What fun sitting around the neighbor’s dinning room table over a wonderful apple tart and a cup of coffee, hearing reminisces from the three households gathered together to welcome in the New Year. And share a little winter gossip.
There were stories about the Big House in the neighborhood. This would be the chateau that stands so grandly behind us. Ancient (from the ’60’s and ’70’s) proprietors used to own all of the little farm properties at its feet and many more in the surrounding valley. In a modern twist on the feudal system, the families that worked these small farms paid rent by giving to the Big House half of all things produced-- chickens, cabbages, eggs, wine.... Now, years later, it can safely be revealed that some sleight of hand was involved in “paying rent”. The childhood home of our neighbor had nine hungry mouths and the Big House was down to one inhabitant-- one old maid. So maybe sometimes there were a few eggs that didn’t quite get found under the brooding hen or a duck or two that mysteriously flew the coop.
Speaking of changes in the neighborhood led to a question about how old the ‘new’ bridge is? After a lot of checking dates against things like when the daughter got her driver’s license, it was determined that the new bridge is 20 years old. Funny because at 20 years old it is fissured and rusty and seems quite unstable, whereas the bridge from the 12th century seems as solid as ever. This group of old timers can’t talk about the old bridge without lamenting that it is now a one-way bridge. (It’s about as wide as a typical American driveway.)They can remember the thrill of passing car by tractor, car by car, tractor by cart, an entire book of stories in itself. Thinking of changes in traffic circulation led to talk of other places in the village where one can no longer circulate in two directions. When the regional government got the notion to gussy up our village they thought enlarging pedestrian areas everywhere would be just the thing to make Bourdeilles more beautiful and attract more tourist dollars. Common sense about access was left out of the planning. Now, unless you’re a tourist without a car, there is no easy way to access either of the two biggest tourist draws-- the church or the chateau. At the upper end of change-induced scandals comes the effect on funerals. The only way for the hearse to arrive at the church is by backing down to the front door. In terms of disrespect, this is just too much. Think pushing over the sacred cow in India. And this scandal (the hearse, not the cow) was leading us towards town politics...time to discuss the weather.
The weather has been anything but consistent here this past week so we compared notes on snow, ice, rain and the mixed bag of road conditions experienced. On one recent morning it had snowed about an inch. Officially the roads had been declared cleared. That meant clear in the two little tracks where a car had gone before you. No plowing in the middle or the sides. Slow going if you get behind a nervous, unexperienced driver, and they are all nervous and inexperienced here. Although it was not snow related, we were told about a time when our neighbor came around the bend and practically rear ended a house-sized harvesting combine. This slow moving monster took up both lanes and both shoulders. Woes be to any on coming traffic because there was nothing to do but hit the ditch to escape the enormous arms of the beast. Not at all legal, but as it was Saturday there was no chance of running into any police. Road Warrior sci-fi comes to Bourdeilles.
But then the best, most charming story of the afternoon was told as an after thought, a filler in the waning conversation. The Wednesday before we’d had about an inch or two of snow. No one goes anywhere when there is that much snow, not on foot, not in their cars. But for some reason the town maintenance crew, (aka The Boys) got the notion to clear the road that runs up out of our neighborhood. Who knows why they were clearing it, but even more curious was how they were clearing it. One of the boys was driving the town tractor and another was sitting in the front bucket, yes in the bucket, and from the bucket he was tossing out salt by the handful. First right then left, as they went up the hill and again as they came down the hill. What a hysterical vision of the clever ingenuity of necessity.
We left the warmth of that lovely gathering with some new understandings of our little village. Some true memories, some memories embellished with emotions and some memories almost stranger than fiction, but all tied into the collective memory of a little village like Bourdeilles.