Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Quietest Corner of France

Imagine a place of soft, rolling hills. A patchwork of fields  planted in glowing golden rape seed, some emerald green with spring wheat, others bark brown waiting for the new seeded sunflowers to sprout. And then there are the grapes. Acre upon acre of neat vineyards interspersed between the flatter fields, planted with perfectly manicured grapevines, pale spring green leaves reaching for the sun.

Imagine little towns with ancient church spires, bells that peal for 5 minutes at noon each day, to remind everyone that noon is here, that the market and shops will close and everyone will scurry home for lunch with their families, or meet friends in the local bistro or restaurant for a leisurely mid day visit and meal.

  Imagine not hearing ambulances, freeway traffic or  air traffic. We see the occasional contrail, and today a couple of low flying jets buzzed the rooftops, but the general silence is noticeable. We hear frogs, and birds, and the skies are a brilliant clear blue. Oh, and then of course there are tractors, and hedge cutters, their buzzing and whirring off in the distance, but of course only between 8AM and noon, 2 PM and 5PM. So very civilised.

Life moves so slowly here, and the culture is so carefully guarded, there is no trash along the roadsides, and the roofs are covered with tiles that have survived for centuries. When old tiles break, they are replaced by new ones that are identical in style, and the only way one can tell the difference between old and new is the color and  lack of lichen growth.

Towns host the centers of commerce, and are surrounded by villages and hamlets. Some villages have small shops and services, but hamlets are just little groups of houses. Our friends live near the village of Semoussac in the hamlet of La Roudrie, which sits right on top of a hill, surrounded by the most lovely hills and fields imaginable.
Our friends live in the cluster of buildings at top left of the picture

Today we went to the nearby town of Montendre and browsed the lovely market. Stalls filled with succulent sea foods, meats, flowers, vegetables, plants, clothing, notions and fabric, were so enticing and inviting. 
Head cheese anyone?
Life in the Charente-Maritime region of France is quiet, ordered, predictable and pleasant. The people here seem to follow the same traditions that have existed here for generations, and whether it will continue remains to be seen. The social structure seems to work, and if there is an undercurrent of discontent among the young and a quest for change, it certainly doesn't seem obvious on the surface, in this most quiet corner of France.

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