vendredi 25 octobre 2013

The day after the harvest

"Aaahhh," I screamed to my husband from the bedroom, "I can't move, help me!"

This was me the day after I picked grapes for a vineyard near Bordeaux. Today I'm going to tell you about the reality of grape picking.

There are loads of people with romantic views of coming to France and spending a few weeks getting "back to the basics" by participating in a grape harvest. The reality of the work is very different from the image these people have in their minds. How do I know this? I was one of these people.

Most of the work is done by family, interns who are paid next to nothing, immigrants from developing countries, or people who are "experts" at this kind of work - people who are used to physical labour and toiling in the fields.

Looks so innocent, doesn't it? Author of photo: Den Nation.

There are opportunities for tourists to experience picking grapes during a harvest, but let me tell you something: make sure that the owners are aware that you are a newbie and don't ever try to work as fast and as hard as the "experts". The wine chateau will have their own employees, either the immigrants as seasonal labour or the "experts". I find that the chateaux are not hiring immigrants like they used to: they prefer cheap interns or free help from their family or friends. There are also tons of wineries around Bordeaux looking to hire labourers, but my feeling is that they want to hire skilled labourers (the "experts") not immigrants who are just passing through. This is probably because technology has erased the need for the immigrants doing manual picking; the chateaux need skilled labourers that know how to handle machinery.

Please don't do what I did:

Me: "There's nothing to this, of course I can keep up with the "experts".

Me the next day: "What was I thinking..."

The experience is wonderful, but this is the reality: it is back-breaking work, you will be dirty, the sun will burn you, and your muscles will scream in pain the next day.

At the end of the day I felt fine. I laughed all though the evening with my fellow workers during the dinner at the chateau. I declared that I had never felt better. Haha!

You know how you feel the day after having done some strenuous exercise after a long break? You know the pulling and burning in your muscles that you feel that make walking uncomfortable? Well, the day after I picked graped I felt that. I felt like that times a hundred.

It was the worst muscle pain I had ever felt. So bad that I physically couldn't get out of bed. I went to move my legs and was doubled over with pain. I crawled on the floor to get to the bathroom in the mornings and it took 5 minutes to crawl a few metres. My legs were the worst, so I would use my arms to pull myself on the floor and drag my legs behind. It even hurt just to move my head to the right 5cm. And you know how that pain you feel after exercising lasts a day or two? Well, this lasted 10 days. I'm not kidding, I dragged myself around the house for at least a week.

The moral of the story? Don't be like me and assume that anyone can pick grapes. It's a great experience, but it's not for everybody. You have to start at the crack of dawn as grapes are best picked when it is cooler outside. You work the entire day because when the harvest has to come in, it has to be done ASAP. 10 hour days are not uncommon. A grape harvest is an extremely intensive and delicate operation, one where timing counts for everything. I had these thoughts of spending the day outside under the sun eating the grapes while I worked, talking with the others, admiring the grapes while I picked them, taking the time to breath in the fresh vineyard air... Yeah, right.

The "experts" are like robots - they are so fast you can't even see them picking. I wanted to be just like them, to be part of the gang.

My neighbour works at a wine chateau. She gets up everyday at the crack of dawn and spends the day doing what she loves. This involves a lot of physical activity, but she is used to this and is very athletic to begin with so has little problems with the physical aspect of the job. Being a woman in this industry makes everything harder, but she has such motivation and she works even harder.

Me? I had these ideas of doing some harvest work every year to pick up a little bit of extra money. Who was I kidding?! There's not an athletic bone in this padded body of mine!

I think I'll just to stick to doing what I do best...

Drinking wine!

Cheers! Author of photo: Den Nation.

vendredi 4 octobre 2013


Ok, so I'll just come out and say it: I'm starting a master's programme this autumn. Actually, I've already started. I am going to keep on blogging as to be honest, I am really enjoying interacting with my "Den Nation Blogging Family." I can't believe how many great blogs there are out there and I am happy to finally have "met" you all (after lurking for a couple of years).

I've decided to enroll as a full-time student while still working part-time on the side and travelling (of course, I can't give that up, but this means I'll be working in my hotel room all of next week). Maybe I am crazy, but after spending months of wallowing in my self-pity, I've decided to finally get out and try to change things. This involves finally completing a master's degree. I can't explain it, this has been something that I have wanted to do for a long, long time. A dream you could say. I want to prove to myself that I can do it.

Thankfully I have found an online master's programme that I can fit around my schedule (and my travels!). I am really intimidated by some of the other students, not because they are unfriendly, on the contrary, but because it seems like they know so much compared to me. I feel like I have years of reading to catch up on in order to reach their level of knowledge.

I'll leave you with a few pictures of the city I'll be staying in next week. Any guesses as to where I'm going?

Along the river. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Panoramic view of the city. Author of photo: Den Nation.

For anybody who has been to this city, this picture is a dead giveaway.
Author of photo: Den Nation.
I know there are some of you who know where I am going - please abstain from guessing!

Note: This is one of my favourite places in France and this was where I was almost sent to by my home university on my Erasmus year. At the last minute, the placement fell threw and I was sent to Bordeaux instead. In my last year at university in the UK, I met a French girl from this city who remains my friend to this day (one of my few French friends). I always wonder how my life would have turned out had I been sent here.