Archive for the ‘village life’ Category

La Liste, or How to be a Good Communist   Leave a comment

France : 36 565 communes
Allemagne : 14 727 communes
Italie : 8 070 communes
Espagne : 8 027 communes
Gde-Bretagne : 522 communes

Il y a 31 927 villages de moins de 2 000 habitants en France. Ils rassemblent environ 15 millions d’habitants. ( 25 % de la population ).

Très petits villages………………….. 3 911 ( 0 à 99 hab. )

Petits villages………………………. 17 124 ( 100 à 499 hab. )

Villages moyens…………………….. 6 759 ( 500 à 999 hab. )

Gros villages…………………………. 4 133 ( 1000 à 1999 hab. )

The municipal elections are approaching – next March every commune in France will be asked to vote for its Mayor for the next 6-year term. Political machinations are afoot. The first salvoe in The Battle for Moux was launched this week in the local paper :-

la liste

We invited Charles & Isabelle round for supper the other night, to get an update on the state-of-readiness of the New Opposition – of which Charles is l’eminence grise. He is well aware that this is, to outsiders, merely a storm in a teacup – our village containing just 500 souls – but it is his teacup and he is about to stir it up. He has also been made aware – through contact with a German who has settled near here – that France is ridiculed elsewhere in Europe for having so many communes : that it makes modern-day governance too smale-scale, too diverse, too cumbersome. And that it puts too much local power in one person’s hands. Our village has had the same gang running it for 12 years – they have grown accustomed to their places at the table ; the populace has become fatalistic about who will run their affairs – and those who would like to see change are anxious about repercussions (or as Charles puts it : represailles – reprisals).

So, when Charles asked me to join La Liste – they need a quorum of 15 – as Minister of Foreign Affairs, or Northern Emissary, I cravenly declined the honour, feeling that we are too exposed as ressortissants to any ill-will that this challenge must inevitably provoke. What little I can do, I shall : my first contribution will be to set up a campaign website, probably a blog, where people can respond/comment/criticise in complete anonymity.

For those interested in the villages of France, Gilbert Delbrayelle has this informative site : Les Sentiers de la Memoire.

oh, what did we offer our French friends to eat? It was lapin a la creme de moutarde a l’ancienne et aux eschalottes, with pommes de terre et celerie-rave parmentier, and green beans. Who? – oh, me with Mary as sous-chef. The praise was genuine and unstinted . . . and all directed at Mary. [ They cannot or will not accept that an English  can do anything other than boil food to bits].


Posted December 15, 2007 by Richard Williams in france, village life

… and what is it you do, exactly?   Leave a comment

There are some who ask themselves : what does he do all day? Apart, that is, from wandering around his decrepid village – drink in one hand, camera in the other – accosting senile villagers in an attempt to get the latest gossip about people dead a century before.
And there are others who persist in their phantasy that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, have never done a honest day’s work and generally lead a life of leisured enebriation.
The fact is that we pack a year’s work into six summer months : weeks on end of back-to-back 16-hour-days. It wasn’t really planned that way : there was supposed to be more mosaic commission-work, more paintings sold, less cooking and cleaning toilets. As it is we can cope with the frantically exciting and alarming summer schedule – balanced by the dull-as-ditchwater, living-like-church-mice winter regime.
There is still a great deal to do when our Summer People finally depart : I am gardener, groundsman, poolboy, carpenter, roofer, raker of leaves, professional composter and amateur pyromaniac.

There is still a great deal to do to the actual fabric of the place : the stables are full of rubble from a roof-collapse a few years ago – something has to be done with it before it kills some over-curious artist with a fatal interest in Rural Ruin.

But this has been my first winter not grimly working on a building site, here or for someone else. I have slowed down. I’ve started looking back. Enough to start writing, and to imagine another future. This venture has been the biggest I’ve ever undertaken : the largest house we’ve ever renovated, the most overgrown garden we’ve ever designed and planted – and the greatest business gamble. There won’t be anything bigger, in its sheer mass, in my life. But that doesn’t mean that there will be nothing greater, nothing more exciting. We are beginning to picture a leaner and greener and more streamlined existence, with less belongings – less bulk to encumber the life of the mind.
That’s why I’m carrying the camera. And the wine, I’ll have you know, is never uncorked before six.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in personal, village life

Une soirée musicale-apéro-dinatoire or early drinking with music and food   Leave a comment

Something of the spirit of ‘ 68 inhabits Domaine Isabelle. When we first came to the village we’d pass Charles & Isabelle’s house on the main street and wonder who might be the owners of the stacked bookshelves and the sculptures, who was it within who liked their jazz to flow, of a warm evening, out through the open window. We didn’t have to wait long.
A small group had been meeting through the winter with the aim of awakening the village from its slumber of decades by organising a celebration of the poets that Moux had produced over the centuries (eh oui – more than any other village in France – nous ne sommes pas des sauvages ici, tu sais!). At the fore were Charles and Isabelle.
As mosaic designers and a painter we were invited to take part in this Portes-Ouvertes weekend. Readings and plays, music and dance were performed in courtyards and parcs that had been closed to the general eye. Our own Maison de Maitre, closed up and empty for 30 years, was an ideal venue with its pillared barn – le hangar or auprès – and closed courtyard – to host musicians and actors and flamenco dancers.

Charles & Isabelle are well-known in the small community of vignerons des Corbières for the warmth of welcome at their house and the gaiety of the evenings during le vendange. They are among the few now who cook and eat with their grapepicking team. They make room for all at the long table in le petit caveau, where the music and stories and wine flows freely late into the night. And not just at harvest-time.
Evenings chez Charles et Isabelle start at the door of what to most would seem a shabby lock-up. On the corner of a dismal street in the middle of a dull village in le Midi. But inside –

This particular evening was something of a one-off. André, an adult-education teacher friend of Charles’ from the nearby market town had been working on some compositions with his friend Serge, a small farmer from Indre-et-Loire many hours north. Was there a possibility that a few people could be rounded-up to lend a critical ear? There was. And there was food with it, and wine on tap – literally : from a spigot right behind where they set up their amps.

André brought a collection of instruments : guitar, flute and an alto sax, which proved too loud for the occasion – the songs were from Serge : a surprisingly eclectic mix with a core of sadness in all of them. The longest ( twenty strophes or verses) was a valediction to his daughter leaving the farm to work abroad – an affective drama with Marco Polo showing her a world of wonders and dangers.
The song I recorded has all their weaknesses and their strengths : I still can’t follow all of it, but it concerns the pain of the small farmer in a land less recognisable, where a simple man with sensibilities is increasingly at odds with the world around him – and the way wine can drown these woes.
He hasn’t got a voice, it’s plainly true – but he has a song that after a couple of plays will stay with you. It’s plaintive without being mawkish, and hard without bitterness. Never going to make the charts – but then I’m never going to make the best-seller list. These were intense pieces of his life – his journal. There were only as many listening to him as are reading this.

Noyer dans le vin – Drowning in wine

Alcohol and History   Leave a comment

Since I started on this research into the families of those who lived in the Big House, I’ve unearthed a great deal – often stuff I wasn’t even looking for. And I’ve discovered one underlying principle: alcohol and research go together most effectively. Particularly in France. Especially in this village. Specifically with me.
I visit la Mairie quite frequently these days : the secretary – subject to the approval of Monsieur Le Maire who somewhat resembles a benign Joe Stalin with a reputation for being un animal for ‘pastis’ (no surer way to curry favour than to offer him some unusual bottle of aniseed-flavoured booze) – has given me the run of the archives: boxes of photos and yet more postcards from before WW1 plus dozens of leather-bound registers of Births, Marriages & Deaths, known collectively as Etat Civil : the civil status of each citizen.
So when I am not here …

… I am out visiting some elder of the village who has tales to tell.
Now if the arrangement is for, say, 11am I arrive with a notebook and an expectation of un p’tit café. Three hours later I’ve just about managed to keep pace with his ‘petit peu plus de whiskee’ and have covered several pages with illegible scrawl that will take hours to decypher.
But the thing is – or are – the tangents. The way one is led down them. The way the way back becomes harder and harder to find. The way one stops caring about french grammar or pronunciation or vocabulary – or where we had got to in the reminiscence.
Meeting an old fellow who loves his history and his ‘aperitifs‘ is wonderful – we are both gambolling wildly down the byeways of time and memory: he, delighted to be given an opportunity to revisit – me enthralled at the immediacy of all this new information.
The trick is to keep writing – as you drink, as you ramble. And never mind the spelling. There’s time enough to be sober.

And as I heard one neighbour say of another – with such utter absence of sentimentality I mistook it for malice – as her coffin was being slid into the family vault : ‘Elle ne parle plus.’