Monday, 23 December 2013

The new Tabac

Tabacs in France are institutions and survive reasonably well thanks to the law where prices are fixed and licences to sell tobacco products are based on local population figures. Supermarkets can't sell tobacco although a Tabac is often attached. They also diversify somewhat; the Aspiran Tabac sells newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets, scratch cards, confectionery, greetings cards, postcards, drinks, wine, gifts, various domestic replacements and even flowers. Since the closure of the village "La Poste" the Tabac has provided postal services boosted by significantly longer opening hours. Even photocopying services are offered.

A new couple have taken over and injected some energy into the operation. They converted their ground floor cave next door into a swish cosy new Tabac that opened in the autumn 2013. The previous Tabac (on the right in the photo) was rented so the relocation has saved ongoing costs.

Chrysanthemums for sale. Most will have been placed in the cemetery for Toussaint (1st November).

A handsome selection of local wines are stocked, including selections from four of the communes' independent domains.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Notre Dame de la Paix

Our lady of the peace sits among the pine trees atop the southern most hill of Les Pins.

Despite the whole structure being 9.5m high she's hard to spot from the village, although in the right light there's a good view from the entrance to the Tabac.

Constructed in 1904 the statue weighs 1,750 kilograms. Cast in the foundry at Tusey of Vaucouleurs in Meuse (Lorraine) it arrived by train at Aspiran station.

On the night of 25/26 August 1944 the lady was credited with miraculously protecting the village from hoards of vandals.

In 2011 the statue was given a complete makeover, my photo from 2004 is included as a comparison.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

10 Observaions on figs

Of all the sauvage foods available figs, at least for those who like them, reign supreme.

2013 has been an unusual year by the standards of the last decade. Record rains in March mean the water table has been restored to levels not seen for years. A cold spring has resulted in everything running some 2 weeks late, including the vendanges, although touch wood the grapes are healthy so far. Something invariably fails each season, but this year there are extra casualties. Commercial and wild almonds are non-existent due to a false spring back in February. Most varieties of apricots failed to set because of rain and cold. There are few wild quinces on the way. Pomegranates struggle to ripen during the best years and seem to have no chance now.

On a more positive note the improved water table along with a few summer downpours have created a bumper year for blackberries - plentiful and not the usual pip-bullets. Earlier in the summer local cherries has a bonanza. Now figs are also doing well with some particularly water stressed trees making a comeback.

Here are 10 factoids and observations on local figs.
  1. Many varieties have two seasons. The first, typically towards the end of June, sees what are called figue fleurs sprout from last year's new growth. After a pause that can be several weeks these are followed by the main crop. Figue fleurs make for particularly fragrant and succulent eating.
  2. The commune has perhaps 30 wild fig trees that are both accessible (i.e. next to a lane) and reliable croppers. About half of these have two seasons.
  3. Some trees never seem to produce figs. Others only produce inedible dry fibrous specimens (caprifigs).
  4. All figs start off small and pastel green. As they ripen they end up various shades of purple, reds, grey and green through to yellow. The French classify them as figues vertes (ou blanches), figues grises (ou rouges) et figues noires (ou violettes) basically green/white, grey/red and black/violet.
  5. Some figs ripen and eventually drop, others rot on the tree while a few, typically the purple varieties, dry in situ given the right weather.
  6. A tree is capable of ripening a fig in a few days so returning a couple a days later in search of more ripe specimens is worthwhile.
  7. Most trees seem to take a sabbatical occasionally and produce next to nothing; often the year following a bumper crop.
  8. Identifying varieties by inspection and leaf patterns is tricky and near impossible for purple and green varieties.Obvious varieties include Madeleine des Deux Saisons and Grise de Saint-Jean (9 pm and 11 pm respectively in the picture).
  9. Green varieties have one season and are the last to get going. They continue well after other varieties are exhausted and large trees with favourable weather can continue to ripen their crop into the second half of October.
  10. I find the purple varieties have the most complex flavour. Grise de Saint-Jean are the sweetest. Slightly under ripe green varieties make the best confiture.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Enviromental Graffiti

This graffiti can be seen from the bend in the road to Lieuran-Cabrières on the hill heading out of Aspiran. OK, this isn't a Banksy, but the message is more than worthwhile.

Such is the concern over pesticides and agricultural chemicals entering the water table the Mairie has purchased 10 hectares of land surrounding the borehole near the river Hérault (sector La Plaine). To protect the supply of tap water to the village the land will be kept free from pesticides and herbicides.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Marché bio, la ferme Lous Selces

This summer sees a monthly Organic market at la ferme Lous Selces (see this post). Go from 17h on the first Friday of the month, the first took place on 7th June.

There were stalls with Young plants, bread, Lozere honey, infusions, superb olive oil from Nebian, wine from Aspiran's Domaine Ribiera and cheese from the Larzac, plus of course the seasonal vegetables and eggs from the farm itself. Over 100 attendees were reported, an excellent start.

Lous Selces is on the route to Lieuran-Cabrières 1 Km from the edge of the village, the long polytunnel gives it away. Their produce shop on the site opens Wednesday and Friday from 16h to 19h. Next dates for the marché bio will be the 5th July, 2nd August and 6th September.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Vintage and current rally car exhibition

I only caught the tail end of this event on a sunny Sunday in early June. No less than the head of the Porch team J.-M. Almeras attended and answered questions.

Money raised from the snacks and drinks bar will fund school trips for the Jean-de-la-Fontaine school.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Paradise? Not quite. Part 1

Readers of this blog could easily perceive Aspiran as some kind of paradise. Here are 10 realities to balance such an assessment. Not all are negatives or gripes with several having experienced significant improvement in recent years. In no particular order, bar the first one, these are the first 5.

Dog s**t

Changing attitudes is the main challenge and nothing is being done. The Mairie stops at words. Providing poo bags and bins at key sites would be a first step; this is what towns such as Pézenas started doing a few years ago, although the reality of being a tourist town must help overcome politics.

A bigger challenge is to address the dogs let out to roam the streets all day.

Car parking
In a region where unemployment is well above the French national average, Aspiran is expanding and relatively prosperous; the school was recently extended for example. The growth of Montpellier and the completion of a fast connecting road makes the area popular for commuters so families typically need two or more motors. Everyone likes to park near their home and the French are masters at creative parking. Minimal anti-vehicle furniture and road paint on the streets and squares is an attraction, but for how long.

Empty properties

Houses in the central narrow streets may be quaint and ooze character but they have disadvantages. A lack of outside space and the challenge of winter heating makes new builds more attractive. Building a new home from scratch is also cheaper than renovating. Romantic village houses are popular with second home buyers but that market has dived since the 2008 financial crisis. French inheritance laws also mean properties can be left empty and decaying for years. On a more positive note plenty of renovation work goes on.


On balance this is a good news development. New housing is an essential reality of the modern world and a prosperous living village. When seen from the countryside the Mairie has done a pretty good job with sensitively locating new developments.

Rubbish and recycling

Ten years ago there were communal poubelles for all waste. Now big recycling containers are dotted around the village and each home is issued with a green bin for organic waste along with a black one for general rubbish. Many homes have no inside storage space so the bins live on the streets. Nevertheless, the system seems to work well although diligent recycling households lament at why the green bin is only collected once a week while the inert general waste is up twice weekly (for those with small bins). Fish stinks within 24 hours in 30 degree heat.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Paradise? Not Quite. Part 2

This is Part 2 with realities 6 to 10 that challenge the perception of Aspiran as some kind of paradise. Not all are negatives or gripes,  a few have seen significant improvement in recent years.

Demise of the wine co-operative

The wine co-operative was, and to a lesser extent still is, as important to the local economy as coal mines to mining communities. The number of members has declined; the young move on and many have taken EU payments to grub up their vines and plant other crops. The co-op still receives the grape harvest but the juice,  along with that of many neighbouring villages, is tankered off to the state of the art winery at nearby Puilacher to make Clochers et Terroirs. Some nearby co-operatives still go it alone and do well - Addisan, Cabrières and Fontès to be specific.
On the plus side there are six independent producers established in the commune.

Dead vineyards

The use of chemicals on vines such as weed killers belongs in a bygone era. The vineyard above has compacted ground and supports little life beyond the deep rooted vines. The picture below is an adjacent vineyard photographed at the same time.

While organic or equivalent practices involve a little more work,  the bio-diversity they encourage makes visiting the paysage a delight. This is actually a good news story as the rise of independent vignerons is resulting in more and more healthier looking vineyards.


Scooters are noisy and pollute heavily but do provide affordable private transport for the young. Screaming round the village streets for the hell of it is something else.

There are winters

Mediterranean winters are short and mild, but this is a northern outpost of the Med and the 750m plateau of the Larzac to the north is nearer than the sea. Most winters see a day or two of snow and in 2012 unprotected outside water meters froze with many needing replacing. Residents stay indoors and the village is seriously quiet.

Aircon units - the new TV aerials

TV aerials and satellite dishes are generally roof mounted so invisible from the narrow streets. Gutters and drainpipes at least help keep the rain off pedestrians and façades.

Reversible air conditioning has become all the rage in recent years and for many homes this means mounting them on the outside street-side walls. At least modern units are quiet.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Ruisseau de la Garelle

Aspiran is sited in the gap created by the Garelle in the side of the Hérault valley. It frequently all but dries up in summer and in recent dry winters has been barely a trickle. March 2013 has been the wettest March since perhaps 1946; it was in Montpellier with 215 mm and near the Pic St Loup north of Montpellier the wettest March on record.

The source of the Garelle, rather unromantically no more than a series of drainage ditches by vineyards, is barely a Km from the village off the Rue Saint-Georges.

From the bridge on Rue de la Chapelle
The gué (ford) by Rue de Souville down from the port on Rue de l'Enfer