Thursday, December 14, 2006

Village life

I was spoiled by living for many years in the heart of Paris, in the Marais neighborhood. Among other things, I was incapable, say, of moving to a small village in rural France, where your neighbors are perpetually looking over your shoulder. One of the greatest things about life in a metropolis is anonymity. On the other hand, I welcomed the idea of settling here in the wilderness of Choranche, where my closest neighbors (Madeleine and Dédé) are out of sight. Sure, if I fell off a ladder and broke my neck, it’s likely that nobody would find me for a week or so, by which time there wouldn't be much left to find. But you only die once, whereas you have to live with prying neighbors for years on end.

This morning, exceptionally, I did some shopping in the nearby village of Pont-en-Royans. A spirit of agitation and excitement had invaded the main street, because everybody was aware that the Big Move would be taking place tomorrow. Big Move? Yes, the local grocer would be moving into slightly more spacious premises some fifty yards up the road. Events of that nature are rare in a village such as Pont-en-Royans. It’s like dismantling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and reassembling it down on the Place de la Concorde. To mark the forthcoming event, I decided to purchase a couple of cans of red beans in the old shop. My casual friend Chantal, too, was doing some last-minute shopping there. In her typical flamboyant style, she threw her arms around me and exclaimed:

William, I haven’t seen you for ages. Where have you been hiding? Would you believe it: I’ve sold my café in St-Marcellin, and I’m now officially retired. I’m looking for a fifth husband, and I must inform you, William, that I’ve put you on the list of possibilities, with high priority.

Great, Chantal, let's call in on the priest,” I muttered, looking for words to express my dubious feelings about marrying this great blonde man-eater. Meanwhile, Chantal turned to the grocer, and asked:

You know William, I suppose? He's one of our most interesting citizens.

Before waiting for the grocer's reaction, I intervened by saying no: the grocer probably didn’t know me at all, because I rarely set foot in the village, since (as I said) I don’t particularly like village life. I’m a solitary being, like my dog, my donkey, my goat...

Of course I know him,” replied the grocer. At that moment I was about to be stunned by a trivial anecdote that demonstrated how you can leave lasting impressions on people without ever realizing it. “Several years ago, William came down from the hills with his midget billy-goat, for the village fair at Pont-en-Royans. He led the goat by a cord, as if it were a dog. And the two of them strolled silently from one end of the street to the other and back. Then they disappeared back up into the hills. I’ll never forget that apparition of William and his goat in the main street of the village, like a couple of Martians.

As for me, I had totally forgotten that, once upon a time, I used to go out walking (before the tourist traffic got too heavy) with my dog, my donkey and (more rarely) my goat.

As far as village life is concerned, another thing that disturbs me is that you often come upon weird people. You know what I mean: village folk. Strange backwoods individuals who wouldn't normally be at large in the relatively refined atmosphere of a civilized metropolis such as Paris. Like a guy walking a goat along the main street of the village...

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