A Dark and Stormy Night

Well it was and I always wanted to write that. And don’t forget I’m a photographer and if I hadn’t made that photo I would have had to come up with a different opening. Thunder and lightning but no rain on Maury. Busy week: business meetings (who would’ve thought), new label for Richard, bottle shots at the Coop, music, aperitifs, dancing at Pichenouille and a lovely winemaker to flirt with at Michel’s dinner. Life is pretty hectic here.

So when I told the folks at the coop that I didn’t like the way their web designer was using my photos they asked me if I could do bottle shots for them. You’re thinking non sequitur, but this conversation was in French and seemed to make sense to me. I said of course and then remembered I have no lights. I spent a day trying to jury rig some soft boxes with my Nikon flash units but never got comfortable, then remembered that I’m not the only photographer in Maury and Jess has some strobes and soft boxes that she was happy to loan me. I gave her a bottle of Marcel’s wine and some tomatoes from Ben’s garden just to introduce her to the barter economy.

Let’s talk about tomatoes for a minute because I’m now on the all-tomato diet. Sure, a little basil, olive oil, salt, sometimes even some pasta, but the star of every dish is the tomato. I’ve even cut down on pork for the summer because the garden tomatoes are just so good I’m not feeling much need for meat. Between Ben, Bardot and Pappi I’m feeling pretty secure and eating well. This is a great neighborhood despite the new renters up the block putting out their garbage on Friday although it won’t be picked up until Monday. The ladies of the Olive Tree Salon were outraged, but that great French shrug of the shoulders seemed to indicate that you really couldn’t expect much from renters. Another week of this kind of behavior and I’ll expect to see the mayor down here to mediate.

The Olive Tree Salon © 2012 Ron Scherl

I’m on a campaign now to change my image. Two weeks ago a young American woman on her way to the sea stopped at the café for dinner, heard us speaking English and made friends. When she asked if there was a campground nearby, I offered her a real bed in her own bedroom and she accepted. The next day came questions about where we went off to (as if there’s anywhere to go but home), and a neighbor passing by averted her eyes when she was leaving in the morning.

Then last week came the two gentlewomen from Gerona for a few nights and we were seen in all the hot spots in town. No more lonely old guy for me.

We move along. Heading into August when the harvest will start and I’ll mark one year of living in Maury. I’ve spent most of my time in town but now it’s time to branch out. I’ll be shooting 21 of the little villages nearby that constitute the Communité de Commune de l’Agly-Fenouillèdes and I’ll also expand the wine focus to provide some counterpoint to the wines of Maury. I want to expand the scope of the photo book and soak up some new grist for the blog, which doesn’t mean I’m feeling the limits of small town life. On the contrary, I think I’m just getting to know this place.

Here’s the complete image.

Dark and Stormy ©2012 Ron Scherl

The Café

“Grand Hotel…always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”


In Maury, everyone comes to the café Friday nights. When I arrive Richard and Bob are sitting with Bardot who’s on his semi-hourly pastis break from painting my house. I go to buy him another and gather hugs from the kids on my way to the bar. Bob and I discuss an apartment for rent next door to his house that he had arranged for me to see, but it’s not for me. I need more, a comfortable place where I can feel at home. Meanwhile, Richard is fielding a call from the US and Bardot lets himself into Ben’s house and emerges with a flat of tomato plants. The next day Bardot shows me his garden and where he’s planting Ben’s tomatoes.


Jean-Roger and the rain arrive at about the same time, but when the rain turns to hail, JR dashes off to the vineyards to check the vines. The fruit is just beginning to form and is extremely vulnerable to hail. He returns with a report of not much damage and everyone smiles and another round appears.


He also mentions a house that will be available soon and promises to find out more. I’ll need to follow up.


The children love the rain and I become the adult designated to lift the kids up to push the rain off the awning. Did I forget to mention that we are outside? Smokers.


Aimee has a small encounter with a very small dog, many tears but not much damage. The dog’s owner then gets a bit of a talking to from Pierre, the proprietor, who follows it up by buying him a drink.


Sarah appears and tells me how much she loved meeting my sister. She talks for a bit about how important siblings are, how they ground us, connect us to the past and most of all to family. I say little, thinking instead of other connections. Sarah mentions that her brother is coming for a visit and she’s sure I’ll like him.


Jean-Roger leaves and Manu arrives with young Clarice. The rain stops, starts again, and then the sky clears.


Marcel stops in for a beer followed by Taieb the hunter and Jean Pla, who is now a negociant, buying wine from coops and selling it under his own labels. He has an “End of the World” cuvé from Bugarach that’s a big seller. Taieb is a hunter of wild boar but he doesn’t eat pork so I asked him if the pleasure for him was in the hunt. He responded by inviting me to go with him, just to shoot cameras, not guns. I agreed and we made a tentative plan subject to weather, etc.

Taieb ©2012 Ron Scherl


Pizza appears and the pizza kid has not taken my advice. He needs to put the chorizo on top of the cheese and put the pizza on the floor of the oven, not on a tray so the crust can bake. Having established myself as a photographer I now need to turn some of my attention to pizza. So much work, so little time.


Fragments of conversation roll around the tables until overwhelmed by a political rant clearly anti-government, but otherwise unintelligible to me and most everyone else. I understand very little but it really doesn’t seem to matter. I nod, shrug, pet the dog, make the pff sound and non, non, say beh, shake my head, order a drink. It resembles a conversation until I head for home.

The Painter

Bardot starts early and I can hear him trying to tiptoe on the scaffolding while I’m still half asleep. By the time I’m up for coffee, he’s down to the café for his first pastis break of the day. When he returns, he greets me with “Bonjour, jeune homme”, although I must have 10 years on him. He’s never more than an hour from a pastis and there’s always a cigarette in his mouth, but he works hard and well. This is an old house with a heavily cracked and irregular surface and it’s now looking good.


Bardot ©2012 Ron Scherl

Bardot has that heavy southern accent, speaks quickly and always has that cigarette going. He wears a little pouch around his neck to hold his lighter. In the beginning I couldn’t understand a word he said, but now I’m starting to get it. This evening I came back from a walk and he was just packing up.  I asked him if he’d like something to drink and he replied, “Moi, seulement Ricard, vous avez le Ricard?”

Oui, and we went to the kitchen for a drink. He told me some of the shutters were broken and he would fix them and I asked if it would be extra above the estimate. No, no. I never charge more. I want you to be happy and feel I did a good job. I told him I was very happy and would buy him a Ricard whenever we were in the café together. That may suit his retirement plan but it’s likely to strike a serious blow to mine.

I asked him why he was working weekends and holidays and he tells me he has several jobs lined up after this, and he really wants to retire.

“Quel age avez-vous?”


“Too young”, I said.

“But, I get up in the morning and it hurts to get out of bed.”

“Me too”

“And how old are you?”


“Beh, taking photos isn’t work, snap, snap. You’re a young man.”

Finishing off his Ricard he told me that tomorrow would probably be a short day because it will rain in the afternoon.

“But in the morning, another coat on top, vite, vite”, he whistled and mimed a painting stroke.

Then he asked me how you say la pluie in English.



“No, rain.  er ah e enn”


There was no way that word was coming out without a “g” at the end. We left it at that with a chorus of allez, salut and ciao.

Another day, another Ricard and Bardot asks me what I’m doing tapping on the piano all day. Since we don’t have a piano, this took a while to unravel, but we finally figured out he was talking about my computer.

“You’re a photographer, non?”

“Oui, and I’m also a writer.”

“You’re writing a book?”


“Moi, I don’t read.”

“Not at all?”

“Only the invoices. I started work at 13 years old.”

“No more school after 13?”

“No, I’ve been working for 45 years, I’m tired.”

He had told me before that his father was a painter too and I asked if he went to work for him.

“No, he didn’t want me, I worked for another painter, and a grocer, a builder and then for myself. Are you married?”

“No, divorced.”

“Moi, I’m married 40 years, two children, four grandchildren, one wife. C’est bon. Alone is not good.”

He finished his glass with a long swallow and went off to the café for another.

Bardot ©2012 Ron Scherl


I went down the lane beside the house to see Bardot’s garden and received promises of many tomatoes this summer. As I was coming back up I ran into Jean-Roger and Francois coming to pick roses in Jean-Roger’s garden. He offered some and when I asked if he had enough for Marie and his mother he responded that the gesture of giving them to me was important.

Then, I saw Pappi, Marie’s grandfather working in his garden. A few weeks ago I had made a photo of him that I really like and now was a good time to bring it to him. I retrieved it from the house and came back to the garden. I showed Pappi the photo and his face lit up. Then his smile faded and he looked at me and said:

“Pas jeune.”

“Oui, mais full of life”, I responded and he smiled again. My French really is getting better.

Pappi Serge ©2012 Ron Scherl

Genevieve came in to the garden and he showed her the photo and she did the most unexpected thing, she invited me into the house. Genevieve lives next door with Mammi Pierrette and Pappi Serge and while we’re friendly on the street, I’ve never been in their house. Now I was in the kitchen, the muscat came out and a conversation began as Pierrette swept up the dirt tracked in and gently chided Pappi for not changing his shoes.

She looked at the photo and said: “90 years old” and I repeated my full of life phrase. She smiled and said: “Moi, 92”

“Merveilleuse, ma mere is 94”

Pappi went to get a bottle of wine as a gift in kind and promised me many tomatoes and eggplants this summer. This barter thing may work out just fine.

Genevieve: “Are you going to stay in Maury?”

“Oui, but I need to find a house or apartment to rent to be fair to my partners.” I asked if they knew the house next door to the beauty parlor, but they didn’t and suggested I talk to Severine at the Mairie. I said I had and she will let me know if she hears of anything.

We talked about my interest in their family and the history of the village and Genevieve suggested we meet next week for a discussion with Marie and Jean-Roger. I was delighted and hope we can manage to make it happen. I think getting Genevieve involved can help make almost anything happen.

A neighbor came in angrily waving a soggy baguette.

Sympathetic smiles all around and what a shame that the bakery is so bad. Genevieve picked up a loaf from the table and said: “Estagel, bon pain.”

“Oui, et St. Paul,” I said. She agreed and then shook her finger to strongly express disapproval of the Maury bakery, “pas ici.”.

Then she proudly showed the photo of Pappi and explained that I was an American professional photographer and have an exhibit at the Maison du Terroir.

Much nodding of approval.

Madame then changed the subject to our new paint job: “Une jolie nouvelle façade”

Genevieve: Oui, c’est tres bon pour le quartier.

I noticed a glance at the oven, realized it was almost time for lunch and wishing everyone a bon appetit, left thinking how much these little things mean in a village this small.