Thursday, 5 April 2007

Sorting the Sheep from the Goats

Cutting the Meadow
Sometimes you drive 50 kms to look at furniture and end up buying a mower/brushcutter instead and on Monday we bought a tondeuse/débroussailleuse near Figeac. We only want to cut the “meadow”, that is the lower part of our terrain, two or three times a year, to encourage the wild flowers to set seed, and allow our rich insect life to flourish. If we were really ecological we would buy a tondeuse naturelle (a living lawnmower), but the responsibility of looking after a goat or a sheep is daunting. Anyway they like company and I don’t think that the rabbits which are digging up and eating our plants would count. I wouldn’t mind if they ate the grass!

What we really need is a virtual sheep! Perhaps we could host an episode of Shaun the Sheep. How about “Shaun goes French”? On the way to buy a pain au chocolat he could have a close encounter with one of the bulls that protect their herds out in the fields in the summer, or meet the goats who produce the cheese and try a croissant with spinach and chèvre. He could also help us by asking the sheep, which occasionally live in a field near us, why they wear bells around their necks! (I have a theory concerning les grelots but it doesn’t translate very well into English)! I’m sure that if he brought his friends along they could eat our meadow in no time. Shaun has his own show now on CBBC (1800 Saturdays), quite a step up from a minor part in Wallace and Gromit. I wish him and Nick Park every success in this new field.

Angora Goats

At the Ferme de Siran, on the Causse above Autoire, Gaëlle and Julien Taillefer raise angora goats. We first met them two years ago when we visited in March and it happened to be their first year of “kidding”, (well what would you call it)? It has become a regular trip now, especially if we have visitors. All the goats have names and last year, when the letter was B, we were introduced to Boum and his sister Bada-Boum. The little goats are very cute and are similar to lambs, but they have tiny little horns and an in-built desire to play “King of the Castle”.

Gaëlle and Julien have now been breeding them successfully for three years and starting with 24, they now have more than 120. They are firmly ecological and I find it hard to identify anything they do which is unsustainable. They don’t use fertilisers, they hardly use machinery and their crop is the mohair wool and woollen goods which they produce. This week they are presenting their farm as part of the event “Seven Days of Biodiversity in the Lot”. You can see their website at it might remind you of something!

Conte e’Moi – A Festival of Conteurs
Rachid Bouali is a conteur. He told a colourful tale of his childhood in an immigrant suburb, with all the characters and events that populated it. At one stage I was crying with laughter as he related the story of the sacrificial ram named David. He managed to create a three part polyphonic rhythmic episode, with a chanting crowd, the swish of the blade being sharpened and the cries of the ram who sensed what was coming! It was quite a dramatic achievement! By the way the ram escaped which, of course, led to a frantically hilarious chase around the neighbourhood. This culminated in his assumption into heaven, where he took his rightful place in the constellation of Aries. The inspiration for the sacrificial ram was the story of Abraham and Isaac, which like many of the religious texts is shared between Islam, and the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. Isn’t it amazing that three religions which share many of the same holy books can be so opposed to each other!

The tales that a conteur tells usually last for between an hour and an hour and a half and in France it is still an active profession. Our nearest town, Bretenoux, hosts a week long festival of conteurs this week and we went to two events. I was pleasantly surprised that my French was good enough to understand the stories and even the jokes. On the first night Christiane said that it was because they talk slowly. It is true than Jean–Marc Derouen, one of the organisers who opened the festival with a tale of mermaids, fishermen, the sea, and lascivious curés all drawn from his native Brittany, had a slowish manner of speaking but you could not say the same of Rachid Bouali.

Both evenings were very professional and of the highest standard. We will certainly be keeping this week free next year!

Stop Press
Yesterday we saw the first swallows flying over, today I heard a cuckoo and it’s cold wet and windy so it must be Spring!