We have somewhere before mentioned the fact that our village of Taradeau has an oppidum. And for the benefit of the uninitiated or forgetful we remind you that an oppidum is really a fancy name for a walled settlement created shortly before the Roman period or actually during Roman times. They were generally in positions that gave them some sort of defensive advantage (see the Wikipedia article).
Rather embarrassingly the very existence of an oppidum at Taradeau was long forgotten and it was only rediscovered when a forest fire swept the top of the hill. Even now it would be easy to overlook because it is so overgrown by bushes and shrubs. Since we moved here a small group has formed to try to restore the oppidum and we have become involved with this. There are two reasons. First of all we think the oppidum is something that should be preserved and visible. But of course it also gives us a chance to get involved in the community and demonstrate that in an area with many second home owners – some of who only seem to visit for a couple of weeks in summer – we are here all year round and quite happy to play our part in the community.
So last Saturday a small group of us assembled at what seemed like the ridiculously early (and cold) hour of 7:45.
(This incidentally gives the opportunity to counter the widespread allegation that French workmen are lazy because they are often seen having long lunch breaks or even stopping work in the early afternoon. In fact what you find if you drive through a French village early in the morning is that there are a surprising number of council workers out and about at 6:30 or seven in the morning. The average holidaymaker does not notice this because they are in general still sleeping off their rosé consumption from the previous night.) Nevertheless some French stereotypes are true: we did fortify ourselves with croissants and coffee before starting.
Before ascending to the oppidum we did however have to perform a major French ritual which was to check that the hunters were not going to be wandering around and posing a danger to life and limb. Having done that we arrived at the site and looked at the task before us. It has to be said that we all felt pretty daunted by the bushes and shrubs that covered the most obvious wall. Nevertheless we set about with strimmer, secateurs and shears and after a couple of hours, during which we shed several layers of clothes, a very substantial amount of progress was obvious. Cutting back Provençal undergrowth is very different to the same task in Britain; it is dry, aromatic and of course full of thorns, which makes wearing gloves absolutely vital.
But whatever the labour, it was certainly made up for by the spectacular view over high Provence: westwards to Cézanne’s much loved Mont Sainte-Victoire, northwards into the edge of the Alps, and south and east to the hills that fringe the Mediterranean. And we suppose it was good for our French, though how often we are likely to use such words as débroussailleuse (strimmer) and tronçonneuse (chainsaw, but it didn’t work), let alone serp italienne (billhook), is open to question. Incidentally, at an earlier meeting where we were discussing the tools available, none of the French knew what a serp italienne was either.
By mid morning we had about exhausted ourselves and actually done a very impressive job of clearing at least one long wall of the settlement. Another interesting difference emerged at this point. For reasons that had puzzled us we had been accompanied by the official Taradeau orange Land Rover which serves as fire tender and one presumes cat rescue vehicle (if you look back to our blog on the Fête Nationale you can see it pulling the float). We found out why when, at the end of our labours, the hose was unrolled and the fire firmly and completely soaked. Even in late October there was still a risk of a forest fire round here. (Please note that this is the Mairie’s own fire tender and as such administratively completely separate from the official fire brigade – the sapeur pompiers – who deal with serious fires. As with policing and lots of other things the French system has levels of organisation which seem superficially to overlap. We have a list of 11 separate phone numbers for emergency services.)
As we were tidying up we were honoured by the arrival of the mayor in person. As many of you may be aware there is very little correspondence between the ceremonial figure of mayor in the UK and their French namesake. It seems to be a requirement of being a French mayor that you must know everything about everybody and anything that’s going on. And so this morning the mayor weighed in in person and helped put the fire out.
Looking at what we done we were very gratified but of course given that there is a growing season here of at least 10 months a year, it won’t be long before the weeds and bushes come back. And there is a lot more to do! But we played our part. We now feel firmly part of the community.