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An American in the French Languedoc

Memo From My Moulin


      The 19th century Parisian writer Alphonse Daudet has misled legions of readers and camera-toting Provencal tourists for years. His 1869 literary classic Lettres de Mon Moulin (Letters From My Windmill) was not drafted within the cramped confines of an actual windmill. His co-lodger was not an owl and countryside companion, the local jackrabbit population.

      I suspect he may have dined on “Lapin au Moutarde” (rabbit with mustard sauce), a local delicacy at the nearby chateau he reputedly lodged at. His work may have been prompted by a family visit. He was born 29 years before in nearby Nîmes. An actual moulin complete with accompanying stuffed owl preserves his supposed inspiration, just outside of Arles.

      No matter, faux residence aside, the work remains a French classic, a staple of most elementary student reading lists. It’s romantic imagery as timeless as the notion of urban escapism.

      My own village Fabrezan boasts a Moulin. Credible local sources have disputed its history as more ornamental than functional. Within most Languedoc villages, a recreated or facsimile Moulin rests perched atop an elevated plane. Most lack the telltale cotton and wood framed sails providing excellent photo opportunities for passing credulous tourists. Sadly, few of their millstones have ever pumiced a single grain of wheat or pitted olive.

      To their credit, many have unintentionally become transient homeless shelters.

      Our own village’s authentic replica has hosted a few soirées since it humble origins. Shredded blankets, char remnants from bonfires and a diverse collection of emptied bottles testify to its temporary residential status. The wine consumed regrettably is rarely AOC (Appellation D’Origin Control).

      Our moulin rests securely perched atop a gentle incline on a former boundary of the village. This hillside provides a panoramic skyline of our 12th century medieval village, church and remaining chateau tower. The frontier line recently was extended to accommodate progress in the form of newly constructed villas, carved into pristine vineyard landscape.

      Ah progress. People need to habituate and stone village houses become comfort challenged during winter. Stacked and insulated bricks have replaced fitted stones and sprayed with various deviations of pink, canary yellow and orange in the spirit of a Mediterranean style that never was.

      Fabrezan’s Moulin and the immediately adjacent land have become a personal found treasure amongst this progress.

      During springtime and the furnace called summer, the neighboring shrubbery becomes my spice rack. Abundant thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, oregano demand periodic harvesting to prevent waste. I needn’t remind you the distinction between foods cooked with fresh spices versus the dehydrated packaged versions. Should I need to, you’re missing the classic subtlety between arresting hunger and fine dining.

      During autumn, the adjacent vineyard is my bountiful Canan. This vineyard was erratically planted with merlot, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre adjacent to each other, a United Nations of Corbières grapes. Why this unusual intermarriage? I’m uncertain. Perhaps it serves as a testing plot for neighboring tracts. These grapes are among the final harvested allowing me an extended educational sampling.

      During winter, the trimmings and deceased vineyard trunks make excellent firewood, assuming you are nimble enough to collect them before your neighbors. The chill of the Tramontane and Cers winds provoke rash behavior when the objective is central heating.

      My wife Claudia loves to decorate and re-decorate. A forest of cannisse, a local plant with an identical resemblance to bamboo grows at the southern base of the Moulin. Uniformly trimmed, they become interior ornamental gems. Watching Claudia juggle a stacked bundle down the Rue de Promenade is entertaining, discreetly noted however without visible laughter. Diplomacy is paramount to domestic tranquility.

      I have no illusions I’ll ever write a novel from within my Moulin. The stench is detrimental to sustained visits. Behind even the most modest aesthetics is a utility functioning yearlong. 

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