Tuesday, August 28, 2012

above Lourdes

view from our new location.  
I climbed one of those distant peaks a couple of years ago.

 I have moved on again.  I have no idea when I will get to post this, as I am at nearly 1000m altitude, high up in the mountains above Lourdes.  The view is breathtaking, the weather good so far. but absolutely no chance of internet access and only a tiny, occasional phone signal.  It’s worth every penny.

In fact, we only found this host a week ago.  The original proposition cancelled and suggested some friends that needed help.  We contacted them and started to make arrangements but things didn’t go smoothly,  easier to abandon a host before arriving than to arrive and find things in complete disarray.. So Vivien quickly did some research and found our present location on a “Chantier Parcipatif’(a building site that welcomes others to learn and help out at the same time) website and there was a positive response within an hour of us asking if we would be welcome.

Our hosts are renovating a fabulous old barn situated several miles from the last village of the valley, way up high, accessed by a dirt track that becomes practically inaccessible in winter.  They, husband, wife and daughter live here part time in the summer, flying in from their current home in Martinique.  This summer they have friend staying with them for the season. Running water is from the nearby stream and for the moment there is electricity when the generator is running.  It is used whilst there is a need for power tools and produces enough extra to chill the fridges, charge lights, mobile phones and run a dilapidated old washing machine.

summer kitchen, shelter and shower room OR car port in winter

the encampment with restored barn in al its glory

Several days later........

We should have been a bit more wary about the mega fast response requesting us to come and help, also the fact that there were no other willing hands about.  It’s not that the place was chaotic, far from it, it was one of the neatest well thought out building sites I have been on so far.  The difficulty that we stumbled upon was one of communication.  Our host was 60% or more deaf and not attuned to building sites or giving directions, his friend was more than willing to dispense advice, whether asked for or not and took every opportunity to direct us, even when we had already been given tasks to complete.  With the generator running almost constantly, plus power tools, chain saws and hammering it was difficult for anyone to have a decent conversation, let alone an in-depth discussion on the finer points of construction detail.  In addition for me, the second language and two new and interesting accents to contend with made even light going a challenge.  So you can imagine how smoothly things went.

Suffice to say, after three exceedingly frustrating days of miscommunications, along with the heated discussions between our two ‘bosses’ as to who was in control, the fact that we could have decided ourselves how to do several of the tasks easier, cheaper and with a more robust result, we decided to leave.  A week early.

Our hosts were surprised and individually both strangely sympathetic to our plight and apologetic for the behaviour and attitude of the other.  Neither really got the gist that it was of their making and will probably continue in the same vein in the future.  An interesting week that did little to forward our cause in finding land, but a great deal in learning about communication skills, taking control and team guidance.  Duly noted as we move on for an unexpected long weekend of recreation.

ferme du moulin - photos

excited hens chasing their breakfast delivery

trying to feed 200 hungry hens is a feat of patience as they crowd round, leaving no
room to walk, move your feet or even see their feed containers.

Farmer Bea with Adrien and Tim at the night market in Esparros, feeding
customers stir fry chicken or duck with rice and vegetables.  Delicious.

the goats were supposed to be clearing brambles and scrub, but used to jump the fence
and feast on the duck food almost every day.  They're not stupid.

lovely old ramshackle farmhouse, complete with obligatory breeze block repairs
and additions.  very french.

poultry yurts, not like the ones I enjoyed at my previous hosts.

very smart pallet garden shed, veg cleaning station and bar

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

from yurt to yurt

My life is now calm, ordered and a lot more french than it has been for quite a while.  As usual the transition back to the french language is proving a challenge, though I do think that I am demanding more and more of myself each time.  Conversations are getting easier but in different circumstances my vocabulary lets me down.  Imagine being at a table chatting when the subject changes from edible wild plants to the rise and fall Cathars and the influence of religion on european life and bread eating during the last centuries.  Not to mention trying to explain what is wrong with my brothers car and how the garage is fleecing him.  I need to learn more.

I wrote that last week and things are a lot easier now.  My head has found its french area and is well and truly wired for use.  There are still plenty of opportunities to get completely lost in conversations, especially when there are plenty of people, though it is a lot easier.

I am WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) with Vivien on a small organic poultry farm in the south west of france.  It is quiet and relaxed compared to my last location, yet I am still learning loads.  The biggest learn here, so far, is that I know that poultry farming is NOT for me.  The feeding, watering and care of hundreds of birds/animals is endless, there are frequent mortalities, especially with the smaller birds, plus a constant need to slaughter, clean and prepare carcasses for several markets each week.  Dealing with life and death at close proximity day after day takes a certain type of person and I am finding the whole episode quite tiring.

Differences between french and english view on animal welfare don’t sit well either and I find some of the “approved” methods and practices less than attractive even here.  I can only imagine what may happen on large scale agricultural premises, that would be enough to turn me completely vegetarian.  I shall be choosier about my meat consumption and its origins in the future.  It is a life, after all.

Vivien is one of the team that I am part of.  We have joined forces to search for land to start farming projects and build homes to live in.  Economies of scale on a tiny scale.  The plan is to find a large(ish) plot of land to buy that we can divide up and live on independently, supporting each other in neighbourly ways and sharing the expense of certain tools and machines.  Julien is the third team member, he is yet to join us this summer and should be here by the end of the week.

Our host here is an inspiration.  A single mother of six children, she left regular work just over a year ago, rented an old farmhouse with seven hectares of land and started her organic poultry business.  Four of the children are grown up and self supporting, one of which stays on the farm with her boyfriend for the summer to help out and the youngest two come and go between various family members and holiday opportunities whilst they are not at school.  The amount of work that needs to be done here, for one person is incredible, I can imagine that it never ends. Starting with hosting helpers must be like being on holiday for a while, though that does depend on the helper......

We are out in the country in a wide valley with a river and woods to one side and fields and  the church spire of a local village in the distance, to the other.  Down valley, to the south, are the mountains.  Today is the first clear day and they look amazing in the summer sunshine, their peaks still clinging to the remains of their winter snow.  When we drive out to the local towns, to the markets and to visit folk, it’s great to recognise some of the names on road sign posts.  It is good to be back near the mountains.  It almost feels like home.

There are seven flocks of hens here, all of different ages, they arrive at a day old and pass through various pens and enclosures until they are large enough to be kept in check by the movable fencing.  Thereafter they have la large area of grassy field to roam in throughout the day and a smart tin yurt to shelter in at night and when the weather is inclement.  Hardly the yurts I experienced at my last host, but yurts none the less.  There are four yurts out in the green sunny field each with its own flock.  The birds  then spend a while growing and plumping themselves up on a delicious blend of milled organic grains until they are sufficiently large to go to market.    The ducks and geese get a different area with a small stream passing through, so they always have fresh flowing water to paddle about in, though it doesn’t stay clean for long.