Taking a few weeks off from our usual routine, ‘retiring from retirement,’ and our home in Israel means changing the pace at which we live, shifting to a different location and moving to an area where tranquillity prevails.
It has by now become our custom to spend the summer months in rural France, away from all the familiar sights and sounds of our usual routine. But lo and behold, it is hotter this year in France than it is in Israel, so that benefit is lost from the outset. Second of all, there are all kinds of attractions and activities that tempt us to venture out of our quiet village haven, so that we find we are recreating a semblance of our hectic lives in Israel.
The main charm of rural France is the natural beauty of the countryside and the relaxed tempo of life. Someone has said that it’s like going back in time to what England was like fifty years ago, and there is certainly something in that. At weekends, though, in addition to the charms of the countryside, there are brocantes, or flea-markets in villages, the equivalent of what is now known as a car-boot sale. These consist of stalls rented by individuals for a nominal sum and on which they display anything and everything that comes to hand and they want to get rid of. The brocantes are pre-arranged so that it is possible to buy a booklet containing the dates and locations of all the brocantes in the region throughout the summer months, making it possible to determine one’s weekend activities well in advance.
In many cases the objects on display are the residue of the lives of the exhibitors’ parents and grandparents. You can find elegant dinner services, crystal glassware and assorted pots, pans, soup tureens and cutlery, in short, anything that once served a household but is now superfluous, out of date and out of fashion.
Some stalls offer record collections, whole libraries of detective novels, assorted old clothes, children’s toys, lace doylies, linen tablecloths, handyman’s tools, and even items of furniture. It’s an education in the history and culture of the region to go around and see what’s on offer, and to mingle with the locals who are out doing the same thing, in an event that is a mixture of social event and general ‘happening.’
In addition to such harmless pursuits as inspecting the wares on display, together with all the other folk who have turned out for the same purpose, there are circuses and funfairs which do the rounds of the villages, set up their tent, and give a performance for one or two days, after which they move on elsewhere.
For people in search of more serious entertainment there are veritable concert series in and around the region, many of them performed in one or another of the local churches, most of which date from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries and have excellent acoustics. Those that we have attended, given by vocal and instrumental groups from France and elsewhere, were well-attended, though we have learned from experience that it’s advisable to bring a cushion along as the hard wooden seats do not add to our enjoyment of the music.
But most of all it’s the relaxed attitude of the population that’s the main attraction in this part of the world. No one ever seems to be in a hurry – and this is most evident in the courteous and considerate driving. You have no choice but to be patient when a tractor is trundling along the road ahead of you or a huge truck transporting bales of hay swings out from a field at the side of the road. The pace of life is slower, the issues that are prominent in the news seem to be far away and the media don’t assume the same importance here as they do in Israel. Perhaps this temporary break from being incessantly bombarded by news, existentialist issues and the haranguing of politicians is the main attraction after all.