Chabrot and the Beginning of the Vendage

I went running in the garrigue, hit my usual turn around point behind the Bergerie by the big concrete watering-hole sky-reflector… and pushed past, muscles singing, farther into the garrigue than I’ve ever run before, til I came to a rusted out sign that said “Feux Interdit” (Fires Prohibited), which someone had opened up into with a shotgun. The bullet holes have rippled outward in spreading stains of rust that threaten to overtake the lettering.

It’s raining just a little bit, cool on my face. I love the feeling as I run down hills…trail running lets you leap from rock to rock, and the downward slope means the ground is never where I think it will be…feels weightless and light, like dancing. 

I am loving my run, don’t want to stop, feeling free, the rain hissing around me, the sky roiling in shades of grey and black, making the green of the trees vibrant and lush…feels so good, and eventually I overdo it, can feel the tendon down my right leg angry and inflamed. Limped home with my knee aching…heard the baby crying as I opened the gate…no, not crying, screaming in rage and frustration…and I’m half-laughing, but hiding it, at the dire, hopeless look on M’s face as he pushes the baby at my boobs. 

I shower, we head to his dad’s house for lunch. Everyone is discussing the house we just went to go see. Everyone is planning and scheming and dreaming about it…I slice a tomato and dip it in ginger-infused oil, I try raw soft cow cheeses on crisp French bread as everyone dives into pork chops. A bottle of red wine is brought out, the cork examined…the wine is sampled seriously, quizzically, discussed, and rejected. 

My father in law starts telling me about something, a custom in south western France called Chabrot…and I guess the way it works is, there’s a bottle of wine on the table, with six little stars on it, a not-very-good wine, and at the end of the soup course, the wine is poured into the soup bowl to sop up all the remaining flavors, and drunk. 

(Here’s how to do it right: How to Make Chabrot)

We gather together his brother and sister,swing by the cellar to pick up the little silver wolf, and drive off into the garrigue…following vaguely worded directions from a friend during a party the night before, we scramble down a hill side, me wearing flipflops, the baby strapped to my chest, headed to a hidden cave that was once a Bronze Age burial site, la grotte de la Baumette.

It’s humid…the air is thick. The sky is heavy. The dog is joyful to be allowed to run free. 

We get lost twice. The horizon stretches to the sea…we can see Palavas and Cournonterral set like jewels in the grey hazy green landscape…We find the cave in the end almost by accident, set into a high limestone cliff, the entrance half obscured by blackberry brambles. My husband and his siblings set off into the cave, holding IPhones like flashlights, as I sit outside in the flickering sunlight, breastfeeding the baby with the silver wolf chewing bones, licking the baby’s feet and curling up sweetly in the brush. Little cave wolf. I picture sitting outside this cave in the Bronze Age. I picture throwing mammoth bones to the dog. I picture breastfeeding a baby outside my cave. I look at the brambles and vines covering the entrance to the cave again. I can just barely hear voices echoing from inside.

I get my turn to explore when they return. M and I duck through the entrance and it opens up…there are chambers to the left and right. The walls are shimmery slick with water. There are stalagmites and some chambers that are tiny, claustrophobic, impossible. There’s graffiti and old burned out candles on the walls from time to time.

I return home aching and tired, and plunge into the pool in the dark…we eat corn on the cob and raw broccoli with our hands at the table, and mango ice cream. One last dip, and we head off to bed…the grape harvest, the vendage, begins tomorrow.

At three am, the alarm rings…I can hear Mathieu begrudgingly wake up and get dressed as he prepares to head to Murviel to drive the tractor…I hide under the sheets, trying and failing to cling to the last shreds of sleeps as the baby stretches and dreams…and so the harvest season, it begins. 


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