Images du sud de la France
As we start packing up and saying good bye to our new friends after our wonderful six months dans le sud de la France, we are thinking of the images we see on a daily basis which are among the memories that we do not want to forget.
The housing here is different – the older (usually dating to the 18th and 19th centuries) buildings are generally three storeys, built of local non-descript stone.
This is party of a rubble wall surrounding our terrace.
Some, in years past, have been plastered over for a smooth, grey, surface. More recent renovations have added a bit of colour but local regulations require any colour to be approved by the Conseil Municipal and they tend to be pastel and subtle.
Street in Saint Chinian
View from our window
Our neighbour’s newly painted house
Almost all the houses, in Saint Chinian and every village, town and city we visit, have shutters on the windows. These are functional, not just decorative like the pasted on shutters we usually see in Canada. Here, open or closed, the colour combinations make the facade interesting and give some indication of individuality.
Also, most of the older houses have a large “garage” door. These were in fact originally “barn” doors, some leading into an area under the house where animals were kept. And, maybe into a pasture or garden area in the back, between the rows of houses. Notre maison (dating from before 1811) has a back terrace which leads off the “garage” so it is easy to imagine this configuration. We actually have two garages since this maison was originally two houses.
Most of these doors are painted to match the shutters (such as ours) but many are truly artsy in their weathered state – a look hard to create if you want a distressed effect.
Rural images usually involve vineyards. Acres (or hectares) of them, sometimes as far as the eye can see. In these vineyards are little huts scattered about – un cabanon de vigneron (a winemaker’s shed). Many sizes and shapes.
These have an old and settled look. But, since wine-making on a large scale was not introduced here until the late 19th century, the fields were probably originally farms or grazing pastures for sheep and cattle. The wool and leather industries were an important part of the local economy up until then. There are various explanations for these huts which were obviously used by the farm/vineyard workers/shepherds and still are: privy/outhouse? or shelter from the sun/rain? There is even an old wives’ tale of the hut being used as a place for women to give birth while they are working in the fields. Older ones, made of field stone, are called borie.
Some have a different look. These temple-like structures, we have sometimes come across, are tombs indicating a long family attachment to that plot of land. Those knarly looking stumps in the foreground are trimmed down grape vines, waiting for the spring to burst forth in leaves and little grape flowers.
This style is usually the shelter for a well. One particularly pretty one is in our Or, an old style outdoor toilet? friend’s garden.
And then there are cars. We are all familiar with the “deux chevaux” often used in films to indicate a true French or Italian driver. The Citroën 2CV was introduced in 1948 as a cheap and utilitarian vehicle for the farmers who were still mostly using horses and carts after the war. Now, they are considered “trendy” and are mostly owned by collectors.
This red 2CV went roaring by, too fast to get a good photo
The latest version of utility vehicle is the ubiquitous “little white van” which have the habit of zooming up behind you on the local roads and tailgating until the perfectly unsafe place to pass.
This one, looking abandoned in a derelict yard along with old farm equipment. iPretty typical.
The farmers own them because they are big enough to carry tools and equipment, but small enough to drive into the vineyards. They also have a perfect tailgate for lunch (bottle of wine and a baguette), sometimes with the whole family.
In the hunting season the “little white vans” become transport for camouflage-dressed men with their guns and dogs who range through the vineyards and woods shooting at anything that moves (hopefully pheasants and wild pigs). Incongruously, because of safety concerns, their camouflage outfit is now topped with a neon pink or green vest. Sorry, I do not have any photos – did not want to get close enough.
Little white vans are also a favorite of small businesses and, if it is yellow, it is probably La Poste.
We will not forget these images soon!
From le sud de la France – Deidre and Murray