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