Languishing in Languedoc
There is only one way to contemplate the problems of the world, and that’s looking out the window of a modest house in Languedoc, snug up against the shadow of the Pyrenees on France’s border with Spain. As far as the eye can see, there are nothing but vineyards, stretching to the horizon, promising the world’s new trendy best wine for restaurants around the globe to buy and market.
We also contemplate — and envy — the lush life of the French.
They’re rioting in the streets here because the government, fearing bankruptcy, is trying to constrain the lifestyle that me and thee would love to have.
France, being France, has realized — as has Germany — that as its population ages and no one has babies anymore, it can’t afford to coddle its overly comfortable citizens. Any Frenchman who has worked from age 18 to 55 can retire at that age at 75 per cent of his salary. That’s why they’re rioting in the streets — those outrageous politicians are trying to take that privilege away.
In 218 BC, Hannibal was just a hop, a skip and a jump away when he crossed the Pyrenees with his elephants on the way to confront Julius Caesar in a classic and failed battle just ort of Rome. (Some of the pensioners here still remember the elephants passing through.)
You can’t believe anything about the Languedoc-Roussillon area down in this southwestern corner of the country, which has now surpassed the Bordeaux and Burgundy redoubts as the largest vineyard acreage in France. And you can’t believe that only one-quarter of the French population pay income taxes.
Even more unbelievable than this is a special January airfare from London, England, here to Perpignan, its main town: one pound four pence return per person. After tax, it added up to 30 pounds (about $72 Cdn). Ryanair is the world’s most profitable airline, an Irish invention of some 17 years ago.
It now delivers more Brits to Europe than British Airways and has just ordered 100 new jets from Boeing — and Ryanair is driving BA wild because it strikes deals with such small airports as Perpignan to cut landing fees, which brings in more Brits who — quelle surprise! — buy wine and eat frog’s legs and make the locals rich, who don’t mind being taxed for the landing fees.
The Languedoc vineyards are, in fact, the Florida of France for geezers. There is no industry, no manufacturing, only the blissful climate and those snow-capped Pyrenee peaks and little restaurants that you could die for (and would, if tarrying too long). The French up north in Normandy, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the country — 20 per cent — flee down here where such is the house-building demand you could wait two years for a mason.
The Brits understandably have gone bananas for the place. Now they can afford a second home here because of the ridiculously low airfare and can come down most every weekend to sample the Languedoc plonk that no one — not even those in the finest Paris restaurants — can sneer at any more.
Just up the drag is Carcassonne, the only completely walled city left in France. And nearby Nimes, thanks to the Romans, has the only bullfights left on the continent. And not to mention all of the French World Cup rugby players come, complete with their mashed ears, from this area.
And, as a reminder, you can nip across Hannibal’s border to Spain where, instead of paying a 21 per cent tax hit on groceries, you can load up on Spanish goods at six per cent.
And, while you’re at it, drop in on Salvador Dali’s home and museum just over the mountains.
As a fellow geezer, I highly recommend it. Especially the 30 pounds. And the wine ain’t bad.