Today I drove through (well, my hostess did) the gorge across the edge of the Pyrenees from southern France into Spain. Wow. If you've ever been on that stretch of road you'll never forget it.
This is a gorge that must be somewhere between 500 and 1,000 feet deep and the ancient road (who knows how they carved out the first mule trail) hugs the sheer gorge face that is literally straight down. We stopped at a tiny wide spot and I eased over to the edge to look over, but could not stand up. It makes your toes tingle. The road is so narrow you can't pass another car--you have to back up to a wide spot--and the carved sheer stone is sometimes in a C overhanging the road so close a van can't go underneath.
We passed more tumbled-down castles and it struck me how many people must have lived in these now abandoned areas to be able to build those castles. Now almost nobody lives in these areas that once teemed with hundreds of people having babies, marrying, dying, and farming. Sad and a tremendous loss of productive capacity . . . that by the way, could be brought back with proper farming.
Had lunch with a farm family in Spain and then continued by train to Barcelona where I had dinner and a long interview with a Spanish newspaper columnist. The reporter, like all of them around the world, started kind of reluctantly (ho hum, what can a farmer say that's interesting?) and by the time the coffee shop kicked us out, she was ready to stay another hour. Very cool.
So today I've eaten squid, octopus, mussels, prawns, anchovies, pate, and drunk enough wine to sink the Titanic. Oh, and olives. Every time I come to Spain, I gorge on olives; nobody does olives like Spain.
Those of you who are following this blog know that a couple of days ago I posted about the horrendous erosion in France's vineyards. This morning we drove by miles and miles of French vineyards, watching the farmers in the early morning spraying pesticides and herbicides, dousing the vineyards with chemicals.
So imagine my joy this afternoon to spend a couple of hours with Francesc Font on his vineyard, where he grows grass between the vines and has a healthy insect and wildlife population among the vines. It was truly remarkable. He's using an innovative cover crop and crimping system, laying down a mulch several inches thick that keeps the soil 40 degrees cooler than normal and as damp as nice compost. So it can be done. Now if I can just get him to use animals instead of machinery, we'll get somewhere.
All over the world farmers are NOT doing things because it's unorthodox, making all sorts of excuses as to why they can't change. And somewhere another farmer is doing that very thing, showing the way for ecological innovation and care. Truly the weak link for everyone is between our ears. As my mentor Allan Nation used to say, "if somebody has done it, it can be done."
Are you now wondering about French wines?