2 DIRTY LINEN AND DODGY WATER 2

[( “Lansac is a large family that washes its dirty linen in public. Will the polls on Sunday act as a large wash tub?”
(L’Indépendant 23rd September 2008)]

3 Basil Howitt continues his Clochmerlesque saga on the political shenanigans in his tiny village of Lansac 3

Never, ever, has our tiny Occitan village of 97 souls been so much in the news as now. Certainly not since I moved here in 1991. Over these 17 years we have hardly ever made the papers. One occasion was the death of the former village schoolmistress who had taught almost every native over 50 in her all-age school. Another was the sad suicide of a lovelorn lad whose wife had walked out on him. The third was a dramatic knifing incident. An unpopular couple with several children came to live in the commune’s property assigned by law to social housing. They were so strapped for cash the husband disabled the electricity meter to get free power. (Easily accomplished, apparently, with the many old meters in these parts.) However, he was spotted by their neighbour and reported to EDF. When the family’s power was cut off altogether, the husband bashed in the neighbour’s garage door with a sledgehammer and the gendarmes were called. They were greeted by the lady of the house threatening them with a huge carving knife. Needless to say, the family was taken away and we never saw them again.

Otherwise there has been little to disturb our rural tranquillity, surrounded as we are at an altitude of 950 feet (330 metres) by vines, garrigue and dense woods of kermes oaks.

Since my last despatch on the brouhaha created by our water supply problems ([Poisoning the Village->http://www.anglophone-direct.com/Lansac-Poisoning-the-village]), the golden tints of autumn have already appeared on the vines of syrah, carignan and mourvedre, all now harvested. You would never guess that within this peaceful landscape the village has been seething for weeks with backbiting, quarrels and plots in the bid of what might be loosely called the hunting clan to oust the incumbent mayor and his supporters and gain control of the conseil municipal.

3 On 5th October this clan finally succeeded. 3

Resentment had (according to L’Indépendant) “simmered for several years” not only on the water issue but also on the mayor’s alleged management style – “autocratic and with an evident lack of communication”. Other grievances included “incompatibility of temperaments” and “inequitable decisions”. Perhaps the most burning recent resentment of the hunting clan has been that a permit allowing the son of the first deputy mayor to build a house on his land was delayed pending resolution of the water quality issue.

3 Keeping it in the family 3

Such conflicts in the village are inflamed by nepotism everywhere, though this is inevitable when almost all the natives are related, even if only at the level of second-cousin-twice-removed. The first deputy to the erstwhile mayor is the brother-in-law of the second deputy whose wife is the former’s niece – and also sister to another prominent councillor who is the local “Lieutenant de la Louveterie”. (This literally means Lieutenant of Wolf Hunting – a responsible office going back to the days of Charlemagne, though it nowadays relates more to wild boar, roebuck deer etc.) At the same time the first deputy’s daughter is the employed Secretary in the mairie … I’m sure by now you see my drift!

3 “Cacophonie municipale” 3

You may recall that our mayor resigned at the end of July after being defeated by 5 votes to 4 on the issue, ostensibly, of the quality of the water. The whole pack of cards came tumbling down in the mass screaming match and resignation of the other 8 councillors, so re-elections became necessary. However the resignations of the two deputy mayors (adjoints) were refused by the Prefect of the Département since they had to undertake the organisation of the re-election. There were thus seven vacancies on the council – the rules requiring a village of our size to have a council of nine including the mayor.

3 Dodgy water? 3

The mayor’s stand that our water is satisfactory was supported after analysis by the regulatory body DDASS, but it turns out that the issue is not that simple. A week before the election on 28th, we all found the following “Notice to the Population”, unsigned, in our letterboxes:

“Following the published analyses of water destined for human consumption, the last of which is dated 13th August 2008, the sulphate count being higher than the recommended norm, it is advisable by way of precaution that those who are elderly or otherwise vulnerable as well as young children do not consume this water.

Prefectural decree No 3053, 18 July 2008 and No 3209 dated 31 July, consultable in the Mairie.”

This notice apparently originated from the hunting clan headed by the two deputy mayors.

3 To the hustings! 3

Having produced an electoral liste of the required seven additional candidates this group then set out to get their team elected en bloc, though they were opposed by an alternative liste of only five younger aspirants. (The municipal election system by listes in small villages is quite complicated: a clear explanation appears in the references below.)

3 Here comes the bribe, here comes the bribe …. 3

On the eve of the election who should walk up our courtyard but our ever-smiling caretaker and cleaning lady – whom I will call Clothilde. Always cheerful and brimful of life, Clothilde is, just to remind you, the wife of the second deputy, niece of the first deputy – and sister of the hunting lieutenant! On the avowed motive of a social visit to enquire after my health she suddenly shocked us by asking if we would like some sanglier (wild boar) if her husband had killed any that day. If so she would bring us some that same evening. “Yes please,” we replied enthusiastically. It turned out he hadn’t, so she returned later with some of her mother’s scrumptious preserved sanglier stew – gamey, highly aromatic, deliciously tender and enough for two substantial lunches.

The conversation then somehow turned to the matter of the hunters’ liste and I was asked if I would be voting. “Mais oui” I replied. Extolling the virtues of this liste over the rival one then took her some time … though I had already decided there was unfortunately no effective opposition to it.

On election day the result required a second round the following Sunday, only three of this liste having received the required absolute majority of 31 votes or more in an 86% turnout. After this partial success three frozen packs of raw sanglier appeared in our kitchen.

After further assiduous campaigning, the remaining four on the hunters’ list were elected in the second round on October 5th (turnout 90%). Inevitable probably, but sad for the losing youngsters because they are exceedingly nice people only too willing to help anyone, especially with all the village’s internet problems caused by its still-defective WIFI system.

I doubt that any in the winning team are ever logged on, even supposing they know what that means.

***

3 References and follow-up: 3
On municipal elections, listes etc in general:
[http://www.anglophone-direct.com/A-more-detailed-look-at-the-French->http://www.anglophone-direct.com/A-more-detailed-look-at-the-French
]
L’Indépendant: broadsheet issues of 12th 23rd September. 6th October

Lansac statistics: [http://www.annuaire-mairie.fr/80461-commune-lansac-pyrenees-orientales.html->http://www.annuaire-mairie.fr/80461-commune-lansac-pyrenees-orientales.html]

© 2008 Basil Howitt

Basil Howitt has also written
[Life in a Penguin Suit->Life in a Penguin Suit] (Camerata Productions 1993)
[Love Lives of the Great Composers->Love Lives of the Great Composers] (Sound and Vision 1995)
[Grand Passions and Broken Hearts: Lives and Lusts of the Great Composers->Grand Passions and Broken Hearts: Loves and Lusts of the Great Composers] (Robson Books 1998)
[More Love Lives of the Great Composers->More Love Lives of the Great Composers] (Sound And Vision 2002)
Walter and His Daughters: The Story of the Carroll Family of Manchester (Forsyth Brothers Ltd 2005)

You can contact Basil by email: [basil.howitt@packsurfwifi.com->basil.howitt@packsurfwifi.com]

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