Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Word Of The Week


We were invited to lunch twice in the last week. The first time, last Friday, we sat outdoors at our neighbors' place across the street for apéros. Our hosts had bought a foccacia made with cheese and lardons (smoked bacon) that they served with sparkling wine from Saumur. They served the wine naturel or with crème de cassis to make a kir.

Then we all moved inside for lunch. We were eight and lunch was a very good set of courses that included fresh tomato salad, fresh melon (cantaloupe), roasted beef, bettes or blettes (beet greens), boiled potatoes, cheese, and plum clafoutis and a big bowl of fresh framboises (raspberries) for dessert.

The wine was a local red gamay. In fact, the grapes were likely grown right outside our back yard. Then, after coffee, our host brought out a big magnum sized bottle of marc, the eau-de-vie that's distilled from the skins of grapes after they've been crushed for wine. The only label on the bottle was a little sticker with the word marc hand-written on it. Obviously not bought in a store. None of the women wanted any, so it was just the guys who partook. I love marc, but then I like most of the French alcools, brandies, that I've tasted in my life.

At one point, one of the women mentioned that us guys were enjoying our little gnôle, a word I had never heard. According the dictionary, it's an old franco-provençal word which means eau-de-vie, alcool, or brandy in English. It's almost a slang or familiar term for brandy, used by local people talking among themselves. It can also be spelled gnaule, gniôle, or even niôle.

I certainly enjoyed my petite gnôle.

This morning while walking Callie I noticed something. Silence. Today's a holiday here in France, but I didn't think anything of it until I was out in the vineyard.

The only sounds I could hear were our footfalls, the wind moving through the trees, birds calling, and the occasional crowing of a rooster in the distance. No faint hum of traffic on the road in the valley below, no train whistles. No tractors in the fields plowing, trimming, or spraying.

It wasn't hard to imagine how it used to be before the invention and widespread use of the internal combustion engine. Quiet.

Marc de Bourgogne image from :


  1. Yes, quiet doesn't happen much these days.
    I'm not even talking about Paris, but the summer in Bénerville is very noisy too, mainly because people spend their time cutting the grass or their hedges.
    So I like being there in the winter, I sleep in then because it is ever so quiet.

    All these brandies are too strong for me. :(

  2. In my opinion, Marc de Bourgogne reaches its highest station in life when it serves as bathwater for Epoisses, the "king of cheeses".

    John H. (really need to get a Google account)

  3. Oh the irony! I am currently suffering from the worldest worst hang-over due to several petit gnôles. :-)

  4. The quietest places I've been: Canyon de Chelly, highlands of Nepal, and Death Valley. Those are a long way to go for a little peace! I'm glad you were able to enjoy some so close to home.

  5. When we first arrived here, after years of life in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the quiet was amazing. Now I hear the chain saws, tractors, cars, trucks, and trains in the distance. Not to mention the neighbor's geese honking and donkey braying. Still, the birdsongs are about the loudest sounds we hear. I didn't pay attention this morning -- it was Walt's turn to walk Callie. Next holiday, I will lend an ear and hope to hear nothing.

  6. I've also heard the term used for poor-quality, homemade eau de vie. Maybe it's a regional difference. Or maybe that's why Samantha has such a bad headache!

  7. betty, yes, in fact I'm pretty sure what we were sipping was not a commercial product.

    chris, I've only been to Death Valley so I'll take your word for the others.

    sam, it's so hard to stop after just one, isn't it ! ;)

    john, bathwater ?

    claude, there are rules in our village so that you can only use power tools like saws and mowers between 10:00 and 12:00 on sundays and holidays.

  8. Not made in a factory or nationally distributed does not equate to poor quality. I'm sure a lot of the home-made eaux de vie are or were very fine. The one we tasted was very good. The headache comes from enjoying the gnôle too much!

  9. I love those "vulgar/familiar" terms. I don't know if you've tried watching "les tontons flingueurs" just yet, but it is quite a crash course in this type of french speaking.

  10. Manu, I have seen that movie, although it has been a while. It really is interesting to discover the little local words and phrases people use. It's all the stuff you never learn in school.


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