That’s “Mar-shay ah Veh-sohn la Ro-mehn.” Well, almost.
That’s where we started the day, at the weekly market in Vaison-la-Romaine, a fantastic small town that used to be an even bigger Roman municipality, maybe 2000 years ago.
We got up around 7:30 and were out of the house by 8 or so. That’s because, although the market’s open until half-past twelve, the parking spaces aren’t. We got into Vaison a little after 9, and Larry pulled into one of the few spaces left in the municipal lot. Parking on the street was already filled up.
We bought vegetables first at an extensive table filled with all kinds of produce and old ladies. Of course, they could be hiring the ladies to hang around the place. Think of it: You see them and say, “This has to be where the good stuff is. Look at the old ladies. They have to know,” etc.
We also stopped at the butcher’s stall, where they know Larry. He bought several cuts for meals this week. Joanna and I also heard him ask for meat for the dogs.
Claude and Sophie keep two dogs that are just a little smaller than the ponies in the Luxembourg Gardens. Very friendly, very affectionate, very playful. One of them, the mother, comes up and smacks me with her paw whenever she wants attention.
So, OK, big slabs of beef seem a little generous for dogs, but I can see somebody going overboard for fun now and then.
Larry’s getting recommendations from the lady standing next to him. Is she a dog lover too?
But no. He didn’t say “dog.” He said “daube,” a kind of Provençal beef stew. The lady suggested a different cut from the butcher’s choice and was adding some tips on how to cook it.
During Larry’s exchange with the lady, the butcher had to ask a question. So he called Larry: “Chef. Chef.” Talk about making Larry’s day, right?
Larry picked out a dourade sauvage (a type of wild bass) for dinner. It was whole, which is the best way to cook and serve fish. Joanna and Larry especially like the meat from the head.
Several stalls sold rotisserie chicken. This cooks slowly on a spit as the fat drips onto vegetables in the bottom of the rack. Joanna has wanted to try it ever since we first saw it cooking that way on the sidewalks in Paris a year ago. So we got half a chicken to take home for lunch.
The lady at the stall lifted a spit with four chickens off the fire and let the birds slide off. The sight was almost Chaucerian for its earthiness.
Then she picked one up and cut it in half for us. She put it and some of the potatoes into a bag, and we were ready to go.
Actually, we put the stuff into the car. Back at the lot some drivers had to improvise to park.
Then we walked back into town to see the excavated (and perhaps partly reconstructed) Roman ruins. There’s a complete arch, several standing columns and the extensive outlines of the stone walls of buildings. There are even a couple of statues that are largely intact.
We met a couple from the States. They heard us talking and seemed surprised to run into Americans. Larry chatted with them while I made a video of the ruins. He said he hadbrought us along to view the sights. I think it was to help lug the groceries.
The remains of the foundations are far more extensive than those at Rome. This was all uncovered in an archeological dig. Maybe the archeologists found rubble and replaced the stones, or maybe this is what they found when they dug into this place sometime in the last century. I don’t know.
You pass the ruins, which are several feet below the current street level, on the way up the hill to the street with cafes and bars. We had coffee and a croissant, my first food of the day. Joanna’s, too, I think.
I don’t think we bought many herbs because you get thyme, rosemary, and fennel too when they’re in season by foraging on the roadside here. We went thyme-picking, for instance, the other day.
The bank by the side of the road was covered with grass that had tiny white flowers.
But the flowers disappear when you get up close.
Flowers? No. Snails. Not even big enough to eat.
Claude was at the house, so he joined us for lunch, something he doesn’t often make time for, Larry said. Maybe he smelled the chicken. We had it with a little wine, of course, and with a couple of side dishes we bought at Vaison. One was a zucchini filled with a puree of squash, and the other a sweet red pepper with sausage.
After lunch we went to Gigondas, for wine tasting. First stop was Domaine de St. Gayan. This is where it got confusing for a while. The domaine is in Gigondas, which is a protected appellation of its own. Christian, who met us in the yard, led us into the caveau, or tasting room, and among the selections we tried was a white called Sablet.
Sablet is not part of the Gigondas appellation, but instead is the name of a village that is part of the appellation called Côtes du Rhone Villages (which, I think, is a different designation from straight Côtes du Rhone).
It turns out that the domaine has vineyards in Sablet as well as in Gigondas. The two places are side by side, or just about, so for all I know, the farm may straddle the border between the two places.
In any event, the Sablet is a white from the Rhone Valley, so we picked up a couple of bottles. We also bought a Gigondas red.
The white has a kind of mineral flavor and lots of it, which is what I enjoy in Rhone whites and is what makes them exceptional mates with flavorful food. There’s no losing the wine.
I forget which cave had this sign.
We stopped at Domaine Mavette, which had a tiny tasting room, where a lady was pouring. In the adjacent room, I could see an old arch with some of the plaster removed to show the brick work under it. I stepped inside for a better look. I heard the lady call out, and Larry translated. I wasn’t supposed to go wandering in the building.
I felt like a gauche Yankee.
At a tasting, you get an ounce or less in the bottom of a glass. You’re supposed to swirl it to release the aroma, sip a bit and roll it in your mouth, and then spit it out. Sometimes you dump out the last little bit from your glass to get ready for the next sample. I have a hard time bringing myself to do that. It’s just too good, and on top of that, I keep remembering how much work and experience go into wine.
By the time we got through the second tasting, I had a little bit of a buzz on.
We also visited the caveau at a wine maker called Notre Dame de Pellieres. When we got there, a sheep dog came up to us and dropped a tennis ball at our feet, so I started tossing the ball. The dog was good. Half the time he caught the ball dropping out of its arc or at least after the first bounce.
We stood among the barrels and tasted wine. The dog came up behind me and dropped the ball again. I told him, “Sorry. I can’t throw the ball in here. I’ll break a bottle.”
He looked so disappointed that Joanna picked up the ball and took the dog outside.
We sampled a red wine from an appellation called Restau. Larry told me that Sophie loves the stuff. We bought two bottles.
Sometime during our travels we stopped at a store in Gigondas representing dozens—hell, hundreds. No, at least thousands. Yeah, that’s it—thousands of local wine makers. We may have tried something there, but I’m not sure. I was pretty dull-witted by then.
But we did come home with a bottle of Gigondas red from a domaine called Moulin de la Gardette. We may drink that with the daube or a lamb shoulder later this week.
Dinner was the dourade roasted whole in the oven and served with rice pilaf. We had the St. Gayan Sablet with the fish and then switched to the Rasteau for the cheese course.
After several wine tastings, and wine with both lunch and dinner, I stood up around 10 and realized I had had it.
I got to bed somehow and stayed there till 8 or 9 Wednesday morning.
I hope you sleep well, too, whether it’s with or without chemical assistance.