Wetlands and a curious legacy of Rome

With a brief interruption the rain and cloud has continued here. What by Swansea standards we would consider to be normal or even rather mild winter weather is viewed as increasingly abnormal and troubling. Actually, it hasn’t really bothered us too much this week because we have been very busy. Chris in particular has been locked in his office writing a talk for a meeting in Montpelier this coming week on wetlands and climate change. His has a rather snappy title ‘Landslide generated sag-ponds in the Alpes Maritimes and their significance in a time of climate change’, and it will be interesting to see how it goes. It’s rather a fun paper because a key piece of evidence involves the abrupt disappearance about 130 years ago of the rather impressive Roman road that cuts across most of the estate.  Because everybody likes photographs here is the road and below one of the wetlands area taken in a brief dry spell this week.

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Partly because of the damp weather and partly because we figured it was time to move on purchasing a car with the steering wheel on the appropriate side, we went car hunting on Friday and ended up getting a rather nice “Crystal White” Skoda Yeti at a very reasonable price which should handle both the motorways and the appalling road up to Courmettes. When we get it will we, no doubt post its picture.

The legacy of Rome surfaced in another incident this week. We mentioned a few weeks ago the sad death of a hunter in a shooting accident on the domain. This Thursday the hunters turned up for a brief memorial event. There were about 30 men (we have never ever heard of a female hunter), dressed variously either in combat uniform or (more wisely in view of the accident) fluorescent orange jackets. The local mayor attended and also (and this was the interesting thing) the sub-prefect. For the benefit of the uninitiated, France is divided into just over a hundred departments, each controlled in detail by a Prefect and a handful of Sub-Prefects, who even manage policing policy. So in our departement there are two sous-préfets and ours is the one based on Grasse. There is no real equivalent in Britain to a departement but it’s probably equivalent in size to a British county.

Now an awful lot of things in France from supermarkets to taxation systems and even car purchase are, at depth, pretty much the same as those in Britain. But every so often you have one of those moments when something reminds you that beneath the surface France and Britain are very different countries. This was one of them. What we were expecting was a man-in-a-suit, but what we got was a man in a military-style uniform adorned with some very fine gold embroidery. It wasn’t quite of Admiral of the Fleet, let alone African dictator extravagance, but it was pretty impressive. (For those who want to make a splash at a fancy dress party somewhere other than France they are made by the exclusive tailoring firm of Stark and Sons of Paris.) We didn’t take photographs so one from the web will have to do. (Survival in France Tip # 35. ‘Do not take photographs at any occasion where there are large numbers of grieving hunters.’) When he began his brief speech he looked around, noticed that Alison was the only woman, and began smoothly with an elegant ‘Madame et Messieurs…’

Our Sub-Prefect in full uniform

Sub-prefect in full uniform

A little bit of work on the prefecture system told us what many of you no doubt know, that along with the Department system it was inaugurated by Napoleon 200 years ago, who had a thing about ancient Rome (they had the original prefects) and rather liked imposing law and order on his own terms. And somehow over two centuries later the system, along with uniforms, still continues. Isn’t history fun?

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One Response to Wetlands and a curious legacy of Rome

  1. Tom Hoglind says:

    Well, our contribution to “Roman Roads” would be our Ottoman Road in “our” garden here in Beit Mery. We just found out about it a year ago and realised that the garden has never been ‘bought’.

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