February Musings

The days are getting longer and the higher temperatures mean that the pruning of the vines is progressing quickly. Field after field of vines now show off their new hair cuts, waiting expectantly for the first touch of green shoots. How quickly the landscape changes.

A friend recently told me that I needed to check out the Google information regarding our resident artist. Nadi Ken has lived here for over 20 years. Each year we watch her become increasingly frail as she trudges down the hill from her house to the square, greeting everyone before heading to the bar. Her story is reminiscent of Colette or Coco Chanel. Abandoned as a child, she grew up among the bohemians of Paris, making ends meet by posing for artists until finally being recognized for her own artistic talent. Her work sold to the likes of Frank Sinatra and still enjoys some prestige among collectors. I am always amazed at how people here live quiet lives often leaving behind significant careers or stories. My bridge partner was a Russian ambassador; my choir mate worked at the Ritz in Paris; our neighbour, whose family have been a presence in the village for over 600 years,. see themselves as temporary stewards of the family estate. Living here gives one the chance to expand horizons by connecting with people outside ones frame of reference. Such a gift.

Recent visits to towns a half our north of us has translated into a history lesson of the last century. Both Bedarieux and St. Gervais sur Mare were thriving industrial towns until the end of the 19th century. Using the raw local resources of sheep, water, mulberry trees, tin and iron they created exquisite fabrics, silk, leather goods and metal parts for the merging industries. The houses outside the medieval centre were built with special attics to house silk worm colonies that fed on the local mulberry leaves. The silk was spun into prized fabric for the Royal courts. The river was harnessed to power the mills that tanned the sheep hides in preparation for the nearby glove designers. Old pictures show the women doing intricate, decorative hand work that became synonymous with the region. This microcosm reflects the constant movement of time as commerce changes and with it remnants of those things left behind. These living museums haven’t changed much perhaps because the communities are so connected to traditional values. There are small attempts at reviving the “old” ways of silk production, glove making and fabric production. These new artisans are enjoying recognition of the lost arts but will it be enough to revive communities. What is real progress?