My friends Ann and Martin live in rural France, deep in the countryside, la France Profonde.
This is not the glamorous France of classy shops and stick thin women brandishing Chanel handbags like weapons. No, this is like a step back in time, a slow pace of life where people are more concerned with the weather and what it will do to their crops and animal husbandry than they are with fashion and the fripperies of modern life. On village streets one is more likely to see people carrying a baguette than a handbag whatever the make.
This is a working country. The fields are full of the omnipresent maize that builds throughout the summer into a veritable wall of greenery blocking out views and changing the landscape completely.
But there are breaks in the monotony of green, sudden flashes of light and yellow as fields of sunflowers dance before the eyes. They make a colourful patchwork effect and as they nod their heads in the heat of the day one is compelled to smile. They are happy flowers, happy fields. Summer sunshine spread across a landscape.
It became a bit of a joke as we toured around in my little hire car, Martin at the wheel and the rest of us shrieking “Sunflowers!” whenever a glorious field came into view. Stopping the car and me dashing out to snap photos and marvel at how these flowers can mix both productivity with all out heart stopping beauty.
Throughout the summer villages in France host fêtes that are more like mini festivals and rather put the British concept of a village fête to shame. No dainty tea parties with bunting and maybe a few races on the green. Oh no this is all out fun and festivities with Fête Suppers where for only 13 Euros you get 5 courses of excellent food prepared and served by the village committee. While you may be sitting at long trellis tables in a badly lit village hall you are served delicate fillets of tender white fish with a sauce of mussels and a touch of wine. Tiny game birds served with petite crisped potatoes tinged with rosemary and the crunch of fleur de sel. There is soup and salads and of course a cheese course and coffee. Idgy’s eyes light up at the perfectly presented chocolate puddings and by the wee small hours our eyes droop with the ever flowing river of rose wine. There is a disco and dancing and all ages taking to the floor with a joyous abandonment that one would never see in the city where people are too concerned with how they look to everyone else than letting go and just having fun.
There is the Course Landes where wild cows race around the village arena at high speed while the gaudily clad young fighters leap and almost dance with beasts whose horns and weight can do serious damage at any moment. This is truly grace under fire however you view it.
My friends live in a delightful old house that they have spent five years working on to create a home that is both spacious and homely. They have worked hard on house and land and carved a niche for themselves in this wonderful country that they now call home.
The fields are full of beautiful horses grazing in the sunshine. Mares and their foals swish tails against the flies and sounds of their whickering mixes with birdsong and the chirp of cicadas.
There is joy in just listening, walking through fields heady with wild chamomile and thyme and filling the senses to overflowing.
Can you tell how much I love it here, I think you can.
The pool beckons and I kick off my old Converse that have been my faithful footwear companions here for the past five years. They are sun faded and comfortable, old friends who owe me nothing and are still going strong. Every day I wear them at home I think of France, memory footwear what could be better.
Memories already and it was only a week ago…..