Gilets jaunes

“Macron resign”

As most of you will probably be aware, France is passing through a period of considerable turbulence. Somehow, seemingly out of a clear blue sky, an enormous groundswell of negative opinion has erupted about the government and specifically about M. Macron. Superficially this is about the rise in price of fuel, an attempt to reduce not so much the CO2 emissions but the pollutants that are making air dangerous in a number of French cities. Actually there is a widespread unhappiness that the people at the bottom of the social pile are getting a raw deal compared to the very rich. M. Macron’s unfortunate aloofness from ordinary people (something we noted even before he was elected) has really not served him well.

The sudden emergence of the Gilets Jaunes movement has been astonishing. It’s been helped by the fact that everybody in France (very sensibly) has to carry high visibility jackets in their car, and these have now acquired an unintended purpose of a dramatic and very visible uniform. There has also been very clever use of social media so that near us only key, strategic motorway junctions are being blocked. Whether this coordination is being orchestrated, possibly from outside the country, is a very interesting question. There are interesting parallels with the Brexit campaign where right and left were pushed into an uneasy alliance.

Our local motorway junction. It took us half-an-hour to get from the exit to the roundabout at the bottom.

Anyway, our own experience has been going to Cannes for church. We’ve left early so have tended to avoid the blockages — the French word manifestation is very helpful here. However coming back from the church Christmas Fair last Saturday proved to be very interesting. The mood generally was good-natured, in as much as it was directed to us, but it was a shallow and brittle bonhomie and we’re not sure we would have wanted to drive through with a Lamborghini or Bentley. There’s certainly also been a lot of damage. What’s been interesting is the rather shallow comments on why French culture is so volatile. We have our own take on this which, all being well, we will do next week.

In the meantime, it’s an interesting bet as to whether M. Macron (or, for that matter,  Theresa May) will be in power in a weeks time.

The back of the jacket on the right reads “Retired and angry!!!”

Two of the protesters putting their case to a driver

Note the yellow jacket on our windscreen at bottom right!

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The new wine

Yes there have been continuing protests in France by the Gilets Jaunes about which more perhaps next week. There have also been developments – but no breakthroughs – in the wearisome long-running Brexit saga. Certainly the mood among the “expatriate community” here is astonishingly negative. Among our culturally and politically very conservative church community there was open mockery of Theresa’s “deal”. There’s a very good BBC article on a village a long way from us but which we’ve visited which depicts fairly faithfully the predicament of the British in France.

Anyway last week we promised more photos of the Taradeau wine festival.

wine glasses at the fete du vinAfter the parade everyone wants to buy a wineglass with this year’s date on it. The purchase entitles you to taste the new wine – red, white or rosé – as many times as you like. You will, we hope, be pleased to know that we limited ourselves to a single glass. The area just outside the Vignerons du Taradeau, normally the carpark, is filled with people. If you feel that you need something to help the wine go down, there’s a long table selling plates of food as well.

Once the PA had been sorted out and all the dignitaries assembled on the platform at the end of the carpark, it was time for the mayor’s speech.

As we said last week, it’s basically an exercise in remembering to thank everyone, from the sponsors of the event through those from various local organisations to those who actually organised the whole thing. And then huge wine bottles are produced and a sample of the new vintage poured out. Finally, the mayor raises his glass, followed by everyone else, and everyone drinks.

pouring the new wine

We didn’t stay for the meal afterwards; we suspect it went on well into the late afternoon – these things are not to be rushed in France. But it was a good day for the village, particularly as they got a splendid interval in what is continuing to be a grey and damp season.

As Taradeau continues to change from its traditional agricultural roots, It is going to be interesting to see how this seasonal festival, with its references to a tight knit Provencal agricultural culture that is increasingly a distant memory, will continue in the future.

Even here, time marches on.

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Taradeau’s big event

As will have been apparent to anyone who reads these blogs – and there seem to be an increasing number of you – our village is still feels that it’s life is focused on the many vineyards. So it’s not surprising that there is a festival to celebrate the first wine of the year (think Nouveau Beaujolais without the Beaujolais and the hype). This occurs on the third Sunday in November and we seem to have decided to go every two years. (We have prior commitments on Sunday.) It’s fascinating for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is historical. The Romans grew vines in the area and the fact that Bacchus is wheeled around in the parade hints that something along these lines has been going on here for two millennia at least.

It was a new Bacchus this year. We think cirrhosis of the liver got the last one.

After an unseasonably wet six to eight weeks, there was an enormous sigh of relief when this Sunday was bright and cloud-free. A lot of people in the village assembled, along with the curious from the surrounding countryside for the celebration: Taradeau’s reputation as the Rosé village is widely known. Essentially there are two parts: the parade of old agricultural vehicles and the wine fraternities, headed by a small
Provençal band. This leads up to a grand assembly outside the Vignerons du Taradeau where after a speech thanking everyone and everything, the mayor and people on the platform try the new wine and – hopefully – pronounce it good.

The Provençal band heads the procession

This year, in the best south of France agricultural tradition, the parade got off to a belated and hesitant (if good-natured) start and there were a number of pauses while some of the more vintage vehicles broke down. Next week we’ll show you some photos of the wine tasting and the speech-making but this week let’s stick with photos of the procession.

70-year old tractors

Two observations. The first is that as Taradeau increasingly becomes a dormitory village for the sprawling conurbations of the coast, its roots in the agricultural world become less and less. Increasingly one senses that the Festival is a preservation and celebration of a past way of life rather than a celebration of a present one.

Second observation: if you’ve been following the French news you’ll realise that there have been enormous protests over the price of fuel and, a linked matter, the perceived aloofness of M. Macron and his cabinet from ordinary people. During the parade one of the tractors stalled and the mayor, in his regalia, ran forward to give it a hearty push.

Perhaps M. Macron might take note.

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11 November

Given that France was the major theatre of operations for  the First World War and enormously important for much of the Second, it was particularly appropriate to be here this 11th November.  We found ourselves involved in two things: first, attending the village ceremony in Taradeau and second, being part of a service with the small Anglican fellowship in Lorgues, fifteen minutes away.

Cotignac war memorial

This war memorial in Cotignac, with its wary soldier peering uneasily above a parapet, seems to be one of the more honest war memorials in our area.

It was a warm but wet day in Taradeau. Thankfully, it turned out to be the last of the extraordinary month-long period of almost continual rain and showers. Given that it was 100 years after the ending of the First World War which wreaked such appalling damage on the French nation, it was perhaps surprising that there wasn’t a larger turnout. Nevertheless there were soldiers present and past, various civic dignities and children from the village school. There was something curiously appropriate about standing there in the rain under the low grey clouds with the leaves blowing off the plane trees above us.

Armistice Day Taradeau

Parading to the war memorial in the rain

At the ceremony the mayor read out an address from the President, which concluded by reminding us of the three deaths of French soldiers “in foreign fields” this year. There were also, inevitably now, two alert guards whose weaponry was clearly not for ceremonial use only. It was a sharp reminder of the spectacular failure of that “war to end wars”.

Armistice Day Taradeau

M. le Maire reading the speech

Separately, the Taradeau Mairie has put together a small but well-done exhibition of the 13 or 14 men from Taradeau who died in the Great War.

Great War centenary exhibition

First World War centenary exhibition in the Taradeau mairie

The subsequent Anglican service was indoors (thank you L and M) and Chris preached on reconciliation. This being a British house, we integrated the two-minute silence and wreath-laying with a live link to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, something that would surely would have been considered magical by those who fought a century ago. It all seemed to emphasise the unfortunate truth that for all our technological progress there has been none in the area of morality. Wars continue.

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Port Grimaud and Brexit

Two things this week. First of all, Port Grimaud. One of the problems of the Cote d’Azur is not just that it has been relentlessly built over, but that it has been built over in a crass, ugly and unsympathetic way. While it may not have sunk to the depths of say, Torremolinos, there are still appalling expanses of virtually identical glass and concrete apartment blocks and villas surmounted by Provencal tiles in token sympathy with some imagined vernacular architecture. One exception to this architectural blight is Port Grimaud, which we visited for a second time last week under untypical grey skies. It’s a measure of its merits that it still looked appealing.

It’s not just the fact that there is a common architectural theme but the way that it is all laid out around artificial canals gives it almost a feel of village-scale Venice.

The photos above were taken from the viewpoint at the top of the church tower

Don’t however suddenly decide to come down and buy an apartment there, even small ones seem to be starting at around the €400,000 mark. Nevertheless it’s an attractive place with a nice beach in front of it and we will probably visit again when the sun shines.

Inside the church of St Francis of Assisi

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now to the dreadful B-word. With, in theory, only five months to go, even the most habitually laid-back Brits – and there are many –  in the region are getting concerned about Brexit. To summarise the situation: at the moment, at one minute past midnight on 30th March 2019, British citizens here (and elsewhere in the EU) will no longer be citizens of the European Union and so become technically illegal residents. Now conventional wisdom has it that the French (and the rest of the EU) will decide to be friendly and come up with some nice little piece of legislation that will allow us to continue as we are. Unfortunately, it has been pointed out by a number of people that it is not in M. Macron’s interest to make such a smooth and trouble-free deal for us. One of the strongest arguments of the Front National (now called Rassemblement national – the National Rally) is that they want to pull France out of the EU. M. Macron, who is very pro-EU, will be greatly strengthened if it is visible to all that opting out of the European Union has been catastrophic for the British. This is merely one of a hundred thousand things that no one thought of before the referendum.

One would like to think that the British Government is speedily and smoothly working to a resolution of this crisis but it certainly doesn’t appear like that from over here. In fact the government is giving a very good impersonation of a carload of individuals who, having stalled on a level crossing in front of an oncoming high-speed train, are preoccupied with fighting over the map.

In the meantime, we have taken the first steps towards getting a formal carte de séjour, which involves a couple of meetings at our local sous-prefecture and accumulating a lot of paperwork. We made our first visit on Wednesday and it was fascinating to hear the number of English conversations going on in the queue. So far, our treatment from the now badly overworked French officials has been efficient, charming and sympathetic. Would that those adjectives could be applied to Her Majesty’s Government.

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Wet, wet, wet

Typical avenue of plane trees with huge pools of water

Living down here one of the rules of life that you take for granted is that Provence is dry and Britain is wet. This year, however, has been the year of exceptions. So we were recently in the UK for Chris’ dad’s 90th birthday (congratulations again!) and didn’t see any rain for over a week, but returned to find Provence  under thick cloud, the legendary blue skies a memory and an awful lot of water about.

In fact, last month in particular has broken all records in our department, and as we write this, more rain is forecast for the next week or so. It’s not just the volume of rain, it’s the ferocity of it that has caused problems. Roads have been suddenly inundated, cars washed away and bridges threatened. There has been a small loss of life but thankfully not on the scale of the 2010 flood where there were at least 30 deaths.

Being on a slight slope we personally have been fine, but a number of roads have been briefly cut. It has however been remarkably spectacular. Here’s the Florièye, the river that flows through our village, at a higher point where the bed is dry for most of the year and a ford connects the two sides:

The barriers have gone up to prevent anyone from driving across.

As shown in the photo below, in summer people swim and play on this beach on the river Argens on the edge of Vidauban, about 1.5 km from our house.

The floods however transformed this scene beyond recognition. The building in this photo is behind the trees in the first photo. And at the time of the photograph the water level had slightly dropped from its peak. If you click here, you can see a small video taken from the bridge.

With the heavy rain came major storms and wind damage along the coast. Here in the Gulf of St Tropez (which we visited with a friend on Friday) large buoys and even boats were tossed ashore. Elsewhere the flooding undercut many banks and toppled trees.

Just over the border, the storms delivered snow on the Alps, seen here across the bay of St Tropez.

We always need rain down here but you can definitely have too much of a good thing!

 

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Camargue

On the Tuesday afternoon of our stay at Les Tourades (see the last two blogs), we headed off round Arles into the flat wind-swept expanse of the Camargue. It’s famous for being one of the most distinctive regions of France, the vast delta mouth of the Rhone that was originally almost entirely marshland and lagoons, but which has now largely been reclaimed for agriculture. There’s a sandy coastline which seems to stretch on for ever, but probably the real interest in the Camargue is its natural history. We greatly enjoyed our visit, but you really wouldn’t want to be down there in a week when the ferocious mistral was blowing.

Yes there were people in the water even though it was early October

Typical view of lagoon and salt-marsh

Those famous white horses…

… and black bulls …

… and flamingos

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