Friday, 1 February 2008

Last day in the Loire

The church, seen from the front door of the house.

My last full day here is dark, rain-laden and windy. But it’s not cold and it felt invitingly refreshing for a walk—winter as I like it in one of its guises. I crossed our small valley (with a stream and a mill) and walked up the opposite side from yesterday, onto the ridge again—a vast empty prairie of bare fields, occasional spinneys and the odd farm, the ploughed soil full of flints. There’s nothing pretty about this landscape; it’s like Salisbury Plain in Hardy, an abode of starving penniless folk who barely find shelter from rain and sun. The farmhouses here, though, seemed prosperous enough, each with at least one car.

This could almost be part of Dorset, except for the architecture of the farms, the lack of fences and hedges and the lines of poplars across the valley bottom, laden with huge bunches of mistletoe. And if people in the farmhouses want to grow vegetables for themselves they don’t have a garden but dig up a strip along the edge of a field and plant their leeks and broccoli—all there was to be seen at the moment.

No life to be seen except one small crop of snowdrops by the road, and small birds. (On my first day I had seen lapwings, of which there used to be hundreds in the ploughed field at the back of our semi in Wibsey, on one of the hills above Bradford. Now I hardly ever see them in England—and the fields we used to walk through are long gone.)

Last night at the hour of white wine tasting --Jim and Nigel’s day’s spoils of samples--we were visited by friends of Jim’s: Michel, a teacher who is one of the three deputy mayors, and his wife Anne-Marie. Michel explained about the commune. There’s a council as well as the mayor and deputies. All that and a handsome mairie (originally including a school) for 400 people is impressive; it certainly does something for the dignity and self-respect of this most local level of democracy. Once, though, there would have been many more inhabitants. There were 40 or 50 farms; now there are four, Michel says (so I suppose most of the ones I saw were occupied by tenants), and they’re ripping out the vineyards with EU grants because there’s said to be a surplus of French wine. The commune does get money from local taxes, but also, since its credit is good, it can borrow money, especially for buying buildings.

Below is the house that the commune bought and converted into two flats for rent:

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