The French word for country, as in a nation, is pays (pronounced “pay-ee”) Until modern times, pays meant the area of land in which one could hear the church bell of your village. If you could not hear your village bell, you had gone beyond the limits of your world.
Although villagers travel far and recklessly wide from the sound limits of our bells, these big clonging messengers still exert a very strong sense of structure to life in our village.
There are two bells in the enormous bell tower in Bourdeilles. The smaller of the two is the “striker”. It tolls the hour and half hour. Three times a day we are treated to the massive bell that is the true arbiter of the aural boundaries of our village. It is the performance of this big bertha that sets the rhythmn of the day for most of the villagers. Tom and I call this tour de force of sound the “crazy bells”.
Here is how they work. After striking the appropriate hour, the striker takes a pause of five minutes. We all think of this as the calm before he storm. Then the striker strikes thrice-- the Father, the Son , and the Holy Ghost (this is a church bell after all.) In case you weren’t paying attention, the striker strikes thrice again. Pause. Calm. The dust is settling... BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG !!! The big bell pounds out a mighty bass note that carries far over the houses, the fields and the hills of Bourdeilles. This brash performance goes on for far longer than you would expect coming out of the top of what is otherwise a very subdued looking church.
The crazy bells occur three times a day. The first, at 8:07 tells the village when to get out of bed. The streets are generally empty until some time after the crazy bells. This leads me to believe that we are not the only people laying in bed straining to hear one more faint echo of bonging before our feet have to hit the cold floor.
Noon plus seven minutes is the second set of crazies. “Stop work. Go home. Enjoy lunch and a brief rest with your family.”
Seven minutes following seven o’clock in the evening is the last time of the day we will hear the mighty big bell. “What? Still working. Stop. Go home. It’s supper time. The day is done.”