It’s silent. It is always silent here. A rural area, farmlands everywhere, small villages with sturdy inhabitants that live with nature and the direct surroundings. The only “foreigner”, beside the many English that buy more and more houses in this region, is a 70+ year old farmer. His roots lie in Bretagne, he is “different”. There was a time he wasn’t alone, that just a couple of kilometers away another person from his home region lived here. But she was older than he, although just as sturdy. Even right before her death she managed a great kitchen garden, slaughtered her own chickens for dinner, milked a goat, only for fresh bread she had to wander into town. She might have been a foreigner in this region, she was as French as that fresh baguette that was preferred on her table.
This rather barren region, just south of the famous Dordogne, isn’t necessarily unwelcome but it isn’t heartwarming either. And therefore, it is perfectly French. It was once said that there is only one problem with France, that it is filled with the French, but I do not necessarily agree with this statement. The French simply have a way that does not correspond with the neighbour’s ways. To the Dutch, they are not direct enough and yet they always have a way of insulting the Dutch. To the Spanish, they don’t play “the game” enough. Whatever that game might be. The Italians will complain that the French language and kitchen aren’t Mediterranean enough. But then again, this is not Paris and also not Nice. This is the rural heart of France. And after coming here for almost 20 years I’m finally starting to see the beauty in this strange part of the country.
Rural areas have their own ways, their own habits that you need to figure out. Decipher even. The one old neigbour that has the patience for my (lack of) French is the outsider just as much as I myself are. We bond about that, and he’s always willing to pour a nice cup of tea of a glass of wine when I visit. His son shares the fresh milk of his cows with me when I come over. The French in this barren region around the small town of Monbahus have their own ways. They’re stoic yet welcoming. When entering a market it won’t be hard to have a little chat with someone, if you speak French that is and if they are patient enough to speak slower so you understand the accent. Even though more and more English are moving to this part of the country, the locals flat out refuse to learn their language. They simply don’t have time for it, in between running farms and tending to families. Many of them still have storages filled with pickled products and dried goods for winters to come, besides endless supplies of firewood. The summers are dry and hot, the winters wet and dark. And yet it is autumn that gives this region it’s true charm. The sunflowers are gone, and so is most of the grain. The trees are becoming red and brown, the grapevines turn almost purple, and everyone gathers in silence around dinner tables and hearths. Simple yet warm meals are served. Soups, fresh bread, stews. Comfort food. A writer types away at a piece, someone reads a book. A dog barks, he wants to go out. He can do so on his own, roam the country side until it’s time to return home. To that little warm spot on the couch or next to the fire. Humans and animals in perfect harmony as the cattle is brought in and chickens start to hide out in the coops over longer periods of time. This small region called the Lot et Garonne is ready for autumn slumber, and soon will go into hibernation. To be awoken when the shutters open again in spring.