Saturday, August 01, 2009

Pascale & Christian

A proper rustic, run down french farmhouse, complete with french people, just what I had been expecting. The building almost looked deserted from the outside, though many french houses do. Walls with bits falling off, old wooden shutters on rusty hinges, not a lick of paint for years. The garden, or, more aptly described, land around it had a neglected air about it too. Plenty of garden shrubs in no particular order, some scrubby grass with long stalks all over it, mounds of brambles, elder trees and long grass going to seed everywhere. The whole place looked a mess.

First impressions. My outlook has changed since I first arrived. There is plenty of method in the initial madness, and good reason for most of it, though it is still appears to me like a form of organised chaos.

Pascale and Christian have been here for several years and are slowly restoring another part of the farm to live in using traditional methods. They live in the main building, but as it is sound, have done very little to it as there is so much else to do.

They are also passionate about providing for themselves from the land and have a vast potager where they grow all their fruit and vegetables. Seeds are very expensive in France, so they collect some seed from everything that they grow for the following year and also extra to swap with others. That explains all the plants that have been left for far too long, just one or two, in strange places, I guess the end of a row at some stage. Huge towers of parsnip plants that have gone to seed, similar clumps of lettuce, carrots, parsley etc etc. All waiting in the sunshine until the seeds are ready to harvest. I spent several hours painstakingly clipping dry heads off brown stems and carefully putting them into trays ready for sorting and storing. They are also active in keeping rare and heritage vegetables going, government regulations here, and I guess throughout the EU are making it more and more costly to register varieties, and, if not registered, it is forbidden for the seed of those varieties to be sold. Thankfully there is an active seed exchange movement that helps to limit the demise of such old and treasured varieties.

The brambles have arrived to cover over piles of earth and subsoil that remain from excavations to dig a large pond and install rainwater storage tanks. The water is saved from the roofs for irrigation and the excess ends up in the pond. The subsoil is clay of a quality that is ideal for traditional building methods. Crushed, sieved and mixed with chalk and dry stalks from the long grass, it makes a durable plaster like substance and also a traditional mortar. Sieving the clay isn’t that much fun, but using the resultant product is interesting and gives great, rustic results. The brambles are just there for the berries and because there is too much else to do. As are the elders, the flowers are used in conserves and wine, as are the berries, and to make a mixture that is supposed to ward off colds and promote a healthy respiratory system. The wine cleared the cold I arrived with in a couple of days and the concentrated jam is taken every morning for breakfast, either in coffee or on bread.

Christian is another tomato fan. During the summer, when he has finished working, you can find him in the potager tending his pride and joy. He grows 100 heritage varieties every year, changing about twenty so that they can try something new and also to increase their seed collection. It has been great to learn so much more and, more enjoyably, to be here as the first fruit ripen and are ready to eat. Tomato salad almost every meal. Excellent.

My french has improved dramatically, although the enormity of completely understanding a second language is something I think I will just admire. Just when I think that I am getting to grips with a subject, it changes and I am at a complete loss again. A couple of days later most of the vocabulary that I had discovered has gone and been replaced with words that are no longer immediately required. I am sure that it is getting easier every day. Perhaps I will stay a while longer if my visa does not appear and at least get a decent accent going. That, I suppose, will depend on finding other french hosts, they are few and far between.

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