Autumn really is the most extraordinary season in France, a time of tender beauty and glorious harvests. In the Republican calendar, there are some "supplementary days" at about this time of year, to keep things on track with a sun that does not choose to follow the rigidity of mathematical perfection, and then begins the month of Vendémiaire. Eugène Le Roy, in his Année Rustique en Périgord began his chapter on Vendémiaire, naturally, with the grape harvest and all of the preparations for it.
Friends, neighbours, relatives from afar worked together, chatting and picking the grapes. In the shade of a willow the wine casks were set on the ground. People dumped in their grapes and were helped by a man wielding a chestnut branch to scrape their baskets clean. Flies and wasps joined in with orgiastic abandon, which Le Roy found charming, along with the reddened arms of the grape-scraper, "a rustic god".
At midday, everyone sat on the grass and, with their trusty pocket knives (surely Opinel) hacked into a crust of bread. Omelets appeared, as did goat's cheese, fresh walnuts and crêpes. And wine. In the evening, soup was the fare and each person who helped received a basket of grapes.
He lamented that the joys of country living were no longer popular. Everyone wanted to go to the beach. The wonderful type of harvesting that he described was disappearing; modern people "disdained rustic amusements and harvest festivals". His nostalgia is sincere; had he witnessed globalization, he would have despaired, and certainly joined José Bové.
The "neo-peasant" was perverted, knew nothing and had no love for the land. He also was less virile and fat. What happened to these new peasants? Some will become journaliers or manoeuvres (both words meaning day labourers) and "live in poverty". Some will go to the cities and disappear in the dregs of Society. Others will be recruited by agents to cross the Atlantic. One saw them on the quays at the ports, sitting on their pathetic baggage. Sad mothers and somber fathers wait, surrounded by their confused children, all "future victims of acclimatization".
Interesting to observe the immigration myths from the point of view of those who did not budge, non?
©2014 Anne Morddel