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My Languedoc village

Moisson (30)

      Moisson snuggles into the hills rather than spreads herself across them.  Small and compact, the village presses tightly around the village square, the C12th church gazing serenely across the cobbles at the blind windows of the Mairie.  Between them the village fountain gurgles as if amused by the stand-off. 

      Walk down a short flight of worn stones and you are in the lower square where the remaining shops congregate: a baker, a butcher, and a builder's depot.  The baker is open every morning and some afternoons.  The butcher is only open mornings, and the builder is never really open at all.  On the other hand, he's never really closed either.  You can wander round there at almost any time, tap on the shutters and buy a bottle of gas, a wrench or a roll of masking tape. 

      Beside him is the old chestnut drying tower, these days renovated into a smart pad for the Parisians who haven't spent so much as a night there for the last five years.  The other side are the steps down to the communal laundry sinks and the river.

      And apart from modest crumbling village houses and the few narrow lanes between them, that's it.  It would be tempting to imagine an unpretentious little café with rickety tables and chairs outside in the shade of a plane tree, but there is no bar in the village.  Perhaps that's why the Parisians spend their free time elsewhere?  But these days nobody wants to leave their televisions in the evening.

      If you want to catch up on the chat you have to go round to Eglantine's dank basement flat at midday, where she regales the men with pastis and the women with tired old chocolates.  In the gloom of her kitchen (she's afraid of the EDF bills were she to switch on a light) people perch on orange crates and wonky stools to gossip and speculate about such subjects as the price of Chirac's suits, the correct way to prepare a Pot au Feu and the amount collected last week at the Dubois funeral.

      Not many people live here.  A few oldies, a handful of retired couples from Montpellier, a bunch of hippies... and us, the Inglish.  Nothing much happens either, unless you count the hippy kids blocking the fountain up, or the couples buggering off to Brazil on a Saga holiday.

      Take last week.  A horse wandered into the allotments and caused a mild stir.  France Telecom came and mended the phone box but nobody noticed.  A big van came and took a piano out of one of the abandoned second homes.  Everyone crowded round to see if was true that ten years after her death, Old Mother Hubbard's porridge bowl was still sitting on her kitchen table.

      But apart from that, there were only the funerals.  These are mostly held for ancient old souls who have been taken away to care homes twenty years ago and are brought back feet first to claim their rightful resting places.  Everyone attends, of course.  To pay their general respects to the dead, to inspect the flowers, to partake in the gentle stroll down to the graveyard and afterwards, to exchange small-talk about the weather.

        But I sometimes wonder, in a village decimated by depopulation, are they also just checking that everyone is still here? 

Samantha David


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