Tuesday, 18 June 2013

France is on the horizon

hand woven cotton curtains
  Certain things bring back wonderful memories of work and holidays in France, and these photos recall several visits to a rather remote and seldom visited area of France where I did quite a lot of buying.   It is Les Landes, a large area to the West of France, behind the seaside resorts of Biarritz and the South West Coast, which is very poor and largely uninhabited except by  peasants who live a frugal life there.  The soil is poor and sandy and the winds blow strongly, the crops are small, and the main industry is pine timber in huge wooded areas that go on for miles, interspersed with tracks for the carts, lorries and trailers that the timber fellers use.  Formerly these trees were used for the gathering of sap which was used to produce paraffin, a very useful commodity used by most households in the past.  It was gathered in little glazed conical clay pots, rather like pointed flower pots but without the hole at the base, and tied to a deep cut in the stem of the tree.  The drips were caught in the pot and gathered each day or so into large wooden boxes with leather straps which were carried by the peasants.    When we were there we found several old dealers who still had hundreds of the pots under straw and pine branches for protection and we bought large quantities for a very few francs and people in England bought them and filled them with candle wax.   The houses there were all very simple and made of local wood and  rye-straw with clay, with small windows and hidden from the sun which was very strong and hot for most of the summer.  Similarly the insides of the cottages were dark, with deep, red and cobalt blue cottons both at the windows and round the medieval-looking beds, which had very deep pelmets and matching valances in checks and stripes to protect sleepers from the elements of unplastered ceilings..  I find the simple rustic look of their furnishings very appealing and the local eco- museum house at Sarbres is well worth a visit.  It is all a far cry from the riches and elaborate styles of the rich Normandy farms and villages that we think of as being typically French, but it is an area that has lagged behind in style and furnishings and therefore well worth preserving as an example of simple peasant life, where neighbours helped each other and the community spirit for preservation was very strong.

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