Last night was a lovely evening at the winery here in the village.  It was a catered dinner by Ken & Alison, an American couple who have lived in this area for some time.  They cater events all year long and during the summer there a number of their dinners at various wineries.  

This particular winery is one of our favorites because the wines are good, the owner is a very nice man,  and it is right around the corner from our house.

It was a warm and humid night with the cigales still buzzing away at 9 pm.  As at most of these events, most of the guests were Brits with a sprinkling of Aussies.  The setting was around the decorative pool by the attractive home of the winery owners, Michel and Marianne Cros.

The food and wines were excellent and abundant.  Lovely gazpacho, white fish with peas, grilled beef salad, marinated lamb on skewer, and homemade ice cream.

There was good conversation, mostly English, with some French.  The many course dinner started at 8 pm and ended at midnight.

Best of all was a wonderful chantuese who primarily sang songs popularized by Edith Piaf and a few American and Spanish ones.  Everyone enjoyed her.  Here 
Several years ago I got to experience Bastille Day in Paris.  It was a gala holiday there with the huge military parade on the Champes Elysee and military jets flying overhead.  Afterwards there were parties all around the City sponsored by the Pompiers (firefighters).  Of course it also rained on the parade, a gigantic thunderstorm with such heavy rain that they had to shut down a couple of the metro stations.
The mayor is in the center. A very old soldier from WWII holds the flag.
Yesterday in the village I attended a much smaller, less grand, but one that felt more patriotic and intimate.  During the day many houses proudly displayed the French flag.  Apparently there were some game competitions for the children such a tug of war but we only heard about this and later saw awards being presented to some proud winners.

The evening event was very special.  Everyone gathers at the top of the village, next to the tennis courts.  This is where all the local fetes (festivals) are held as well as the petanque games (in Italy it is called bocchi ball).  The festivities began at 7 pm with “appertifs” on your own (soft drinks, beer, wine).  Beer appeared to be the favored beverage as yesterday was REALLY hot and humid and continued to be into the evening.

It was so warm that the cigales were buzzing as late as 10 pm.  Cigales (or cicasdas we call them in the USA) are a locust type of insect with a very brief lifespan.  They remain dormant in the ground in their larval stage and eventually emerge from trees.  They begin maturing in midsummer when the weather gets warm and shed their outer shells changing into a very pretty insect looking a little like a small dragon fly.  They are one of the symbols of our region here.  As the weather warms up the males start making a very loud incessant buzzing noise.  They keep this up from about 10 am until 7 pm daily during their life span which is only like 40 days.  They were late arriving this year but are here in full force now.

A mature cigale.
There was a good turnout (like just about everyone who lives in the village).  Some years ago the event (which includes dinner) was free but apparently there were a lot of freeloaders from other villages so now there is a nominal charge of $5 for a ticket.  There was a lot of socializing and catching up on people’s news between folks who hadn’t seen each other for awhile.

We had a good laugh with our next door neighbor.  About two months ago we had noticed she had two chickens roaming in her garden, a mother hen and a maturing chick.  The chick has been getting bigger.  The chickens are more like pets than poultry to the owners.  The chickens follow them around the garden and they talk to them.  A couple of weeks ago we asked our neighbor if they were going to have any roosters.  “Oh no, only femmes,” she insisted.  Early yesterday we heard a very immature cockadoodledoo next door.  Last night we told her our suspicions, she confirmed them, and we had a good laugh.  There has been no crowing there today so we worry about the young cock’s status.

I am surprised now at how many people here I recognize and have a friendly acquaintance relationship with many.  Of course we also have a dear close friends.  There are many evenings we spent at each other's homes.  Last week we had a very special evening with some good friends here at our "maison".  One couple have a delightful four-year-old who is very special.  He is fascinated by pirates so we surprised him with some pirate presents.  

At 8 pm the formal event began.  The mayor gave a speech which emphasized liberty, justice, equality, and the importance of separation of church and state (sound familiar?).  Then he led everyone in singing the national anthem.

We sat with our friends during dinner.  There was great conversation, much laughter, pretty good wine, and so so food.  Well what do you expect for 5 Euros?  After dinner there was an excellent fireworks display!!
We left before the DJ started and dancing ensued.  However just before that started there was something we never expected and found it deeply moving.  All the children, young ones accompanied by parents, paraded through the old village carrying lanterns.  The mayor led the parade.  This is apparently a very old tradition.  What a night!
There have been several requests to put more about Angel on the blog.  She is fully adjusted to life in the village and the Mediterranean way of life.  Mid day she is one hot dog.  She usually is asleep in the living room out of the sun.  That is unless its mealtime.  In that case she is the first one to the table in the garden where she awaits us eagerly and is soon rewarded with people food treats.

We aren't usually able to take her with us on outings as it is just too hot for her.  If we are going to the mountains then we usually bring her along as it is so much cooler there and she can usually come along wherever we are going once we are out of the car.

In the cooler evenings she is much more active and usually spends her time with us in the garden, that is where we spend almost all our time if we are home and not asleep.  She likes exploring all the nooks and crannies in the garden and we are sure we've got some critters in the wood pile as she is fascinated with it, especially in the evening.

During the night she is next to us in her little dog bed right by the fan that keeps all of us cool enough to sleep.

But her favorite time of day is her morning walk, which I take her on every day in the cool air before it starts heating up.  

According to Yves, a man who lived here in the since he was a very young child, this street was the original main street of the village. He pointed out various houses that used to be shops; the butcher, the baker, the veterinarian. It now seems so narrow to have served for such a purpose and is only open for pedestrians. Yves also explained that when he was a child everyone spoke Languedocian, not French. Quite a few of the older people here still speak it when they are together.
This is the main square, if you could call it that. It has one of the two bakeries, a tiny grocery, and the only restaurant and bar. On another “main street” there is a second bakery and also a small store, owned and run by a delightful woman friend, that stocks products of the land here with local produce, wines, and she has recently homemade sausages.
Walking along the narrow streets, you pass by the “village houses”. These are the original ones that are right next to each other and have no land. Some people have created garden spaces on top or on little decks but most have no outside spaces. Here two cats enjoy some fresh air. Our home is not original to the village in the old days but was added quite a long time ago next to what was originally a winery. Our house has plenty of outside space, larger rooms, and a beautiful garden in back.
Here is the City Hall or “Hotel de Ville”. Every village usually has one. There is an elected mayor and council. Our mayor is very popular and a very charming and handsome man. We know several members of the council. One is our good friend Linda, an English woman who has lived here twenty years and another is the owner of the winery across the street from us. Very often tourist mistake “Hotels de Ville” to actually be a hotel with lodging.

John loves to feed the birds in the garden – stale bread and peanuts (their special treat). Two doves have become regular visitors and quite tame. John talks to them and they follow him all around the garden. They are obvious a pair and nuzzle each other frequently. Here they sit waiting for him to feed them their breakfast. Below you can see them following John the Pied Piper.
Summer has definitely arrived.   Hot humid days and pleasant warm evenings.  The cigales are buzzing like mad - zzz, zzz, zzz.  The start up their noisey mating call about noon and it goes on until late afternoon.  Thank goodness since their noise-making is dependent on the temperature being quite hot, they are silent when we are sleeping.

It is perfect beach weather and the water is divine for a "nage" - swim.  We've spent several days there - being completely decadent renting a chaise and parasol for the day or taking a boat ride from Cap d'Agde and then going for a swim.  One day a week I go with my neighbor, Suzette, down to the beach for a nice walk in the water and then I go for a short swim.  Today we will take her grandchildren along.

"I love it here" Angel tells us every day. She enjoys her cool morning walk, sleeps during the day, and is active in the evening. She never misses a meal with us in the garden.
We try to take walks in the early morning before the days really heats up.  Suzette likes to walk with me and so does John.  You can see our village behind Suzette.  The old village is what you see on the hill.  The newer homes spread outward, mainly to the right in this picture.
Something very different here which has taken me some time to get used to is that people just drop in.  On the evening above we had invited Yves and Jackie for dinner.  Just as they arrived so did three local gents and two dogs.  So I delayed serving dinner and fortunately it was something that could be put on hold.    This is something that happens here that doesn't in the USA.  People just drop in for short visits without any notice.  Almost always they bring you something from their garden - string beans, corgettes, a few eggs.  We had wonderful conversation in a wide mix of English, French, and pantomime.   The two visiting dogs - Kiwi, an old male golden, and Dolly a young pointer-type female, showed Angel a good time.  Angel loved running with the big dogs.
This is how it looks most evenings in our garden.  Definitely the best time of day (unless its a day you went to the beach of course).
The Tour de France passed by our way last Friday.  It left Montpellier the large city to the east of us in the morning and passed through Pezenas on its way to Albi.  Coincidentally summer arrived here on the same day.  We drove into Pezenas several hours before the "caravan" was due to arrive so we could get a parking place and scout out the best place for viewing.  We selected the roundabout at the town center with a fountain in the middle.

As we waited from 10 am to 11:15 am the heat became intense and the sun was really beating down.  The shaded areas were not in good position for photos and we wanted to protect our location so we stood our ground in the heat.  Fortunately some souvenir venders had umbrellas for sale.
Once the caravan arrived it was very entertaining.  There were perhaps near one hundred advertising vehicles.  The one above was most welcome as it sprayed the crowd with cold water.  Lots had loud music and dancing passengers.  Sweets and all types of advertising "junk" were thrown to the greedy crowd and people grabbed items in the air as though they were bridesmaids jockeying for the bouquet.  Of course there were also lots of press, officials, and security vehicles in the parade. 

A low flying helicopter foretold the arrival of the racers to loud cheering from the crowd, flag waving, and horn blowing.  The bikes flew right by us in probably less than a minute. 

Most every village has a "Fete" in the summer each year.   The Fete is an event for people to come together and socialize, have a meal, and see a show.  This usually involves some sort of "spectacular".  There are a number  of entertaining groups that makes a circuit of these fetes.

The Fete this year was held on the Sunday following the St. Pierre event.  When the advertising brochure arrived it featured a showgirl on the cover.  This didn't seem particularly unusual as in the past the Fetes here have costumed dancers and elaborate song and dance numbers.  However, this year the entertainment was rather unique.  It was a full on lip-synced drag queen show.

The audience seemed a bit mixed in its reaction but generally seemed to take it in stride.
Wow what a weekend in this normally tranquil little village.  First the Friday evening of St. Pierre, dancing in the square Saturday night (we hung out at home with friends), then Sunday with a cart race through the streets, and Sunday night the annual village "Fete".

Of all of these the Course de Caisses a Savon is by far the most unique and my favorite.  Apparently Abeilhan is the only village with this particular event and it is becoming quite well known in the region.  This is the event's fourth year and apparently it has gotten bigger and better each year.  

When we left our house at 10 am we knew it was going to be quite a day - there were parked cars lining our street which at most has one or two.  We rounded the corner at the end of our street and saw the streets packed with people of all ages.  The course in down the main town street (which is not very slopped) and then the carts turn down a pretty steep little street.  At the foot of that hill the carts have to make a pretty sharp right turn.  Spectators are positioned behind metal barriers and at curves old tires are piled for protection.

There look to be about 25 vehicles officially participating.  The carts are home constructed and the inner workings are probably a bit like the old "soap box derbies" of my childhood.   There is no mechanical propulsion although some have pretty spectacular sound systems and colored smoke.  Creativity is prized for the vehicle theme, design, and driver/passenger costumes.  

The crowd favorite is a gondola, designed to resemble the jousting boats of Sete, which is driven by the owner of a local winery and he is wearing the traditional Sete costume.  His passengers are dressed as newlyweds with the bride (in drag) with gigantic bosoms.  There were also a number of regular all terrain vehicles (ATVs) zipping through the course to the finish line to tow the carts back to the beginning so they could repeat their run.  One ATV was identified as an ambulance with a red cross on the back, fake IV bags hanging from stands, and a crazy siren (I think it might actually have been carrying the first aid team.

Other impressive themes were a high topped shoe, a bathtub (literally), a circus wagon, and an airplane.   First the carts came through the course one by one, with yellow-shirted staffers blowing whistles to give the go ahead that the course was clear.  There were quite a few crashes on the tight right turn but no one was injured and we only saw one cart that appeared to be "totaled".

The last run was all the carts coming through the course at the same time.  It was mighty impressive.  After this last run, the vehicles were all assembled at the town square so they could be admired up close.  Then prizes were awarded by the mayor and the gondola was awarded the highest prize.

The event ended at 12:30 pm but the festivities continued (so we were told) through the afternoon at the bar in the main square.  
At the summit of a hill just outside our village is the tiny Chapel of Saint Pierre.  It was built in the early 1800s.  Every year on the Feast Day of St. Pierre the village celebrates mass here, outside as the chapel would hold only about 10 people.  After mass there is a dinner with very mediocre food but much better wine.

The marker lists the date as 1805.
The chapel was apparently in a very deteriorated condition after 100+ years of neglect.  A small group of Abeilhan’s older set, who remembered how important the chapel was to their ancestors, took on the project to rehabilitate it.  Their pictures are on the chapel wall, most are dead now.   John remembers Uncle Nene, the fellow wearing a beret.  

 The chapel  is now fully restored with a new roof, repaired walls, and an ornate metal door.  The man who made the door was there to show off his work.
The priest said Mass under the trees.  We didn’t attend but could hear sweet French voices singing hymns.  The evening was cool and windy.  My friend Suzette tells me that every year during the Mass at St. Pierre’s you can barely hear the priest because of the cigales’ loud buzzing in the trees.  However, due to the cool weather this year the cicadas are late and so it is quiet except for the wind.

After mass is the dinner.  The majority of the crowd is on the elderly side, I guess we sit in.  We came prepared with our own silverware but most of the folks have brought their full dinner service including dishes and wine glasses.  We make do with paper plates and plastic glasses.  We are with a jolly crowd, our friends Jack and Linda, John S. and his new lady love, and four delightful Irish ladies.  We have a lovely time despite being very cold (I thought a sweater would be sufficient).  It is a long evening and there is no bathroom on site so several of us have to visit the bushes by the parking lot!  Everyone has a merry time.  This is a good tradition.
Just north of our village the low mountains begin.  The Herault river, which gives its name to our re gion, creates a gorge in the limestone.  The stone is quite porous and water seeps through it easily.  For a million years this action has created a gigantic cave with enormous stalagmites and stalactites.  I visited the cave before but John had never seen it so it was fun to take him.  

The caverns are huge.  It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the early explorers crawling about in the dark inside the earth.  There are now easy walkways and it is well lit and reasonably dry inside.  In one very large "room" the tour guide turns off the lights and there is a magical light show with an organ playing the "Clamouse Concerto".  Impressive.

We drove further up the road to St. Gillhem de Desert for lunch.  This is one of the most picturesque villages in France.  It is nestled in narrow shallow ravine just above the Herault river.  It is a popular tourist site so, unfortunately, it is always crowded.  This day since we were a little late for lunch it was really tough to get a table as many of the places were already done with lunch service.  Eventually we managed to get a seat and were happy to get something to eat, even if it was not very good.

On the way home we came upon three mares, two with new colts.  One was so young he could scarcely stand on his own.  We fed his mom some apples.