residence was because they wanted to live there as a family, including her parents, kids, and grandchildren. The Costes embodied the contrast that Geoffrey had before mentioned: mystique and humility in a natural, graceful synergy.

In the middle of the cheese course, Olivier got up from his seat.

He said in English, "We think wine should be available to everyone, not just connoisseurs. "Rosé is a simple wine to consume. It is friendly and brimming with friendliness, family, and warmth.
He said, "When you drink our wines, you're drinking the south of France and our lifestyle here," and I couldn't help but think of the sundial I'd seen earlier: let the sun guide him. It was an unexpected confluence: generations of winemakers bottling the sun and shipping it out to the world; scientists from all over the world coming here to build a synthetic sun.

It was market day back in the heart of Aix, and the squares were crowded with stalls selling rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables, baskets of peonies and roses, thick melty sheep cheeses, thin hard goat cheeses flavoured with herbs, shimmering fish and craggy oysters spread out on chipped ice, hand-made Marseille soap, and jars of honeycomb.

Hallie and I walked uphill on Avenue Paul Cézanne in the hopes of visiting the Atelier de Cézanne, where the renowned artist worked from 1902 until his death in 1906. Sadly, the studio was still closed due to COVID. On the way back, we stopped at Aix Cathedral, where children in white robes flocked near the entrance for the first in-person confirmation since the lockdowns ended.
Atelier de Cézanne

Hallie's host mother Marie-Paule and her husband Xavier, along with their daughter Juliette, invited us to lunch on the terrace the day before we left. "They're a little bit formal," Hallie had warned me. "You'll have to speak in French. Xavier doesn't speak English. Plus, it's their job to make sure I get practise."
We sat under an awning beside their swimming pool, with olives and chips, and Marie-Paule brought out a salad of bulgur, eggplant, peppers and nectarines, topped with feta and another type of cheese, the name of which Marie-Paule couldn't remember, and hugged us both. Xavier is an amateur photographer; their daughter 

Juliette attends a nearby university.

It's from Chypre, she declared.

We took turns speculating: Manchego? Roquefort? I heard "sheep," so we did.

"Non," Xavier responded, "Chypre."

"Je comprends," I murmured, "Mouton. Baa baa."

"On veut dire le pays," Marie-Paule remarked, "we mean the country. The cheese, Halloumi, was from Cyprus. Chypre." Xavier and Marie-Paule exchanged glances before laughing.
They loved it, they remarked, but is it usually so dirty? After lunch, we walked inside where Xavier showed us some of his artwork, images he had shot while in New York City, and then it was time for the long-awaited parting.

I could tell Hallie was tearful as she said, "Thank you so much for everything you did for me last year," and Marie-Paule gave her a quick hug.

She said, "You will be back, both of you," as if it were a given.

Perhaps, I reasoned, "Me voici," it was sufficient in Aix at that very moment.

2023-06-24  Maliyah Mah