2 “Poisoning the village” 2
Basil Howitt looks back on an eventful summer in his village of Lansac in the Fenouillèdes; not least because the entire Conseil Municipal resigned in a Pavarotti-pitched screaming match.
First, a confession. Our long summer here in Lansac has been so idyllic that penning this first despatch after the break required more than the usual effort needed to string words together. It is indeed hard to drag oneself indoors in the cool of an evening when the tender blue skies are turning to an ethereal rose pink in the west, when swallows are frenziedly veering, bomb-diving and rocketing, when the Tramontane breeze is ever so gentle and the rural silence ever so intense – and when above all there is a pitcher of Estagel rosé on the patio table …
In the end a sharp kickstart from my wife Clare did the trick. She threatened to withdraw her (indispensable) editorial scrutiny of my scribblings unless I got stuck in!
I mention the silence – but in the summer months this is often rudely broken both day and night. Sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning, if the wind has dropped, our neighbour gets out his tractor and starts spraying his vines opposite our bedroom window with the sulphate mixture in his noisy, whirring machine. To avoid being poisoned and asphyxiated we have to get up and close all the windows and shutters. After he finishes about 3, we open the windows again and, if we are not tossing too much in the heat, and the cicadas are not chirping too frantically, we can doze a bit more. Until dawn, that is, when the hunters up on the densely wooded hill opposite (La Rouyre, a prehistoric burial site), begin their demented pursuit of wild boar with their howling dogs and gunshots. There are now so many of these beasts in the Pyrénées-Orientales that the present hunting season has been extended by a month and a half, from mid August to the end of February. The meat is healthy and delicious if you can get hold of some, provided it is well marinaded and cooked slowly. (Two hunting videos are referenced below.)
Another disturbance to the prevailing hush of the village is the arrival of our wonderfully obliging Portuguese breadman from St Paul-de-Fenouillet. His deafening horn all over the village arouses every dog into a howling-mad frenzy of excitement – or is it panic?
The most welcome disturbance of all, in her smart yellow van from La Poste, is our young, dark-haired Catalan postlady Natalie, whose looks are to die for. More than that, she is an unpaid social worker who calls in on house-bound elderly folk every day. She surprised Clare recently by expressing concern over my health – because she hadn’t failed to notice that she was delivering to me weekly blood analyses from a Laboratory in Perpignan.
I can’t wait to be ill again! – because when I was at a low ebb she came over to the bench where I was sitting and gave me an affectionate peck on both cheeks.
Almost as welcome a disturbance as Natalie is the garlic seller who comes twice a year all the way from the Gers and pips rapidly and rhythmically on his horn during siesta time shouting “ail, ail, ail”. His huge fat heads of alium sativum, with cloves the size of pullets’ eggs, are worth disturbing one’s post-prandial slumber for.
Normally, that’s about it by way of disturbances to the prevailing hush. Even on our 8 mile cross-country circular walk in mid August we saw only 6 cars on a 2 mile beautiful stretch of main road (D9) above the Agly dam and reservoir, first commissioned in 1994. We were almost lotus eaters, refreshing ourselves along the way with plump juicy blackberries and two varieties of succulent figs.
3 Screaming match 3
In late July – after a village council meeting – the prevailing peace was shattered by the mother of all screaming matches outside the Mairie (next door to our house). We couldn’t see the protagonists, but my goodness we could hear them – some seven demented Pavarottis hurling abuse at each other, and vying for supremacy in decibels and pitch. Such clannish flareups occur from time to time in the very hot summers we have. I have an insufficiently tested theory that these rows increase as the temperature reaches blood heat. And we do live after all, on the same latitude as Corsica and its mafias!
The result of all this was that we now have no mayor and no Conseil Municipal (Village Council), even though all nine of them were re-elected without contest only 4 months earlier. They have resigned en bloc.
2 “Poisoning the village” 2
Ostensibly the quarrel is about the village’s tricky problem of water supply and management. We live in a drought-ridden area, and with the increase in younger families in the village, demand for water is always outstripping supply.
Rumours have sprung up – probably from one or two of the village clans which include the powerful hunting fraternity – that the mayor has been “trying to poison the village” by not declaring that our water supply is unsafe to drink. At that fateful meeting, this lobby outvoted by 5 to 4 the position of the mayor and his three supporters that the water was definitely safe. The mayor immediately resigned, as did everyone else.
On 29th August the Mayor (still highly regarded by many villagers, and legally obliged to hold the fort until new elections are held) posted an “Information à la Population” to the stout plane tree in the Place de la Fontaine, proving that our water is perfectly drinkable. Recent tests have satisfied the stringent demands of the DDASS (Direction Départementale des Affaires sanitaires et sociales) who state that “no restrictions are necessary”. The mayor concludes:
“to say the water is poisoned is not to understand the criteria, it is easier to tell lies and make people frightened.”
Watch this space!
3 References and follow-up: 3
L’Indépendant 30th July 2008.
You can see wild boar hunters and their prey in these two videos. The first shows boar roaming the woods, occasionally being startled by the film maker:
The second shows a skilled hunter going for the kill on his own:
Many other interesting videos can be googled by typing sangliers + la chasse + YouTube.
© 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: [email@example.com->firstname.lastname@example.org]