Tuesday, October 9, 2012



Condom is in Gascony, Département de Gers. We wonder if Condom sells more postcards than any other city of it's size in France.

The locals pronounce the name of their city, "conedoe", and the jury is not out  on the etymology of the male prophylactic. Wikipedia had (some of) the following to report:

 - 16C.  Italy. Dr. Fallopius (women's fallopian tube named after him) invents linen sheath as protection against syphillus. Tied on with ribbon. Colour(s) not specified;

- 1660's. France. Dr. Condom gives randy Charles ll oiled sheep intestines for safe sex;

- 1640's. France. Ten years earlier, farmers in Condom rumoured to have used the sheepskin method;

- Date unrecorded. Scotland. Used red, blue, and green ribbons under kilt to denote competition results with ewes.

Condom is southwest of Moissac. We are once again in wine country. Particularly well known in France are the Cotes de Gascogne white wines. We pass vineyard after vineyard in beautiful rolling hills, and Joanne says, “Let’s go to one of the wineries.”

We choose the next Domaines that we see and drive up to an old farmstead that comprises a couple of barns, small outbuildings, and the main house, all of which, of course,  are stone. Together, they enclose a large gravel parking area. On two sides of the property are vineyards, row upon row, laden with bunches of grapes that are ready for harvest. 

Sparkling in the late morning sun on the south side of the barns is a cornfield, where long green leaves bend in the mild easterly wind. The last adjoining field has recently been plowed and the rich contrast of the red-brown earth completes the picture-postcard scene.

Clearly, this farmer is not just a vintner. He also has other crops. Many small family vignobles vineyards in France are mixed farms. It is common to  find small wineries with their own labels in every wine producing region. These are very good local wines, a great many of which are not available outside of France. Corolle, where we are now, is one of these. 

The sign on the road read Dégustation et Camping. Yes, a little further down the farm road is a campsite for the annual summer holidayers from the north.

It is close to noon. We know from experience that rural France shuts down from mid day to 1:30 or 2 pm so we’d better get moving if we want to try some wines. This place is already looking deserted. There is no sign of life except for two sleepy farm dogs lying in the shade on the patio. There is no indication of a Cave or anything that even resembles a winery. But, Joanne points to a sign with the word, Actuel. It is underlined with an arrow. We head that way and I knock on the half-open kitchen door of the house where we are greeted by a nice old lady. 

I say, "Bonjour madame. Est il possible à déguster votre vin?"

I can usually communicate in French in a rudimentary sort of way, somewhat haltingly, with incorrect grammar and poor vocabulary. But as long as I keep it simple, I seem to manage. I am often told that my pronunciation is really quite good, and I am happy about that, but this is not always a good thing, and frequently works against me, because if I happen to have a string of words or even a sentence or two correct, then the French will respond with words at a speed that leaves me at a loss. 

Madame utters something unintelligible to me and disappears back into the house.  She returns right away with a pleasant looking, tall, dark haired woman who is wearing an apron (her daughter, I assume), and I repeat my question: "Nous sommes Canadiens et sont intéressés à déguster votre vin. Est-il possible?"

I am feeling very self-conscious about massacring her mother tongue. She seems confused and I am thinking it’s not that she doesn’t understand me but that she does’t really expect people just dropping by at the end of the tourist season, during lunch for wine tasting. Joanne and I both have nice smiles on our faces.

She replies, “Non. Je ne parle pas Anglais.”

But she is courteous and is quick to say, “Mais bien, ‘seurdames.” 

The sleepy dogs come alive and they follow us to the old barn. They bump into Joanne in their frantic pursuit of a lizard around the flagstones. The little creature is faster than the hounds and slithers into a crack in a wall. We enter through the barn door, leaving the panting dogs behind. They seem to be pouting about being outmaneuvered by the lizard. 

We are in a rather dark working barn now, that bears no resemblance to other wine tasting rooms we have been in. Nothing bright and clean and shiny here with the usual wine tourist accessories. 

I ask what kinds of wine she produces and Madame in quite a matter of fact manner, says they produce a red, a rosé and a dry white and what would we like to taste. 

We taste them all and they are magnificent. We buy one of each for about $6.00 a bottle.

Her servings are not measured, and I am now animated, trying more earnestly to speak French and we are soon engaged in a discussion. Madame has little knowledge of Canada and has not heard of Vancouver. Joanne is picking up the thread of the conversation. Madame’s teenage daughter, Isobel, was told about us by Grandma and in curiosity, is driven to the barn. Her mom says Isobel would like to go to Canada but is concerned about how cold it is there. She wants to show off her daughter’s English, but Isobel is reluctant. I pry a few words out of her, but her shyness prevails. We say “Merci bien, au revoir.” Mama gives us directions to Condom. They head off to the house for lunch and we drive on to city, very happy that we turned in here for the dégustation.

Condom is a thriving, pleasant city, where one gets the feeling that much is going on here. 

We learn that Condom is equally as important a pilgrim walker’s destination ...  

as is Moissac

The Knights Templar had headquarters here too. In fact, there is a tourist store that sells all kinds of things about the Knights. It was closed!

We do more tasting at the Cave in town and buy some different wines for consumption back in Moissac. 

We returned again to Condom some weeks later with our friends,  Colin and Colleen. We celebrated Colin’s birthday with a gourmet lunch at La Table de Cordeliers.

Before we head back, at the Cave Colin pumps some excellent Gascogne Rouge - vin de table, into an empty water bottle.  This is a self help system where one is charged just like at a gas station. 
Love it! 

Helen, a local lady stocking up on her wine for a few days gave Colin instructions. 

BTW, not only is this region of France known for its Armagnac but also for its plums. We decided to hedge our bets and buy a jar of plums in Armagnac.

We opened the jar about a month later in Vaison-la-Romaine to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving dinner with friends. Wow!

And by the way, take a look at the terrific prices for the magnums of Armagnac (below).

Anyway, this Helen from Condom asked us to come see her Gites, in an old 18thC house in town. Why not?  

Ellen's father had was a chemist in Condom, e.g., he had an apothecary business, hence the name of her house:
She gave us a tour of her home of many angles with doorways, windows and rooms, all aslant. This tiny, vibrant little old lady transformed a house from the 1700s into a quaint Bed and Breakfast for curiosity seekers.

--- ooOoo ---

ahh, one more thing:

Gascony is the territory of d’Artangan and his celebrated trois mousequetaires.
"The Three Musketeers" (1884) by Alexandre Dumas.


I am unclear as to who is whom in the mousequetaires  statues:



we remove ourselves from Condom and head home

For more travel photography with local information visit my website.

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