Rock on -- la récolte commence! That's my belle-soeur, Cécile , who is back--along with her friends, to help us with this third harvest.
la récolte (lah ray kolt) noun, feminine
: harvesting; collecting; gathering
: harvest, crop
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This year's harvest is looking good!
A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse
And weeere off! The wine harvest began on Saturday.... and continues today! To the clanking of metal, the hum of the tractor -- and the bark of the mother-dog - I type this early morning dispatch.
We jump-started this, our 2009 récolte,* in a field of grenache where the wind swept swiftly over the low-lying "gobelet"* vines. Arriving with our children, I found the rest of the équipe* had advanced halfway up the vine rows. Max, Jackie and I quickly grabbed buckets and sécateurs* and headed out to the unpicked rangées.*
Right off, I discovered that my cutting shears were dull and tried to trade them off with the grape chef. Only, Jean-Marc held his own, suggesting I pick a better pair next time...
Tant pis.* I'd figure out how to trade with him later, meantime I needed to catch up with the others by filling my bucket. To do so meant bending over at the hip to reach the near ground-level grapes. I remembered an astuce* from years of picking: back straight, bend at the knee! And, like that, I fell gently to my genoux* in order to save my back.
An hour or so into the harvest, my knees began to crack and, in order to save them, it was necessary to switch strategies: straighten the legs and bend the back.... either way crack, crack, crack!
I observed the other harvesters, who practiced one or the other back- or knee-saving solutions: my sister-in-law was here helping out, along with three of her girlfriends -- and the four of them came up with yet another idea to stop the pain: le mini-break. I watched as the women set down their buckets and pulled out their tobacco. Next, their backs to the wind, they shook out the dried leaves over thin paper squares for rolling. After a few puffs, they resumed harvesting, the thin, uneven cigarettes dangling from the edges of their mouths as they laughed and chatted, sharing everything from recipes to crude jokes. Hidden behind my row of grapevines, I laughed at their jokes... and longed for their freedom -- or natural expression -- the kind that comes when we are outward focused and not gazing inward, ever questioning. Perhaps the trick is to stop doubting... and just do.
And so I focus outward, on the twisted, dry, decades-old vine before me. The venerable plant is on its last (and only...) leg, like the others in this row, and therefore giving out little bunches of grapes or grappions. * I listen to my brother-in-law curse the grappions, and all this back-breaking bending and knee-splitting squatting for only a few tiny bunches of fruit each time! (He'll have to wait until a day later, when we get to the high (wire-trained) cinsault, to declare such grapes a pleasure to harvest.)
Meantime, others of us try to focus on the short vines and the small pleasures they bring: there are wild fuchsia-colored sweat peas that dot the field, and the sweet scent of fall on the horizon! Other trouvailles* await us as well: it is the old hand-rake that Max finds beneath a tangle of vines ("we'll keep it," his father says, "put it in the tractor!"), and there's the onion sauvage* that Jackie II uncovers. "I'll have it for lunch!" she announces, tucking it in her pocket, resuming her picking.
I listen to Jackie II (a friend of my sister-in-law, who is helping us for the third time) practice her Spanish with an Italian picker/friend, who has learned the language before she did. In focusing on the language, Jackie tells me, she keeps her mind from turning round and round, something (I might add) that tends to happen when practicing the monotonous chore of grape-picking. I take heart to know that even these rock-n-roll women have the same restless mind that I do. Some call it monkey mind, others le diable,* either way a reeling, ego-focused mind is hell on earth.
Voilà, in a nutshell, the harvest: it is discovery, camaraderie, and -- inescapably -- aching backs and cracked knees. I am learning that it helps to look up, from time to time, beyond the grape rows and the work (and ever-working mind) to the sky or the horizon beyond. It is that outward focus, whether on language or the lointain* -- that keeps us going strong, humming somewhat steadily along.
Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are enjoyed and appreciated.
la récolte = the harvest; gobelet ("en gobelet") = untrained vines (not held/propped up by a wire); une équipe = team; le sécateur (m) = pruning shears; une rangée (f) = row (trees, vines); tant pis = oh, well; une astuce (f) = clever idea (way to do something); le genou (m) = knee; le grappion (m) = little grape cluster; une trouvaille (f) = a find; sauvage = wild; le diable (m) = devil; lointain = faraway, distant (horizon)
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