24 August 2011

A Momentous Moment

Well some of you may not think so but when your French neighbour speaks to you for the first time since you arrived twelve years ago, it’s bound to be an important event.

But first an update.

We’ve had loads of visitors this year, one is still here and some have still to arrive so it’s been a busy season.  It was a beautiful summer until a couple of weeks ago when the weather suddenly got really hot, hitting 100 degrees (or 37 C) for the last ten days. It’s been too hot to do anything meaningful outside which is a nuisance and sleeping at night is almost impossible. You either sleep on top of the sheets and let the mossies have a feast (despite the burners) or you put the fan on which has a double benefit of blowing the mossies away and keeps you cool, but have you ever tried to fall asleep in a gale?

And then today, the weather cooled a bit, down to a more manageable 85 degrees and so I got my chainsaw out and started cutting a pile of wood which has been a blot on the landscape for quite a few months.
As I was taking one barrowful of wood to my stack I heard someone calling ‘Monsieur, Monsiur’ and as I looked up I could see it was my neighbour, an old lady, probably in her nineties, standing at our boundary fence and calling me over.

I was astonished as she has never spoken to me, despite us both working on our terraces, in the twelve years I’ve been here.

Her late husband, Pierre, was the old guy who used to both instruct and annoy me. He would tell me what trees to plant, what fertilizer to buy and how to cut back my bushes, and on other occasions he would go berserk when the red boundary markers (the holy grail to French people apparently) disappeared under weeds! I never knew what sort of mood he’d be in so contact was infrequent.

And then he disappeared. He didn’t appear on the terraces for months and I thought they’d simply returned to their Parisian home but I learnt a few months later that he had died.

The terraces were kept in check by a young man and although I never saw the lady, I occasionally saw washing hanging on the line strung between a couple of trees higher up the hillside.

And then today – contact !

My Cyprus Tree - Growing Again
I wandered over and said hello. She started off by speaking very quickly in French and I had to stop her as I couldn’t understand what she was saying – it was something about trees. And then she staggered me by speaking in English, albeit very bad English. For years I had been trying to build bridges with Old Pierre by inviting him down for an aperitif (the French have aperitifs – not drinks !) but he always refused saying his wife would not come which I took to mean, she didn’t speak a word of English and would find it difficult to socialise, and here she was, trying to explain in her faltering English, a problem she had about trees.

When I finally figured out the subject matter, trees, I was able to speak to her in French and discovered that she was asking me to cut my Mimosa tree once the branches started overhanging her land as they might fall on their electric fence.

I laughed and told her a couple of stories about Old Pierre.

When I first recovered the upper terraces from a jungle state they’d been in for several years and started planting trees, Old Pierre would be hanging over his fence shaking his head. ‘You can’t plant those – those are palm trees’, he would cry. ‘You shouldn’t plant that tree there’, and ‘that tree (the Mimosa tree) is too close to my boundary fence but ok you can leave it.’

And then when a large stag came onto the land and decided to decimate my trees including a Cyprus tree I had bought the week previously for 150 euros (I was gutted !) Old Pierre was straight down to the gardening shop to buy and install an electric, deer proof, fence around his land. My misfortune had been the first evidence of deer starting to come down from the hills and he was not about to let his fruit trees become their dessert.

He did gloat a bit, hanging over the fence and telling me that none of the affected trees would survive, specifically the Mimosa which had been reduced to a stump.
The Mimosa

I laughed as I told the old lady about Pierre’s prognosis of my trees and how she was now asking me to keep an eye on the Mimosa as it was growing vigorously.

We exchanged stories about the deer, our fruit trees and that the deer had just eaten every single pear I had whilst leaving every quince on the branches. And then, as she wandered off, I promised to keep my eye on the Mimosa, thinking that, given its size, it would be several years before it posed any problems to her deer fence.      

The original blog posting about the deer can be found here:

The Palm Tree Pierre Hated
And my original blog when Pierre died:

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