My little world – Part 1

I have chosen this title for my blog, as a kind of homage to some books I read, when about 15 years old.(a long time ago) The one was called; “The Little world of Don Camillo” and was one of a trilogy, the first published in 1950 a year before I was born. The author Giovanni Guareschi has always been a hero of mine, and his simple and very funny stories, of life in a village on the banks of the Po river, remind me a lot of my life here in France. The background to his little world, is a village in the province of Parma in Italy. The background to mine is the little town of Blaye (pop. 5000).

In his village, most of the funniest stories, emanate from the sparring between Don Camillo, the parish priest and Peppone, the communist mayor. The people of the village are just like those of Blaye, argumentative, but hospitable and generous, and with of course, a healthy and sometimes disparaging sense of humor. The enmity if it can be called that, between the priest and mayor, reminds me of my ongoing disagreements with our mayor over the last fifteen years, he completes his third term of six years in three years, and if my prayers are answered, he will not stand for election again.

I have nothing personally against the mayor, and I am sure that deep down he is a very nice person. I have also possibly raised his ire, on more than one occasion, because, among other things, our concepts of democracy differ, he is an autocratic socialist, of the far left, (with the exception of his love for expensive cars).I recall, I might have irked him by suggesting that his experience as the president of the CGT workers union, was possibly,not the best education to be a good small town mayor. The fact that this observation was made over a public address system at a packed meeting of the locals, probably did not help. I know this because he became red in the face at this comment, and launched a tirade of French at me, which seemed not to be praise or compliments……Anyway like Don Camillo and Peppone, we tolerate one another, just, between flare ups. 

The town is beautiful however, with an incredible history, involving love, wars, the influence of the English, (It was once English around the 11th century). It has one of the citadels that Vauban, Louis XIV’s architect, built around France in the 1600’s. (Now a Unesco World heritage site)

Blaye formerly known as Blavia in the Middle Ages, has a wonderful energy and 30,000BC the region between Blaye and neighboring town Bourg, had the biggest population in Europe, the region is very fertile and has lots of water, which were two reasons for this. There were apparently many wild animals as well. We still have some, Deer, Boar and smaller river animals, and some in blue jeans who hang out at our least salubrious bar in the town.

I found this lovely town, 22 years ago by accident. My then ex girlfriend, asked me to do a cycle trip around France, as she was looking for a holiday home. She is an accountant, we are still friends and see one another, from time to time. She and Clarissa my partner, also like one another, which helps. Like most accountants she plans and likes to control things, which, as most people know, is not possible. So prior to the trip,she told me that my bicycle had to be packed in a cardboard carton, which the airline specified, so as to prevent damage. Having visions of me sweating, carrying a bike in a box, ( or possibly two, as despite strong feminist leanings, she had some definite ideas on what tasks are men’s), I said I would be wheeling my bike to the check in, but she could embalm hers in whatever material she wanted, as long as she understood that I would not be carrying it.

So I cheerfully wheeled my Cannondale, (bought from my ex father in Law when we still liked each other) to the check- in on the appointed day, where it was happily accepted by the charming Air France check- in person, I, pretending not to see my ex struggling with her cardboard box.

On arrival at Bordeaux airport, we collected our bikes, mine in perfect condition and hers, damaged, despite it’s protective packaging. After effecting the necessary repairs (one hour), as it was summer and still light, we decided to do two hours on our route, before resting for the night.

It got dark after about thirty minutes, and when we decided to find a hotel, we discovered that we had done a circumnavigation of the airport and were pretty much back where we started. There were as yet no GPS apps on mobile phones, so we had a laugh, a good meal and retired for the night at an airport hotel.

Finally on our way, the next morning, we passed through various villages and towns and began our search for the ideal second home, for the next few days. On the second to last day we rode into Blaye, and I commented that in Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch, and a language in which I am proficient, “Bly”which I thought was pronounced the same way as the French Blaye, means “stay” which seemed auspicious. In fact Blaye is pronounced “blaai”

We nevertheless loved this town from the beginning, and it was the best we had seen, on our journey.

An estate agent showed us the “Maison de Maitre” the house of the richest man in Blaye in 1860, and I was smitten. It was a ruin and my ex, who is pretty handy at renovation said it was too daunting

for her. After confirming that she definitely was not interested, I, who am not handy at all, asked the agent to set up a meeting with the notary to arrange the sale.

I returned to complete the purchase, three months later, and as I was unfamiliar with the layout of Bordeaux, decided to leave my car at the station and take a taxi to the notary. My French consisted of little more than “Bonjour”,”Merci” “si voux plais”, the names of the three major French car producers and a few others. I was therefore very fortunate that my cabby had worked in the Kings road in a restaurant in London, for seven years, and could speak pretty good English. He dropped me off and I took his number to fetch me later. He was the first of the many great characters that I met, all of whom you will meet, in these pages. Jean Louis, was an artist, but drove a taxi, as he did not earn enough from his art, to live. He also bred large tropical fish, big angel fish which I admired, when he invited me home for lunch, early in our friendship.

After a long wait at the notary, I was finally called in.

When it was evident that my French language skills were somewhat lacking, the notary insisted that I should have a translator, to ensure that I understood every page of the contract, which by law, he had to read every word of to me. After fruitlessly phoning around for one, I remembered Jean Louis, called him, and he did the job, meter running of course…… I learned afterwards, that the translator would have cost about the same. 

Some years later, I was one of the two witnesses at Jean Louis wedding. He married a lovely lady from Thailand, who he met online. She cooked the most wonderful Thai food, and our meals together went several notches up in quality, although JL was a pretty mean cook himself. I usually provided the wines, and found that Burgundies suited this type of cuisine, more than Bordeaux, although Bordeaux wines were, and still are, my favorites.

In these pages, you will meet, Christian, the baker, Bernard, my French speaking renovation advisor and ten per cent man, Jean Marie, the mason, known by some in the trade, as I discovered afterwards,as “the butcher”, Odile, proprietor of the Tabac and PMU, the local betting shop, populated by some Damon Runyon type characters, who are collectively known as “the needy and the greedy”,a tribe of handymen, who have come and gone, and lots of other colorful souls.

It has been,and still is,a great journey, and I invite you all to come along for the ride.