Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcome to the Grand Sud


Goue Den Bas - Pyrenees
Welcome to southern France, to a tiny hamlet in the Couseran hills, close to the mighty Pyrénées. Much of our department is rich, pastoral landscape, with thickly forested hills rising up all around us. In the valleys, animals graze in lush meadows for a large part of the year. We enjoy a fabulous climate here - there really are four seasons. The air has been described as being ‘like Champagne’.

Because of the lack of industry, the eco system is almost perfect and vast numbers of creatures survive here. The system supports wildlife from the tiniest insect on a leaf to the wild boar in the forests. Rivers are full of trout and in the high mountains, 'close to the sun in lonely lands', lives the king of the birds, the Golden Eagle.

There are those who find this place as wild, far too wild. Some of them are my family and friends. To the amazement of almost all, when we announced our intention to leave Ireland (at the height of Celtic Tiger madness) it wasn’t to move to the lavender fields of Provence or the glitz of the Riviera. No. Our plan was to run back to the place we had discovered only six weeks earlier; a place no-one had ever heard of. For the first two years we lived in St Lizier, a mediaeval village, where the only shop was a tiny Boulangerie.

St Lizier
Then we decamped to the hills, where our little house is one of only five. At that point we were pronounced completely mad by some friends and family.

The pace of life is slow; people are generally not in a rush to get anywhere. There isn't a greed for more of everything. High achieving is fine, but living is more important. There is little or no crime. Life is about being healthy, happy, eating well, respecting the environment and each other.

Many things are unchanged here; people live as they might have lived a century ago. The Mesdames, in their cross-over, checked aprons, do as they have always done; keep hens for eggs and eventually for the pot. They rear, kill and eat their own ducks, geese and rabbits and grow enough vegetables to feed themselves almost all year. And then they share things with us.

Bienvenue à l'Ariège Pyrénées.

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