Friday, October 12, 2007


The first person who told us about sangliers had a low electric fence encircling her garden. C. and I couldn't imagine what the fence was for--it was too low to keep out a dog or a deer and too high to keep out a rabbit or a raccoon. When I asked about the fence, the lady explained that it was to keep out the sangliers.

I thought I hadn't understood correctly. Sangliers, like in Asterix?

Oui, bien sur, the same.

Then it was C.'s turn to doubt. Hadn't I probably mistranslated? Surely the beasts whom Asterix and Obelix hunted in comic-book Gaul were not currently threatening the lettuces of householders in southern France.

We turned to our family expert on all things French and he assured C. that I had indeed understood correctly. Sangliers--wild boars--are a menace to the French very like deer are a menace to American suburbanites. Like deer, if you imagine a deer that has long curling tusks, is built like, well, like a wild boar, and has some serious issues with personal space.

C. could hardly wait to spot one.

We asked around all summer about when and where we were likely to see a sanglier, so we built up a collection of stories. Our Swedish neighbors had to replant their lawn after a herd of sangliers had rooted it up. Our Belgian friends knew where we would likely come across a sanglier or two because they had been hiking there and had surprised one in the undergrowth. Two rond-points away from us there is a small roadside shrine to a driver of a moto who lost a battle with a sanglier there. It emerged that these wild boars were not some Disney-fied overgrown pigs but veritable wild animals, unpredictable, large, and potentially dangerous.

C. was delighted.

And yet, no luck. We kept asking around about sanglier, who had seen any and where, and the sightings were all distant, either in space or time. Still, we were hopeful that as the fall advanced we would have a visitation. Fall is, after all, the beginning of sanglier season.

One evening after dinner a few weeks ago I was driving down our chemin on my way to English choir practice. I met another car and pulled over into a driveway--the car going uphill has the right of way, unless I am driving that car, in which case the downhill car has right of way--but as I did so I saw several dark shapes just below the terrace across the road. When the other car had passed, I pulled back into the road and stopped, looking along the olive tree-planted terraces to my left. There were 6 sangliers: 3 adults, 3 babies. The adults were roughly the size of German shepherds, except with bigger heads and tusks. The babies were the size of lambs, but would have cast a pall on any Easter basket. We all looked at each other for a long minute, and then they turned and loped back into the trees.

I phoned C. from the car and he assembled the girls and rushed down the hill. Dangerous animals abroad? Let's take the children to see.

They caught a glimpse of the animals, but that was all. Still, at least it was a glimpse, and now C. is hopeful that the herd du coin will come one day soon and dig up our yard.

I told Violette, our femme de menage, about the sanglier sighting. She is built a little like a sanglier herself, absent the tusks: sturdy and low to the ground. Violette would, I am sure, have given Asterix pause. Turns out that Violette had her own encounter with a sanglier a few years ago. Early one fall evening she was driving along in the predecessor to the fire-engine red Fiat Punto that she drives now. Violette lives a village or two further up the mountain, around many curves from here. She took one of these curves and, bang! a sanglier.

The boar did several hundred euros worth of damage to the car. I made sounds of shock and horror--how awful, lucky you weren't hurt. Violette smiled. No, no, I was fine, she said, but the sanglier, he was dead. So I put him in the trunk, took him home, and we ate him all winter.

Asterix would be proud.

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