La France Profond

 

Excideuil house with long tableAt the moment my traveling is in South West France – think of roses still on the bushes in December, sunshine even on the coldest day, unexpected views of chateaus with fairy tale turrets, empty roads and a village seemingly growing out of the chestnut earth, houses leaning one on another under the trees, supporting and supportive of communal life.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The bread van in a village without public transport, and many miles from a shop. The bread van races through the village- a lot of miles to cover. You wonder why she doesn’t stop. But that was just the warning shots – giving people time to get their purses and come down into the village street – just time to greet a neighbour, then the van is back. The doors open and the people crowd round eager to get their daily fix of crisp French bread. Josette is served first. Not the stylish French lady one sees in glossy magazines – she is over eighty and does daily battle with a wood stove and a herd of goats – so it is a wrap round apron, wrinkly stockings and a smile of triumph as she tucks her loaf under her arm.

The only apparently new thing in this village is the sign advertising the local rugby team – but look a little closer inside one of those houses – the ones with the satellite dish on their wavy roofs – wavy because the timbers were green oak which has warped with the years – yet sound all the same. Smoke curls upwards- most people prefer to use wood burners, but almost all move with the times and salons have large television sets and kitchens large fridges alongside the quaint jugs and the jars of dried herbs. The barn may be falling down , but the tools inside will include modern power tools as well as ancient scythes and saws handed down the generations.

There are not many young people in these villages . They all moved to the city where work is easier to find. I met an elderly lady, Edith’ outside the Brocante – the junk shop. She had lived here all her life. In the window was a page form a 1945 newspaper telling of the death of Hitler. We read it together, but doing so obviously upset her and she struggled to keep back the tears.

“It was my birthday. My 21st birthday, and that man spoilt it. Everyone was happy to know they were rid of him, but no one was bothered about my birthday. I was forgotten in the crowd. Horrible man!”

Just for a moment I saw beside me not the old lady in her winter coat, with grey hair and a face which so easily betrayed her age . Instead I saw the young woman she once was –tall and fair, in her best green dress made from some old curtains. The gateau made of flour and sugar saved over many months. And then all forgotten in the excitement of the news from Berlin. Who had brought the news? – the bread lady in those days also brought the newspapers.

Next week I leave this wonderful land, just for a little while, but I will be back, so ‘No regrets’.

About the Author: I am English born with very mixed genes and have travelled widely. I have been a Francophile all my adult life.

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