Asparagus Hunters – in the Garrigue

The temperatures are shooting up, and the garrigue is coming alive with wild thyme and rosemary, wild leeks, and best of all: wild asparagus!

POW!

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You might hear the term “garrigue” tossed around in reference to wine flavours… basically, the word garrigue refers to the low-growing scrubby vegetation on the high-calcium limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast. It’s what we call the landscape here on the coast in Languedoc. There are a bunch of bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild here, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary… and so garrigue refers to the sum of them. Think fresh herby-minty florals and you’d be getting pretty close. The French concept of terroir plays in here when you hear “garrigue” referenced in the taste of a wine; the idea is that sense of place is reflected in its regional products (honey, wine, cheese, etc) and that if you close your eyes and focus – really focus! – on a taste, that it can summon the portrait of a place…the sun on ripe olives, the scent of thyme flowers after the rain. I think it’s true, particularly in white wines from Languedoc, that you can taste a little bit of the garrigue.

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There are wild game, birds and black pigs that roam these hills, and crumbled stone walls that cross the landscape. You can see a row of windmills on the hills in the distance. There’s a dry riverbed that winds through the terrain, quartz crystals, and a cave system that was used in the Neolithic era that still houses artifacts and paintings. There are olive trees and almond trees covered in pink flowers and buzzing alive with bees. The flowers : a variety of wild orchid, pale buttery yellow and deep violet iris, whole fields scarlet with poppies (called coquilicot))… I love this landscape.

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Sunday, Mathieu and I woke sleepy with the sun pouring in, ate croissants and drank coffee, and decided to take an expedition to go hunt wild asparagus. His dad just picked up an ATV, which is pretty much Mathieu’s new favorite thing ever…so after about an hour working sticking new FDA approved wine labels on the backs of bottles, we pulled on our helmets and took off down the dirt roads into the garrigue.

I hold THIS truth to be self-evident: to my thinking, there is not much better in life than to be feeling alive and young, sitting on the back of a bike, wind blowing, with my arms wrapped around a beautiful boy and my face buried in his back, in love. We’ve all got our holy moments; this is mine.

Flashback: It’s true that, mere days after we first met while working aboard the cruise ship, we took a day trip to the island of Capri and rented a motorcycle for the afternoon, and I remember that feeling of warmth and completeness and anticipation and joy… that feeling of perfect contentment with a life that had, through a winding series of heartaches, coincidences and chances, contrived, somehow, to bring me to THIS place. That somehow, miraculously, I was speeding around a beautiful exotic Italian island in a black halter top and sandals, on a motorcycle on a warm summer day with my arms wrapped tightly around a perfectly sweet, sexy French boy, whom I hardly knew.)

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We weren’t together. Not yet. I don’t think we even took pictures together. We weren’t sure of each other yet; I think we’d only met for this first time a few days before, at a crew party for the Phillipines Independence Day Celebration. (I had just cut my hair super-short, and he wasn’t so sure about that…and I spent part of the day paying for his pizza and wine and return ferry ticket to Naples, wondering who was this freeloader, and why exactly he hadn’t brought any money?) But on the ferry on the way back to Naples, after an incredible day, I fell asleep with my head on his shoulder, and after a whole day of being so close to him on the motorcycle, it felt easy and natural. And though I wasn’t really looking to meet anyone – not then, not in that way, for many many reasons – I couldn’t stop thinking about how good it felt, to have my arms around him.

(Fun fact: This was incidentally also the day I had the best pizza of my life, bar none, EVER. Definitely NOT your typical thin crust Napoli pizza, but I still think about it sometimes. Was it actually the pizza? Was it the day? It tasted better than anything I’d ever had in my life.)

I think of that day, now, whenever we go riding and I put my arms back around him again. It still feels so good.

Back in the garrigue, we climbed high enough to see the Mediterranean. We stopped along the way and loaded up on the slender green and purple wild asparagus shoots. It seemed like they were everywhere. It took a while for my eyes to focus to them, but once you see one, you see them everywhere. We were already thinking about the omelette we were going to cook for lunch when we got home, and when our hands were full, we climbed back on the quad to speed home.

When my hands got cold I slipped them in his jacket pockets and closed my eyes in the sun, listening to the engine growl, warm and content, as we swerved and bounced on the rough gravel road.

He grew up here. He knows these backroads. I love him so much in these moments.

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6 thoughts on “Asparagus Hunters – in the Garrigue

  1. Fun memories from your first times together. And now (the three of) you are making so many more wonderful memories together that you’ll look back on and smile about in the years to come.
    So happy for you Laurie!!!

  2. Wonderful word pictures! Me TOO! Happy for our friend! I understand the motorcycle. I rode for several years, some of my happiest times. Road and dirt.

  3. Girl. You should write a book.Seriously. The structure of this piece is elegant, the language vivid, and the story exciting. It’s exotic and wild to me, but relatable enough for me to imagine myself in your position. Kind of perfect, if you ask me!

    Related: you just got me interested in wine again for the first time in ages. I have pretty much totally rejected US wine culture (although being in California so close to Sonoma is an exciting prospect), but it occurs to me suddenly that if I come visit you there I’ll be visiting a freaking VINEYARD so I’ll probably end up learning about things like French terroir in a totally natural, observant, non-pretentious way.

    Cool.

    • Terroir is to a degree more important than cépage here, I’m learning. The French really value sense of place. Their whole appellation control system is based on it, and is just ridiculously complicated. But if you drop the pretensions, it’s really just how different soils and climates and other nearby growing plants affect the taste of something, so it’s more intuitive in some ways than people make it out to be. You are pretty much the person I’m most excited to come visit here; I think you’d get it. 🙂 I think the French would get you, too, actually. I know it’ll be some time away, and that you’re setting up your life right now, and even after you have work and living arrangements in place it won’t be easy to make the visit right away. But I hope it happens. And I think by the time you do, I’ll have more things sorted out – with language and life.

      • Oh it’s definitely going to happen. I’m expecting to start graduate school in spring or fall 2015, or hoping for that at least. And then that’s going to be another 2-3 years of staying still, so I am carefully planning travel abroad between now and then. I’ll be taking some time off of Burning Man to make sure I can do this. France for sure, Spain next, and then at some point I’d like to spend some time in Thailand and/or India.

      • We’re really close to Spain actually, Barcelona is only three hours away or so. Spain is a huge country and each little pocket is sooo different but Catalonian Spain is pretty outstanding and we could do that easily if you made it over to southern France. My mom did a thing where she set up her plane tickets to fly into Paris, took the train down to southern France, and then flew home out of Barcelona, and I thought that was a cool way to do it. We’ll talk when you’re ready, and brainstorm about it. It’d be really nice to see you here!

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