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Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

I wrote this “haiku” a couple of years ago:

Two Yank commandos 

Machined gunned from a sidecar

‘Mort pour Liberté’

Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier were members of a fifteen-strong American commando unit parachuted into the south Tarn on the night of the 6th of August 1944, as part of an allied plan to disrupt supply lines in southern France prior to D-Day in the South–scheduled for the 15th August.

On patrol, a couple of days after the drop, the group spotted a Nazi motorbike unit heading up from Mazamet towards the small village of Le Rialet to investigate an attack by local maquis–that had succeeded in killing a cow and injuring a German soldier.

The  commandos decided to ambush the unit on its way down.

The plan went awry and in the skirmish two Americans, the oldest (Gautier 33) and youngest (Spaur 19), were shot and killed.

The story of the ambush on the back of the memorial at the spot where it happened

“Can you imagine the disbelief of a Nazi patrol driving up the narrow road from Mazamet towards Le Rialet in August 1944 when they see young men in American uniforms come out of the woods to attack them,” Meredith said, as we headed up the road to the annual commemoration ceremony on Saturday.

“D-Day had happened on June 6th in Normandy and the allies were still stuck there. The Germans must have thought–‘what on earth are American soldiers doing–so far south?’.”

The element of surprise might have given the OSS commandos (Office of Strategic Services–forerunner of the CIA) an added advantage as they attacked the German column–that split-second that counts.

Meredith was scheduled to carry the Stars and Stripes at the ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary.

She is the flag carrier (Porte Drapeau) at annual commemoration ceremonies in Castres and a few years ago was asked to attend this event in Le Rialet.

We learned the remarkable story of the commando unit’s existence from Gilbert Brial–whom we met at one of the commemorations.

Gilbert Brial with Thierry Pauthe–in the uniform of a GI.

Gilbert was 18 in August 1944 and a member of Corps Franc du Sidobre–one of several Maquis groups operating in this mountainous region of the Tarn.

The number of surviving ancien combatants has dwindled over the years Meredith has been attending the ceremonies.

Gilbert is 92 now and ailing, but has been an active campaigner to keep the story alive.

The French expression le devoir de mémoire–the duty to remember–perfectly describes Gilbert’s attitude.

Meredith had assumed the story was well known and that Gilbert must have told it to the media many times.

“Jamais!” [Never!] Gilbert said.

Intrigued and moved, she pursued the story and with the help of the American consul at the time, obtained a Fulbright grant, enabling her to record a series of on camera interviews with most of the surviving members of the Maquis–French rural Resistance fighters.

She was hoping to make a documentary of the story.

Sadly none of the American OSS commandos were still alive, though she made contact with some of their families and several have visited the Tarn.

The OSS team’s code name was PAT.

Read her full account of the remarkable Fourteen days in August 1944, when the surviving members of the commando unit succeeded in preventing local occupation forces from rushing troops and guns to Provence, where the southern D-Day was launched on a beach near St. Tropez.

They also helped liberate our local town, Castres, from Nazi occupation.

Next year is the 75th anniversary and Meredith is hoping for a large turn-out.

At the war memorial, Monsieur Yvan Cros, one of the few maquisards still alive, laid a wreath in memory of his comrades.

M.Cros with La Porte Drapeau Americaine

As the names on the memorial are read out, each is remembered with the spoken words–Mort pour la France for the French and Mort pour La Liberté for Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier.


It touches the heart.

 

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Something is afoot–it’s plain to see as I drive into Castres for the market yesterday.

Blue and white everywhere–balloons and posters, flags and bunting adorn the private houses on the route into town.

A large banner hangs from a balcony on the facade of the theatre and an oversize CO shirt from a factory building.

It seems every shop has a display.

 

Only the austere Cathedral de Saint Benoit–remains aloof.

Allez les Bleus–Allez les CO

Go Blues–Go Castres Olympique!

Support our brave lads tonight!–they’ll need every last hurrah!

I quickly find a legitimate parking space–a rare event.

The market is relatively quiet.

There is no queue at the fishstall–mussels for lunch and monkfish for dinner.

Our friend Flo is putting the finishing touches to her beautiful stall of prime colored spices.

She looks fed up and flustered.

“Partout le monde ne parle que du Rugby.”

Nothing but RUGBY–everyone’s only talking about the RUGBY!

At the dry fruit and olive stand I’m told by an astonished marchande that this morning 44 coaches have left for Paris and an entire TGV (high speed train)–carrying more than a thousand fans–has been chartered.

No wonder the market is easier to move around in!

It is the final match of the French rugby season and Castres Olympique are the unexpected rivals to Montpellier–considered the best team of the season by a margin. (We can’t claim to be fervent fans of our local team–but our interest is aroused at moment like these)

Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) are automatic qualifiers for the final by finishing the season TOP of the six best teams.

They are owned by what the papers snootily call a “multi-millionaire”–with the implication that money has played a key role in their success.

CO themselves have been kept afloat for years by the local pharmaceutical company–such is the way of the rugby world these days.

They’ve had a patchy season–but have shown guts and determination to reach this far. The press have dubbed them underdogs, plucky outsiders!

Though they beat Toulouse and Racing 92 of Paris, tonight they’ll be hard pressed–is the scuttlebutt.

MHR are cruising to their first ever Bouclier (Shield) de Brennus (named for the man who designed it way back in 1892).

I turn on France 2 TV after supper and see the great sporting crucible of le Stade de France awash with blue and white.

The train was clearly on time.

The match has just restarted after the interval and I am amazed and delighted to see the score at the top of the screen.

Castres Olympique 19      Montpellier

I’m engaged and committed–but this is going to be a tense watch.

Castres are quickly under pressure and lose a star player to the sin bin.

The big men of Montpellier take advantage and narrow the gap to 19-13.

I begin to panic.

Castres, down to fourteen men, defend with guts and determination.

The Montpellier goal kicker is disastrously off form and misses a vital kick at a critical moment.

(The Montpellier captain, at the end, admits that Castres hardly made a mistake).

Castres, thrillingly, go on to score twice more–and CLINCH the match!

The faces of triumph and disappointment

The stadium is awash with blue and white again– and tears flow freely on the pitch and in the stands.

A night of Rugby passion and drama!

Les Bleus ont gagnés–the Blues have triumphed–and are dubbed unlikely, but worthy winners by the press.

Sunday now and I am on my walk before lunch. As I turn for home a plane goes over–not unusual– there are two flights daily–Castres-Paris.

When a second and third go over, I realize that this not a usual day.

Must be the team and some of the fans returning in triumph to celebrate CO‘s fifth Bouclier de Brennus in its history.

The press is unforgiving:

“La nuit l’ogre de Montpellier était édentée!” [the night the beast of Montpellier had its teeth knocked out!]

In Castres today, the town is celebrating.

Our cheese merchant, Dominique,

a long time CO fan–describes the scene last night with the giant screen set up in Place Pierre Fabre–named for the founder of the Pharma company that has backed the team for years.

It was “très tendu“–very tense, he says–well, I know what he means!

Things are more relaxed now as the last of the players prepare to leave the scene–one keeping the trophy close to his chest.

 

“This is ours, mate–we’ve earned it!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kestrels again

Just seen a red, black and white-headed woodpecker (Pileated), land nervously on the bird table.

This is a first–they are such shy creatures.

He managed a half-minute feed before a jealous Jay galumphed him off.

These jumbo jets of the bird world–recent arrivals–scatter all before them; the whole structure rocks as they land and take off.

The table has seen less activity lately.

Partly because the weather has improved–so there is food for the birds in the newly- awaked fields and hedgerows.

But there is another factor: Our kestrels are back!

Well, we can’t be sure that they are the same couple who raised their youngsters in the loft last year but we like to think they are.

The grill in the little round window that offers a shaft of light to the loft–an oeil-de-boeuf (bull’s eye)–at some stage got pushed aside, offering enough room for a cozy nest box.

Last year we saw them settled in–then missed most of the action, while we crisscrossed America during the month of May.

(Missed the Spring in the Tarn too–never again!)

This afternoon photographer Meredith stealthily caught five hatched chicks moving together in a blur of white feathers–like a mini moshpit at a rock concert.

Mum and Dad spend the day on allez-retour trips into the countryside behind the house bringing back tidbits for the new arrivals.

We watch from the terrace holding our breath, not daring to move, as the returning bird approaches.

Alice our neighbor says as long as the birds think you are otherwise engaged it will carry on regardless.

We spot the bird about two hundred meters out, floating in on the air currents–but with a target to hit.

As it gets closer to home, we see it judging the distance, using its wings for balance–like a tightrope walker with a long pole steadying themselves on the wire before skipping onto the launch pad.

Suddenly it veers off to the left.

It senses an alien presence–a sleeping Beau or two peeping-tom humans; then circles again and approaches as before.

At the last minute it veers off again–this time straight up and over the roof and out of sight.

We wait for a long minute–transfixed.

Here it comes again on a different approach–third time lucky.

This time, no hesitation–in it goes, folding itself into the opening–a brilliant soft landing.

Mission accomplished–cargo delivered.

But the mini mosh is never satisfied and a few moments later, it leaves again–and the hunt resumes.

 

 

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Here is the recipe (re-published) for in-season asparagus as requested on Facebook.


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The lovely green spears were in Realmont market today at reasonable prices.

I bought a kilo of straight ones for Friday dinner with our guests, arriving from the USA.

A second of less than perfect (less expensive too) specimens–asperges tordues (twisted)–to make this very simple frittata for lunch.

I have five eggs left in the pantry and a red onion. Add some cheese and seasoning–and there you have the ingredients!

Something different to do with this vegetable with a relatively short-lived season and a use for the cheaper spears with the less than perfect appearance.

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  • 250gms/8oz asparagus spears–prepared weight–ie tough ends removed and sliced on the diagonal into smallish pieces
  • 1 red onion–peeled and halved and sliced
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 5 eggs–beaten

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  • 2oz grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper

Serves 2 to 4 people 

Soften the onion in the olive oil until it begins to caramelize a little–10 to 15 minutes

Add the asparagus pieces and mix in adding some salt and a twist or two of pepper.

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Cook the mix over a gentle heat until the asparagus begins to soften. I like them to retain a little bite–about 10 minutes.

Let this cool.

Then ease into the beaten egg mix.

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Fold in the cheese and check the seasoning.

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Heat a tablespoon of oil in a 81/2 inch pan to hot–and fold in the egg mix and spread it evenly.

You can use a 10″ pan of course but the frittata will be thinner.

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Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest and cook for 30 minutes.

There should be just a small pool of liquid left on top.

Finish it under a grill for 30 seconds.

 

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Be careful taking the pan out of the oven–it is very hot, as I was reminded when the pan touched the side of my hand by accident–ouch!

Loosen the frittata round the edges of the pan with a fish slice or spatula and ease it out onto a favorite platter.

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“High on the DING scale!” said Meredith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our neighbor and friend, Joan, dropped by this week with a bag of broad beans (also known as fava beans)–a big bag.

The chore with broad beans is that they have to be shelled before you cook them.

And often de-podded too.

As they mature the outer skin becomes tough and the true delicate taste is missed.

Handy to have guests around in the broad bean season.

“Anything I can do?”

“Well funny you should mention it…”

If you are lucky and have a generous neighbor with green fingers, you could, like us, be gifted with beans so fresh and young that they only require shelling not de-podding too.

Joan is doubly generous; the beans she gave us were picked that day, fully-shelled and ready to cook.

Joan and Meredith went walking round the lake this morning and the beans came up–so to speak.

How was I proposing to cook them?

Joan is eating vegan at the moment, so a favorite way chez nous–broad beans with shallot and bacon–is not possible chez elle.

For lunch today I forgot about the bacon and gently softened a shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil.

Then added 8oz of the ready-to-cook beans*, two tablespoons of water, some fresh mint leaves and salt. I covered the pan and cooked the beans to just tender–about 10 minutes**. I added a little more water along the way, but not too much–as the delicate taste risks being dissipated.

You could–if you are not eating vegan–crumble some feta over the cooking beans, which melts nicely into the water to form a little sauce.

But watch out that the feta doesn’t make the bean too salty.

Thank you, Joan!

Our doubly seasonal lunch included these asparagus roasted with flakes of pecorino and olive oil

 

*I cooked the beans from the freezer where I had stored them in 8oz baggies, immediately on receiving them. Straight into the pan on a gentle heat.

** Since the beans today were coming from the freezer, they took a bit longer to cook. If you’re working with fresh, it’s more like 7-8 minutes–but you need to watch over them and test.

 

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I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“What are you going to do with the church?”

Yesterday we received a strong hint from the building herself.

 

Our friend, Lowrie Blake (who runs cello workshops around here in summer) came over and drew the bow of her beautiful cello across its strings– and a magical sound resulted!

It was a thrilling and significant moment in the restoration de  l’église.

It pointed the way forward as the notes of Bach’s Minuets 1 and 2 and the Sarabande from the Suite in G major filled the space–and sent shivers down our backs and brought a tear to the eye.

As Lowri played Bach excerpts, one could almost feel the church

E X P A N D with pride.

Lowri said she was impressed; playing was no effort–she floated on an acoustic cloud.

In some places, she says, it is an effort to play–not in this church.

Woodwind and strings, she suggests, are ideal combos–quintets and quartets.

“How long, oh Lord, how long have I had to wait to be appreciated!”

The battered, old building has offered its services to the small parish since it was constructed 150 years ago–built to accommodate the growing population of believers.

There were benches inside to seat well over 60 “adepts” (followers)–more like a hundred–many of them now at rest in the cemetery.

On All Saints/Toussaint (November First) there is still a trickle who come to pay respects to their ancestors and some who remember the church from their childhood–but this congregation has dwindled.

When we arrived in July 1990, the church was still functioning for funerals and two masses a year.

A few years later it was closed on the order of the Mairie of Lautrec (who owned the building).

Trop dangereux! Too dangerous a state to remain in operation.”

There has been movement in some walls but clearly our church had no intention of yielding to the storms and the tempests, high winds and torrential rains or the dire predictions of a temporal power.

I’m still here, she cries, and the doubters can go hang!

 

 

 

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