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Tractor ride at sunrise

Working the vendanges in the Pays Catalan

sunny 35 °C

5:45am, the alarm shakes me from much-needed slumber. It's Tuesday morning, day two of this week of the harvests. My lower back and quads scream for another hour of sleep (at least), reminding me that they haven't yet recovered from yesterdays' torture. I ignore them, knowing that I'll feel better after a neti pot in the campground bathroom and a quick café at the cellar before heading out to the vines. We get our stuff together (backpack, water bottle, headphones for the break, sunblock, and an extra shirt for the early morning hours), shove my dust-covered, grape-juice-stained Doc Martins on, and walk out to the front of the campground to wait for our ride. We get in the little Citroen C2 in silence. It's pitch black. The moon will be full tomorrow. The stars are all out. The sun is rising red from behind the mountains obstructing our view of the Mediterranean. It's going to be hot today.

As usual, we get to the cellar and make our rounds of 'la bise'. I watch from the curb as the men in the crew load our big red truck with cases, buckets, and scissors, huddled over my sacred cup of coffee. Mmm. Just before 7, I rinse out my cup and jump on the back of the tractor. I like riding on the tractor in the morning: the wind blows in your face, you have a clear view of the sunrise, and its kind of like a mini rollercoaster ride once we veer off the road into the vines. Sometimes you get a little off-balance, especially when you're riding with a bunch of reject grapes in giant plastic buckets. I'm getting pretty used to balancing, though. It's good for my yoga poses and spices up the morning.

That's about it for morning excitement. We'll spend the next two hours with our heads literally in the vines, cutting one bunch after another until I fill my bucket to the brim and yell 'PORTEURRRRRRRRR!!!!!' for someone to replace mine with an empty one. This morning, we've been assigned a shitty parcel; there's a buckets' worth of grapes on every vine, and there are leaves all over the place, so you can hardly see what you're cutting. Not to mention the pain-in-the-ass wires they put around the plant to keep the grapes from growing wherever they please. Cutting the first bunch is always a testament to the way the day will progress. Bad omen this morning. I can't see the grapes, so I spend about a minute undoing the wires, then ripping all the leaves away, and finally cutting one bunch and then another until I've stripped the thing clean. About a 3 minute process. Then, 'PORTEURRRRR!!', wait a minute for Arthur to run down the aisle with his empty buckets, make a quick switch, and move on. Fuck. This is going to be a long day.

The thing about harvests though is that everyone is in the same boat. Today our team has 8 people, but some days we can be as many as 12. Everyone is suffering equally. We're all pissed off at the condition of the vines, and at the fact that we will probably work for 2 hours straight and move about 100 meters. Totally psychologically dehabilitating. So, we find ways to keep our spirits high. Today, our boss, Christophe, is starting early with the locker room humor. Usually he'll give us at least 10 minutes to wake up, but no such luck today. 'Ehhhhh, Gabrielle, qu'est-ce que t'as? Il faut dormir la nuit, pas faire la folle!!'. Luckily I look more tired than I am. I woke up with a sharp tongue this morning. Before I know it, the sun is beating down on my back and I hear the church bells ring 9am. La Pause. Basically we get a 45 minute break to drink more coffee and eat grapes. Maybe I can do some meditation if I find a flat rock to sit on. We drop our scissors, abandon our buckets and go back to the truck to rest. It's funny how the time passes here: sometimes mornings feel like an eternity, but on days like today somehow the time flies just by people giving you shit and having to dish it back.

During the Pause (it gets capital letters because of its incredible contribution to my sanity), I decide to keep to myself. The day is shaping up to be one of the most beautiful yet. Not a cloud in the sky. From the parcel, you can see the entire valley of the Rousillon Villages. The Pyrenees behind us, the border with Spain, the foothills to the east that overlook the sea, and the little red-tiled villages evenly spaced in between. Also, today there's a nice sea breeze to keep us from overheating. You hardly feel the heat of the sun when the humid 'vent marin' comes through. I relax just long enough to get the energy to get back to my bitch of a job, and to resolve to go back with a different attitude. It's no use fighting with the vines, I tell myself, they don't react to your annoyance. They are plants. This is how they are. You're making yourself angry by taking that kind of attitude with them. Might as well take a step back and cut less rapidly. Plus, this gives me time to think--or daydream--about whatever I want.

This is easily the best part of the harvest. If you have any decisions to make whatsoever, you can bet on having the time to thoroughly consider every option. I go back to my line, crouch back at the vine I abandoned so violently before the first break, and get back to cutting. By the time I've filled the bucket the whole game has changed. Topic of thought: if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

'C'EST LA PAUSE! STOPPPPP!!!' yells Christophe. I somehow made it through two lines in this time, although I hardly remember having done them. We filled 160 cases with Syrah this morning.

Brazil for the World Cup 2014.

Posted by pack_it_in 09:15 Archived in France

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