Friday, July 24, 2009

Last weekend, JP, Sev, the twins and I took off for a short camping trip in the South of France. We were visiting friends there and a frequent topic of conversation was our last trip there seven years ago. On that occasion, our hostess had been obliged to come pick me up at the police station. As it was both the first and last time she had ever been obliged to do that for one of her guests, it was pretty memorable for her. And I have to say that every detail has remained in my mind, as well….

The police officers at the station were all very kind, but not sure what to do for me. I obviously needed to phone someone that could help me track down the location of JP’s anthropologist pal’s summer place that I knew had to be somewhere very nearby. But I couldn’t come up with the full name of a single person who could help me.
I sat in an orange plastic chair and mentally went through the list of other anthropologists I knew of. There was Phillipe...Something in Belgium? And wasn’t there a Jean-Phillipe Something? It was all going nowhere at a snail’s pace.

Valentine was patient and sensible, as always. She politely accepted an Orangina from one of the officers and looked around the place as she drank it, possibly wondering if we were both going to end up living long-term in the Castries Municipal Police Station.

Finally, the Orangina Officer came back and brought me over to a computer. We both sat down in front of it. He was all ready to look up a name and number for me on his nifty on-line phone directory. But I had nothing to give him, unless I had a sudden, amazing inspiration.
And it just so happens that I did.
«Jean-Marc Olivier de Bardan*!» I practically shouted.
«Where does he live?» he asked as he started to type.
«Um...Bardan?» I replied. I could have added «Duh!», but resisted. A last name with a «de» stuck in the middle of it doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got a French nobleman on your hands, but chances are good. And the French in general tend not to move around much. So, it’s pretty likely that when someone’s name states that he is «of» a certain village, it means that the family has been there running things for the last thousand years or so and have no intention of moving any time soon.

Of course, being a famous anthropologist specialized in West Africa, maybe JM would be in Niger or Mali, or some such exotic locale. But there was small chance of that- though I only knew of the man through JP, I'd heard that he was not in the best of health. My only real worries were that either he’d be a.) too ill to come to the phone , b.)suspicious that it was some kind of bizarre prank and refuse to talk to me, or (the worst case scenario): c.) not in possession of the information I desperately needed.

I stewed over all this as the O.O. quickly found the number and handed me the phone.
To say that the man was surprised to hear from me is an understatement. But he was very, very kind and, amazingly, had all the phone numbers I needed- a cell number for JC and a direct number for «Les Cabanes» ! (I later found out that the hamlet of Bardan is just 20kms from the place I was trying to find.)

I immediately made another call and got F on the line- she’s a very bright and sensible woman with the soothing demeanor of the child psychologist that she is. She told me that yes, my DH was there with our other children. They’d arrived ages ago, but he was completely unconcerned - sure that I’d be turning up any time. She’d thought that his attitude seemed a little…casual, but had decided that if he wasn’t worried, no one else should be.

I couldn’t decide whether to be mad at him, or to be touched by his confidence in my amazing (to him, anyway) ability to manage in adverse circumstances.

F. immediately took things in hand and within 20 minutes she'd arrived to guide us to her place. We stood for a bit out in the parking lot, listening to her marvel over the idea that I had thought to go to the police for help. According to her (and all the other French folk back at Les Cabanes) it's really something that would never occur to a French person. And maybe they're right not to think of it... just because the police helped a lost FrancoAmerican oddball does not guarantee that they'd have been equally patient with a "real" French person in similar straits. Hard to say, really. But they were awfully nice to me, even coming outside with us to make sure we were in good hands and to wave goodbye. A nice bunch, really.

«Les Cabanes» did turn out to be a hard place to get to, for the first-timer, anyway. You have to turn off the small highway, onto an even smaller one. From there, you turn off onto one of many dirt tracks leading off into the garrigue. As you drive along, the trail gets worse and worse. Thorny shrubs scratch the sides of your car and rocks threaten to eviscerate it from underneath. It feels a lot like the bush back in burkina.

Then suddenly, the thick underbrush is gone and you’re in a huge, lovely meadow with an old stone wall charmingly marking the right edge. This is the meadow where, seven years later, after a much easier voyage, we pitched out tents last weekend:

On the northwest edge of the meadow is a stand of trees with little Hobbit-houses peeking out from between them. These are the famous cabanes that a small group of friends built themselves out of a bit of wood and salvaged elements (doors, windows, etc), back in the late 70's/early 80's. :

This is the one belonging to our friends JC and F:
As you can see, it's all very weird and charming, with strangely shaped windows and oddly sloping roofs. Very un-Provençal, really.

The interiors tend towards the very cute and cozy, in a thrift shop kind of way. And I mean that in the best possible sense, as I am a huge thrift shop fan:

That's all I've got time for today.

Tomorrow, expect a bit more text and lots more pictures of our latest trip to Provence!

(* All names changed to protect the anthropological or the innocent or something like that...)

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