The Microcosm of a French Village

OK… so I’ve only been here for a few months.  Have I a right, to write about the well-seasoned and variously integrated Dordognians?. Or their hosts?  Well, this is why I feel I have earned that right: Every week that I have been here has felt like, at least,  8765 hours.  I have been here for about 25 weeks, so that equates to 25 years… which is half of my life.  I think that’s a case well made!  Also, life in a village is akin to a microcosm and it’s very intense.  So concentrated in fact that everything seems to happen much faster than normal.  In England, for example, it takes a 15 minute car journey to find a good organic butcher and it takes hours of searching on line to find a reasonably priced Gigola… Here, they are just outside your door, waiting for your money!  In fact, they arrive in the village, keen to give you a ‘gout’ of their wares!  Every thing happens on your door step, without a need to search it out and you’ll find that there is, more or less, one of everything in The Village:  One doctor, one priest, one mayor, one busy-body, one voyeur,  one flirt etc.  I shall come back to this soon:  The casual acceptance of people, and their vices or virtues or perversions, by my French neighbours, has come as something of a revelation to me.  When everyone agreed recently not to put too much pressure on the Mayor to perform his civic duty, despite him being paid by our local taxes, because he was having personal problems, I thought… well this is very different to the way it works in England.  We would  blaspheme or character assassinate someone rather than show compassion.  We would certainly not accept negligence or lack of responsibility, especially when we have paid the price, just because someone is having ‘personal problems’.   Would we?

My arrival in this deceptively quiet microcosm was actually back in March… I left behind what I had increasingly seen as friendless and cold England and arrived with my life in a van and began to inhabit my cold and unwelcoming new home!  It is no exaggeration to say that I cried every night for a week. It confused the dog and frightened my neighbours.  “Another wailing femme Anglais has arrived in the village!”.   And an awful thought was stalking my head, night and day…. ‘…you have made the biggest mistake of your life!”   It was unbearably cold in March and I realised at once that the estate agent had not seen fit to tell me the truth about the weather when I had enquired back last year.

Lie No. 1  I am sure that I’d said, ‘..so what is it really like in the winter here?’  I am convinced that she had replied, ‘it can get a bit cold in January and February, but it is always sunny and never so cold and wet and miserable as the UK’.

The house was colder inside than out…. what an enigma!  But not an exciting one like the Enigma Code or anything. More of a ghastly discovery of a fate worse than death awaiting me in the very bricks and mortar in which I had invested my last bit of cash!  Something dark in nature, beckoning me into the future.  I was in a cold land, not much different to England… and it was going to get better before it got worse.   The only one positive about that extreme of cold, that stream of cold air which was creeping through my home like a bad smell, is that it forced me to move at great speed in everything that I did.. just to keep my circulation going.  I have my dog with me… what a God send.

Fact Time:  Dogs are good for people because they force you to get out of bed, they force you to exercise; they force you to take a pee and they force you to go looking for food…. and they keep your feet warm at night.  Unless of course you’re French, in which case they sit unhappily in a yard or a cage and just wait for Dimanche, and the golden opportunity to be treated with dignity and respect, as they are taken out for La Chasse!  Head held high, tail pointed, pleased that they finally get to show ‘them’ that they are worth taking indoors for a bit of warm occasionally!  Teeth baring, stomach rumbling, they are primed ready for the kill!  I probably would be too if it were the only bit of attention and companionship that I ever got.  Well wouldn’t you?  But that isn’t really fair to the French in general… many of whom love their pooches.  But much to my despair, many French in the Dordogne love hunting, as they love force feeding geese and duck and they love to torment badgers.  Ah well.  Facts are facts and you have to put up or shut up when you’re out of your comfort zone.  I used to complain in England, til I got tired of it leading nowhere.  But I don’t yet know the etiquette for complaining here … and every English person I have met so far, no matter how long they’ve been here, doesn’t know either.  So come on, there must be some brave brit out there who has complained about something and lives to tell the tale… how about it?

So that’s the truth about the weather in Dordognemouth…. It is as unpredictable and damp and wet and overcast as the UK.  It may be hot.. even too hot if you don’t like 30 degrees plus, for a couple of months, but that’s it.  The rest is down to luck and just how many farmers happen to have been out dancing for rain so that they can get fat on their harvest.  I do understand that we need rain… of course I do.  But why, if we all need it so much, do we all hate being in it?  In fact, is there any weather that we humans can cope with?   Africans in drought and English people in the rain…. we still all look unhappy with our lot!

Something Profound:   I read something wise a couple of months ago… It goes something like this: You need a doctor about 3 or 4 times a year (if you’re lucky); you need a dentist 1-2 times a year; you need a solicitor about twice in your life; you need a priest either not at all or a few times a year; you need an undertaker once in your lifetime.  But you need a farmer 3 times a day.  But I got more than I bargained for when I decided to embark on a conversation, in French, with a local farmer…… !

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