‘Worth every penny,‘ Hans adds happily bonjouring the friendly attendant.
The local country lanes are a delight after the monotony of the, admittedly, superb French motorways. Kris, our eleven year old son, who has slept through ninety percent of the journey, twisting and curling himself into the most unusual positions is now wide awake and announces that he’s hungry. Suddenly a huge green monster comes roaring around the corner and has us all screaming, limbs flaying and heading straight into a ditch. Peeping from behind raised arms and one lifted knee I see the flash of a toothless grin from the farmer whizzing past in his combine harvester.
Hans is now a little less cheery, I’m numbed by shock and Kris decides to go back to sleep. It’s early for harvesting but the hot and dry weather has resulted in the premature ripening of the corn and the combine harvesters are rotating from field to field crossing the small country lanes and scaring the hell out incident drivers.
We’re in the mid-west of rural France on our way to visit the Aunties, my two retired sister-in-laws, who live here, on and off. Passing a bright yellow field of sunflowers, synchronized as one soaking up the rays, I realize that I am in love. I am in love with this country with its crumbling chateaus, smelly fromages, crispy baguettes, and garlic induced snails. The delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee united with the pungent scent of a Gauloises is heavenly. I love that food and wine are of the upmost importance and that both young and old play jeu de boules together. Nobody gives you a dirty look when you drink wine for lunch and you receive approving smiles driving your cabrio with Jacques Brel blasting from the speakers. I love the accent, the je, je, je, ….jejejeje of the language that I don’t really speak and barely understand and I love the fact that I am no longer living on the other side of the world and can therefore visit as often as I like.
Sitting in the shade of two majestic chestnut trees next to the jeu de boules court Kris throws the cochonnet, the small wooden ball, to start off the game. Whilst we nip our chilled glass of fruity Rosé, I feel euphoric. In the distance stands the converted barn that the Aunties bought on a whim ten years ago with the understanding that guests would always be welcome as long as they pulled up their sleeves and did their bit. With a huge plot of untamed land bordering a small lake it seemed a Sisyphonean task at the time.
Today the house held together by impressively long beams is a sanctuary of rest and shelter from smothering hot summer days. Today no one has to pull up their sleeves, everywhere are small terraces inundated with fragrant flora.
About an hours’ drive west of the city of Poitier is the tiny hameau of Garotiere now inhabited solely by Brits who have lovingly renovated the five dilapidated former farm houses and tamed the wild landscape into a semblance of English gardens with huge vegetable plots. The Aunties are the exotic inhabitants of this tiny hamlet because they are the only ‘foreigners’ there, being Dutch which gives them their well deserved status.
Auntie-One is tall, slim and dark haired whereas Auntie-Two is smaller, rounder and blond. If opposites attract then they are the living example. Passionate about the environment and nature, each tree in their oversized garden was lovingly chosen and planted for a reason. Either to bear fruit, flower or to provide shade.
Unlike the English neighbours their terrain is not a clipped lawn, instead twice a year farmer Lavant comes with his tractor to cut the waist high meadow and uses the hay to feed his stock. After that paths are mowed by the Aunties with a heavy industrial lawnmower enabling access to the growing trees and by midsummer the labyrinth is so complex that house guests have been known to get lost.
The area is renowned for the enormous granite boulders sporadically spotting the landscape making it unfit for large agricultural farming. It is said that in the olden days, due to its inaccessibility, it was considered to be bandit country. The region was once so isolated and poor that travelers would categorically be robbed and marriages were kept within the sanctity of one’s family. This, fortunately (!) all changed after WWII when the French government started subsidizing the small scale famers in order to boost agricultural production for a starving nation.
Today strolling through delightful country lanes lined with high bramble bushes we pass the freshly cut corn fields and rambling meadows with silky blond cows who seeing us amble over and greet us with loud moos. Kris feels sorry for them because the grass in the meadows is completely dried out and withered and he’s worried that the cows might be hungry. He plucks handfuls of juicy grass from the side of the road and throws it into the field over the brambles…….. and starts a stampede of cows running away in fright! We’re feeling foolishly city-folksy and sheepishly sneak away hoping that Monsieur Lavant hasn’t spotted us.