mercredi 22 septembre 2010

N is for Neighbourhood

Le monde est petit — It’s a small world

Enter any town or village and there will be a notice informing visitors of the attractions waiting for you there. These can be anything from ‘son église 18C’ [its 18th century church], ‘son marché’ [its market], to ‘son chateau’ [its castle] or ‘son centre historique’ [its historic centre]. What happens if somewhere has no attractions whatsoever? Simple. The notice just reads ‘son parking’ (of which there is likely to be ample). A little more encouragingly, there may be ‘son shopping’.

Other places have even more to boast about. A nearby village is feted as ‘un des plus beaux villages de France’ (this means it is officially one of the loveliest villages in France), while others are designated ‘ville fleurie’ (literally, a town with lots of flowers). We are somewhat puzzled by a nearby village which, for some time, claimed it was a 3-star ‘ville fleurie’. Indeed, there were three little red flowers drawn under the sign, meaning it was a very flowery place indeed. A little while ago one flower had been scrubbed out. Something must have gone badly wrong in the flowerpot department.

Larger towns have more ambitious claims. Montauban, which is close to us, is billed as ‘ville d’art et d’historie’ [a town of art and history], while the smaller and nearer Caussade is ‘ville des chapeaux’ [town of the hats]. In summer there are hat-shaped flower arrangements on the roundabouts, hat topiaries, model hats dotted all around and the odd hat-related parade. Sadly, the hat-makers who used to be there have all but disappeared, but their legacy lingers on.

On an even larger scale, enter the neighbouring ‘departement’ of the Lot, and a sign proudly informs you that there are 420 historic sites and monuments to visit. That may take a while.

Our own town, Saint Antonin Noble Val, on the banks of the Aveyron river, is billed as a ‘cité medieval’. And it’s true. We have the oldest civic building in France and lots of narrow streets with houses that have been around since the English conquered the town about 600 years ago. (They didn’t keep it for very long, just a few months. But we’re back again!) It’s all beautifully and lovingly preserved. The movie Charlotte Grey was filmed there and we have one of the most popular Sunday markets in the region.

It was while at the market that friends who had come to visit saw someone who looked very much like a neighbour they played bridge with in Somerset. ‘That looks like John,’ he said. ‘It can’t be,’ she said. So he went behind the man, whispered ‘John’ and, yes, it was their neighbour. Neither knew the other would be in Saint Antonin that weekend — and the market was particularly busy, making it difficult to keep track of your own partner let alone discover a friend. It really is a small world.

So why not come and see for yourself? You will be welcome and, who knows, you may meet someone you know.

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