We sleep like babies after a delicious dinner that Sandra’s Mum has made for us and some wine chosen from the wine cellar after asking after our desires. We start with a cold soup made from a base of haricot beans. I can’t begin to explain the subtle flavours. Lettuce, wild pork paté and bread alongside. The mains is whipped potato with truffle and wild pork sausage. Cheese, bread and fig jam followed with coffee and a rich rum had neat. Some lively conversation which poor Sandra has to translate from English to French and back.
Then imagine we are tucked into a beautiful quiet space with nothing but birds to wake us in the morning through our shuttered windows. I wake and expect it’s about 6am, but peering at my watch I’m surprised to see it’s almost nine. It’s an amazing and very pleasant contrast to sleeping in Nice. We had been going to walk in the mountains today but our now late start prevents that, so we head to the village and Marco drives us around so we can visually explore a few hundred years of home and living. As he points out homes and farms and schools, he makes some interesting observations.
Many homes are now owned by British couples who have sold up, settled here renovating beautiful old homes, and what a way to retire. Some actually still work in the UK with it being just an hours flight away. Many fields here are full of the tall maize that is grown in abundance, now withered and dry as we head into autumn. Marco says he hates it. I say, well it is autumn and it is a necessary crop. He says it dirties the fields with mice, so the farmer sprays to kill the mice and with no regulations it has now dirtied the water supply through the ground water. That even though they live just below the mountains, they must buy drinking water as the supply is now poisoned…and, he says, pointing out the window in disgust as we drive through the ten foot tall maize, it has dirtied the view. What can we see? Nothing but maize and in the fields that have been cut, nothing but stubble. He says before the farmer grew something and was able to prepare and market himself for a good price so his family can live. Now he grows more and more, bigger, faster, fatter and it must be a lower price so the quality is not there and yet he makes little more than he did before. This is the times now and I must agree with you Marco. It is a terrible shame.
From here we come to the village and although we have missed the local markets because of our sleep in we walk through and see the primary school his son Theo attends and the early childhood centre and sports grounds. Some of the schools have little more than 40 children. A tiny school in each little village. We are surprised they are so small but Marco explains a school is the heart of a village. “You take away the school, you take away the heart and you no longer have a village”. All the surrounding primaries feed into one higher school for ages around 12 to 16 yrs. This school would be around 250 pupils and is where Mathis attends. From here we go to a Café for lunch where Gilbert has blood sausage and I duck heart. These are specialties of the area Marco explains. Duck is far more popular than any other meat and Foie Gras a specialty they are proud of. Marco and Sandra grew up in Tarbes just a few kilometres from here so it’s a constant meet and greet.
This is an old Mill for grinding flour. The river runs through here and borders the school and sports grounds. Marco is heavily involved in sports and as well as coaching rugby teams has developed programs for the surrounding schools and has great plans to extend that into community centres providing for any group that would benefit. It’s a different concept and allows these schools to have great sports programmes without a dedicated sports dept and maybe a gym for the community. Something that the village has not seen before.
We meet Nadine who is a potter in the community and she happily shows us her work and style. We show her our website and talk about artists. She’s just lovely and some of her work is very cool. From here we go to the local museum. Marco has explained that a neighbour of his was doing some deeper ploughing of his field and dug up what he initially thought was a rock but on inspection an archeological team found the remains of the floor of a 6th century Roman Bath with the most delicate of mosaic work. Pretty amazing that this lay untouched for so long. It is now housed in a museum in Central Maubauguet.