The local Catholic priest has never tried to convert me to his religion. That's understandable, because there's no longer any such individual in the neighborhood. A visiting priest does the rounds of the dozens of churches in the district for masses and marriages... particularly since the latter give rise generally, at the end of the betrothal, to a generous donation in crisp brightly-hued banknotes. This morning, for example, it was the big Sunday for Choranche, and my neighbor Madeleine was thrilled to inform me on the phone that there were at least two dozen aging individuals in the congregation. Just try to imagine that pious flock emerging from the doorway of the village church, seen in this old postcard (expertly tinted by a minute of Photoshop):
Burials, on the other hand, are taken care of by a compassionate middle-aged lady who lives at Pont-en-Royans. That solution might be thought of as a regression by old-timers who remember priests in black soutanes and altar boys in white laced cassocks. But it can be said that nobody buried under the auspices of this kind lady has ever complained of their treatment.
Meanwhile, this morning at Gamone, I received a visit by three young women on foot, members of the Jehovah's Witness organization. Now, if there's anything that drives me momentarily but furiously mad on a sunny Sunday morning, when I'm calmly devoting my time and energy to a subtle blend of gardening and computer-based work, it's a visit from Jehovah's Witnesses. I see them as pests, to be chased away. To be honest, it hasn't happened for ages... and I don't think it will happen again for quite some time. Let's say that I have a method for dealing with such individuals, in a totally spontaneous but well-oiled manner. The underlying rule is to dominate totally the discussion (in fact, a monologue), bringing up various well-chosen topics, and consistently refusing to allow them to get a word in. I do this reasonably well in the sense that I have a fair amount of experience in lecturing and industrial training courses in computing, where you don't really expect listeners to intervene verbally. Little by little, I allow them to start a sentence or two, which I exploit immediately in a harsh demonstration of their stupidity, ignorance, etc. This "dialogue" is conducted politely, almost respectfully, but I am constantly waiting for one of my listeners to pronounce a few words that might be construed as an attack on science. Then I pounce. This morning, one of the poor women started to say: "But, after all, Darwin's ideas are merely a theory, which can be contradicted..." That was largely sufficient for me to explode in an almost dignified style. I told the women to piss off immediately, and to never come back to Gamone to waste my time.
My farewell tactic is always the same, seemingly spontaneous, but in fact well-oiled, like the rest of my diatribe. Calling the three women back, I stammered out something along the following lines: "Excuse me for getting so upset. You must realize that I'm particularly fond of Charles Darwin. Criticism of his brilliant ideas upsets me immensely. I should force myself to remain calm, but it's stronger than me. You know how it is. In a rural setting like this, people tend to get upset by encounters with strangers like you, who drop in unexpectedly and start trying to tell us how to think. Besides, I must warn you that it would be unwise for you to visit local folk such as myself at any old time of the day or evening. You know, in the dark, all the local people have weapons, and one never knows how we might react if we were visited by individuals in the twilight, with the dogs barking, etc."
I don't mind being considered as a little crude and crazy. After all, I look upon Jehovah's Witnesses as immensely mindless creatures, on a cerebral par with medieval theologists. Readers will notice that, in what I've said, there's nothing that might be construed as an explicit threat, merely almost-friendly general advice, to avoid the possibility of nasty happenings. In parting, rapidly, the women wished me a happy Sunday. And I did the same. Needless to say, I've lost three would-be friends. But I believe I'm perfectly within my rights to discourage vigorously, in my own style, such visits from religious proselytizers.
A minute after our separation, as the women were retreating on foot down along Gamone Creek, with Sophia continuing to bark gruffly, spasmodically and dispassionately (in the way she barks when minor events are unfolding before her eyes), there was a totally-unplanned Magic Moment. A series of three loud gunshot bangs rang out across the valley from Châtelus. The three females looked back up over their shoulders, half expecting to see me with a gun in my hands. I waved a farewell. It was only this morning that Madeleine, after describing the mass at Choranche, and knowing that I don't read newspapers, added: "I forgot to warn you, William: the hunting season started yesterday." Yes, Madeleine, I saw three wild birds at Gamone.