Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pippa, Marcel Pagnol, and the lavoirs of Lamballe

Back in August, when the camera was new and the weather warm, I went for a walk around around Lamballe with Pippa (right, I like the way I got her amber earring) and Molly, of course. Pippa had very good-humouredly put up with my getting us lost in the woods and valleys outside the town on a previous occasion, but I thought remaining within the bounds of the burgh might be a better idea. So we ascended to the collegiale, the sort-of cathedral, made our way down to the market square where we stopped for refreshment and she refrained, this time, from getting into a fight with the cafe owner about the true nature of a cappucino, in the land where coffee is coffee and comes two ways, large or small.
Then we walked back along the river bank and took in the lavoirs of Lamballe, a not particularly well-trumpeted local attraction, but one which always charms me. On the street which runs under the escarpment on which the collegiale stands is a terrace of irregular small stone houses, brown granite with red brick dressings. Behind these are long strips of garden which lead down to the river Gouessant, and at the end of each garden the remains of an old lavoir, stepped and paved and sometimes still with it's old sheltering structure. The washing was done in the river, using, I gather, wood ash in place of soap. It was important that the ash was kept clean, and no fat or metal or other impurities carelessly thrown in the fire.
'Like something from Marcel Pagnol...' mused Pippa. We pondered this, that somehow wherever you were in France, even up here in the, formerly uncouth, north-west, you found things that reminded you of Marcel Pagnol, at least in the provinces.Or it could be Daudet, (or even, heaven forbid, Peter Mayall, whose writing I consider meretricious and which I loathe with fervour). Whether this is only an Anglo-Saxon outsider's perception, (hence the succes of Peter Mayall perhaps) and French regional sensibilities would refute it, I don't know. But it seems rather as if all of France aspires to be Provence, the old Province of Rome, the Second Daughter, the land of romance and the troubadours, la douce, a beakerful of the warm south...
What I took some trouble not to capture in these pictures, but which is visible anyway, is a vile thick peasoup quality to the water of a green I imagine to be something like that of the arsenic coloured wallpaper that finished off Napoleon on St Helena. This is the result of excessive levels of agricultural pollutants resulting from the intensive farming of poultry, cattle and pigs in the area, and it persisted throughout the summer. I made enquiries as to what it was, where it came from and if anybody had been prosecuted for it, but though the people I asked agreed, in a Gallicly shrugging kind of way, with my outrage, it seemed little had been done to stop, investigate or even draw attention to the matter.
The local fishing association were said to be on the case, but the fishermen are affiliated to the hunters, the hunters with the farmers, and as elsewhere, the so-called countryside lobby close ranks in such a way as is frequently not, in my opinion, in the interests of the countryside.
It is over-simple to attribute the power of the agricultural and hunting lobby in France to a generalised, romanticised, nostalgia for the country's rural, provincial roots, but it is a factor. Pagnol was a great one for hunting.

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