Quiet Period

I haven’t written recently but I have been busy. I managed to open a bank account although I’m not allowed to have checks because I don’t have a salary. I can, however have a debit card so that should suffice. I bought a car – 1997 Renault Twingo – insured it and even, in a clear victory over the forces of bureaucracy, managed to register it.

So now it’s time to get to work, starting with evening walks in the vineyards. I wanted to revisit sites I had photographed in January just to set the scene and because I think the land and a connection to it is a key element of this story.

This is Marcel Buhler’s vineyard in January, looking like an open-air witches’ graveyard:

Vines in winter
Grenache Vines in Winter: ©2011 Ron Scherl

And this is the same vineyard today:

vineyard in August
Grenache on the Vine ©2011 Ron Scherl

Sorry, took a short break there to get a glass of wine.

These are Marcel’s vineyards and he is one of the people who represents the changes going on here, in wine and, as a result, in the society as a whole. He is Swiss and came here to make wine. Why are people coming here to make wine and what results from that? Why here and now? There’s a glut of wine, who needs more? What happens to the economy of a rural village? How does it affect the society beyond those involved in wine? And what creates the passion? Because this is backbreaking work and the rewards are uncertain.

Here’s Marcel pruning in January:

Marcel Buhler pruning the vines in his vineyard in Maury
Marcel Buhler pruning vines: ©2011 Ron Scherl

OK, I’m going to try to answer these questions by talking to Marcel and others, some new to the area, some who have always been here. I’m going to try to capture portraits of the people and the village in photos and words, but keep an eye on the land. It’s old and tough and difficult to work. It’s beauty is hard, not seductive like a Caribbean beach or a Hawaiian sunset, but it’s always part of the picture.

Breakfast with the Giants

Breakfast Photo
©2011 Ron Scherl

Real change takes time.

You can’t hop off a plane right into a new life, at least not during baseball season. So, It’s good to know that Giants’ blackout territory does not extend to Maury, local radio doesn’t have the scores and the Chronicle is not on my doorstep. In other words, it’s new to me.  MLB-TV, coffee and a fresh baguette (finished before the photo) work fine for me.

Besides, French culture isn’t all that quick to adopt me:  I went to the bank in St. Paul today to open a new account and was told I could have a rendez-vous with Mlle. Borette next Tuesday to discuss the matter.  I’m looking forward to it.

I know I’m veering dangerously into Peter Mayle territory here, but it’s hard to avoid and if it sells a few books, why complain, or rather, why not?

Stay tuned.

 

Just Before Leaving

Sunday, the last day we had together, Barbara and I went walking in the Presidio to see the new Andy Goldsworthy piece. What a joy!  I was, as I’ve been for the last month, obsessing over details, anxious, living inside my head and maybe a bit removed from reality. Andy Goldsworthy is a great artist. He not only brings you out of your head, he brings you into the natural world through a work of art that shows us the connections we may not see when self-obsessed and not very perceptive.

Andy Goldsworth in PresidioOK. Sorry about the iPhone photo, but as I said, I was not thinking. Not thinking clearly and not getting outside my own brain cells. But this piece turned me around, made me look around and made me happy. This made everything else go away. Made me love where I was at that moment and made me happy.  So here’s a challenge to the photographers out there. Get to the presidio, spend some time with Goldsworthy and, if he moves you, make an image. I really want to see it.

Saying Good Bye

So I’m launched on a farewell tour, friends and places that I love, doing things that may not happen again, but no guarantees.

Today was lunch with Larry. Now this is undoubtedly not the last time we’ll lunch together because Larry and Mary Ann are partners in the Maury house and we’ll not only eat together in France, but I suspect they’ll show up again in this blog. But Larry and I meet often for lunch and not infrequently in North Beach as we did today and I’ll miss these times.

The lunch menu at Capp’s Corner… today. The food is good and it fits our budget. It also works for Jerry Brown.  Our famously thrifty governor was also lunching at Capp’s today, with friends, without an entourage. The last time we ran into the governor was a few weeks ago at Tommaso’s, San Francisco’s best pizzeria. So I’m thinking the Governor and I share a taste for good Italian food in an unpretentious setting, which may explain why I always find voting for him to be a very satisfying experience.

The first time I met Governor Brown was in 1976. He was in his first term and I was shooting for Time Magazine.

Governor Brown
California Governor Jerry Brown Photo ©1976 Ron Scherl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now he’s back in office, trying to make sense of a political system gone haywire. Good luck Governor, I wish you well.

Enough politics, Larry and I went on to the North Star and Comstock and discussions of Brooklyns, Manhattans and aged Rivesaltes. Diversity is truly a wonderful thing.

 

A Little Background

The idea of moving to France goes back to the first time I landed there on a rainy night, not much money and no clue where to go. A friend and I had been on the road for a while and decided we needed a hotel for the night. Wandering empty streets, looking for a hotel or someone to ask, we see a driver pulling into a rare parking space and stop him to ask for directions. Putting the lie to every cliche about rude Parisians and giving up his parking space, he takes us to a nearby and very cheap hotel and thereby creates a bond with the country and the people that has only grown over the years.

Many visits and French lessons later I was in a management training program, playing games and doing exercises designed to move me up the ladder. We needed to select a goal and chart out the steps to get there; my goal was to own a house in France within five years and all my necessary steps added up to the height of the Eiffel Tower.

But things happen and some things you make happen.

Prospective partners appeared, web searches pinpointed affordable areas and turned up a real estate agent, one town led to another, and the right house came on the market. Finally, George Bush was reinstalled in the White House and I wanted to be sure there was somewhere else to go. We bought the house.

Lunch on the terrace
Lunch on the Terrace

Maury is in the southeast corner of France, in a valley between the Pyrenees and the Corbieres mountains. It’s close to the Mediterranean and the Spanish border about three hours north of Barcelona. It is French Catalunya. Wine grows here and not much else and wine is the major source of income in the region. This blog will look at regional societal changes caused by globalization in the wine industry and generational changes in wine producing families.

Getting it Together

Everything began in January. Alone in Maury, photographing winter vineyards and vignerons, learning to prune the vines, tasting from barrel, visiting large and small wineries, I decided to do a book. It would be mostly photographs, but some text was needed. It would speak of global changes while focusing on the region around Maury. Wine would be central to the book as it is to the region, but it would symbolize other industries in other places. It may be published as an e-book or in print, but it would start as a blog.

It’s exciting and intimidating, involving leaving a job, changing a long standing relationship, leaving a home, the big three of peace of mind. There aren’t many times in life that we’re faced with a truly life changing decision and the older we get, the fewer such opportunities arise and the harder it becomes to take advantage of them. The only reasonable answer was: “if not now, when?”

And now I make lists, on paper, on the phone, tablet and computer, and in my head at night when I’d rather be sleeping.Photo of lists

The French visa process is not designed to make you feel welcome. There are lists of documents, some to be notarized, all to be copied and presented in the prescribed order. There are security guards and plexiglass boundaries, pictures to be taken (do not smile) and color coded chairs to be occupied. I know unemployment is a problem and no I will not look for a job. Yes I have enough money, a place to live and health insurance. I will not be a drain on scarce and fraying resources. No matter how precise I thought I was, there was something not quite up to their standards and a small delay is the penalty. And when I return I also need to bring my itinerary.

So, it’s time to pick the date and buy the ticket. August 15 becomes the date and the deadline. Revise the lists with the time frame set.

So today I went to a packing and shipping service to get some estimates on getting my stuff to Maury. I found a helpful guy who couldn’t resist asking: “Are you moving there? Wow man, that’s my dream too, I just don’t have it together yet.”