A routine but lovely bicycle ride ended one day as usual at home in my rural French village in the pre-Pyrenees as if it had been photocopied on 400%.
This new home in a foreign land has very little happen in it and in that way, when you hear a dog or a tractor anywhere within earshot you hear it. You can hear conversations from households in other streets. But at 9am every day a van drives into the village sounding it’s horn and figures emerge baguette bags and cash in hand, ready for the daily supply.
On a Thursday that’s a vegetable truck and a Friday it’s the butcher and cheese dealer. Then straight after they’ve pulled off, the doors close and the ghost town resumes it’s set like role.
Then once a year there’s a fete. And the village entrepreneurs and farmers open their doors and ply their sweet tastes and fine aromas for all. For a day.
The meillerie that makes honey here in the village. The lavender distillery that produces essential oils. The wine producer. The baker that has a stone bakery remotely up in the hills about a mile from her nearest neighbour, the goat cheese farm. They all descend on the village to spin some gold and deliver a season’s supplies to the locals.
It’s a ongoing show if you live here. In a typical day Alban the honey man bumbles off into the hills to collect his gang’s nectar before being the go to guy for a gas bottle when your home made soup pauses as the blue flames rescind suddenly.
Miscia and his family and any friends that can be garnered switch into overdrive during the lavender’s harvest window, spending days cutting, bagging and delivering the sweet smelling flowers back to his distillery in the village and for a while the whole place has a background aroma of lavender as it is gently refined into a heavenly syrup in huge vats behind his barn.
Few know where Chloe’s wood fired bakery actually is up in the hills above the village. Barely a soul goes up that way really, but it’s a col with no through road to a hamlet of three or four homesteads with provenance that includes Paco Rabanne’s former bolthole, Breshnev’s neice’s house, a gost cheese farm and Chloe’s bakery. I went up there once and made a story on the goat cheese farm after the farmer appeared avec chainsaw and felled a tree in our garden because someone else had mentioned to him we needed it. But until the village fete I hadn’t met Chloe. To be honest I still haven’t seen any family of former Russian heads of state or fashion heroes knocking about here either yet.
As a slice of village life this wasn’t typical as such given it’s both activity and enterprise, but it did show another true side of rural living all be it for a day. Not so much an event for the sake of heritage as I’d witnessed in rural southern England but more perhaps a window opened to real life. A lot could be spun into this being about community or how life used to be and the simplicity and honesty of a humble life, but in all honesty, these people work hard and this was simply the local businesses having a road show because there isn’t really a high street. And there’s something humbling about that because it’s not because of tourism or for a government marketing campaign to buy local, it’s just how these people have chosen to make their crust in this little corner of France that barely anyone visits except the odd politician or fashion designer.