Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Le ramassage d'escargots

We are settled in, now, almost a year into our life here. Most of the time, I remember that shops will likely close at noon before I get there to find the shutters closed; most of the time, I remember to take my grocery bags with me to the store. Most of the time, France seems like any other place, our corner a beautiful one, but not so terribly strange or different or, aside from the wildflowers right now, wondrous.

This weekend C and I went up into the mountains. We left the girls with their grandmother--they were all eager to get us out of the house--and drove up the Route Napoleon to Castellane, a market town a couple hours' drive away. We walked along the edge of France's answer to the Grand Canyon which is, not surprisingly, smaller and more convenient to fresh bread and good coffee than the one in Arizona. We found a village that had been left to tumble down two centuries ago, and that now belongs primarily to several troupeaux of goats. In this new life of ours, though, none of these things--canyon, ruins, even curly-horned goats--were too terribly strange. We hike, we visit ruins, one of the English ladies even keeps her own goats.

Then Sunday morning we woke to a downpour. We looked at the map and, since hiking was out of the question and, it being Sunday morning in la France profonde, everything was closed except the local boulangerie (open til noon or they ran out of bread, whichever came first), we found the smallest roads we could to carry us home. The car could hike if we couldn't. We set out on a road that rapidly dwindled to one lane, no guardrails, as it wound and swerved through the mountains. No one else was out (downpour; Sunday morning; la France profonde) and so it was more a beautiful drive than a harrowing one.

The mountains gave way to high meadows, and then the road dipped down into a national forest. We passed a sign that announced we had left the département de Haute Provence and entered the département du Var: a government-issue metal sign. A few yards later was another, and C had to back up so that we could read it closely.

In stencilled letters on a piece of plywood, someone had written: In the Department of the Var, the Picking of Mushrooms, Harvesting of Snails, and Collecting of Fossils is Forbidden by Law.

Just when a place starts to become just a place, the authorities forbid you to collect snails.

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