The French Republican Calendar was in effect from September, 1793, beginning with year two, to the end of December, 1805. We have written about it before and that post is given in Our Book. We explained the twelve months of thirty days each and their names being based on the weather and agricultural activities in the north of France. In order to eradicate the custom days being associated with saints, each day was associated with something to do with nature or agriculture. It was actually quite a beautiful and logical creation, but it did not stick and most of it -- especially the names of the days -- is forgotten now.
Yet, as much as the English love their countryside or the North Americans love their wilderness, France loves her farmers, and the Republican Calendar is evidence of that. The nineteenth century French novelist, Eugène Le Roy, wrote a charming book about nature's cycles through the year, using the Republican Calendar, l'Année Rustique en Périgord, which we would like to share with you from time to time.
The year begins with the Vernal Equinox, today, and the month of Germinal, or germination, the time when seeds begin to sprout. It is a time, Le Roy writes, when all the trees of the hedges are in flower -- poplar, ash, elm, field maple, Damson plum. We note that it is also when the very French boxwood -- when not pruned, as it usually is -- flowers with a sweet and heavenly scent.
Le Roy tells of the peasant and his wife, who wears heavy canvas clothing, dig the soil around their grape vines. They gather the trimmed off vine shoots into a little bundle called a javelou, which will be used in the autumn to stir the batter for crêpes, then tossed into the fire to help warm the house. His stoic peasants of the Périgord "have a hard life but are healthy and strong". They eat well: chestnuts, fruits, walnuts, truffles. They feed red wheat to their pigs to fatten them and fry the bacon in walnut oil.
He then waxes unbelievably lyrical about the glories of the peasant-owner's life and the evils of great landownership, quoting Montesquieu at last : "It is not enough, in a good democracy, for the parcels of land owned to be equal; they must be small." Le Roy was a firm believer in the principles of the Revolution, specially that of equality, and one could write a small thesis on authors with similar convictions who clung to the Republican Calendar in one way or another. Zola's Germinal was not, after all, entitled Germination.
Coming back from politics to nature, Le Roy notes that the true sign of Spring's definitive arrival is the call of the cuckoo, which, by the way, one can still hear often in France (we read it is no longer so in Britain and cuckoos are confined to clocks in California). He ends with a local proverb about listening for the cuckoo's call, in the Périgordin dialect of Occitan:
Entre martz e abriü,
Saubrez si lou coucu
Es mort ou viü.
Any Occitan dictionary holders out there?
In thirty days' time or so, we will bring you Le Roy's Floréal.
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©2014 Anne Morddel