All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Cometh the post. cometh the news.....

The PostmanImage by Tobyotter via Flickr

The postlady has been bringing me up to date on what has been happening during her week's holiday. Her replacement, poor harassed soul, has had no time to gossip as she, unlike the regular lady, does not have the status of a government job for life, only a normal contract and thus is much more under the thumb of the new boss at the post office. He can't sack her, this being France, after all, but he can nag about the time she takes to do the round.

Life at La Poste is not what it was. When it was a proper public service, the postmen and women would go out of their way to check on elderly people, letters or no letters, and my first postman was trustee for several who were held to be incapable of managing their own affairs. Now La Poste is to be privatised, despite the vast 'referendum' campaign mounted to keep it in the public sector and there are worries that it will go the same way as EDF, which has been in the news after staff have been comitting suicide, such is the pressure to achieve targets. My postlady is unimpressed. She has the guarentee of a job for life, if not with La Poste then with some other state organisation and in the meantime she does her round as she sees fit, calling on all the elderly at least once a week.

Apart from the health bulletin on all the unwell of the area, the startling news that Madame Lebon had been baring her breast in the chemist's shop and the latest mistake made by the local notaire - he had managed to sell a house to an American together with two fields which did not belong to it - most of the news concerned the farming fraternity.
There have been ructions for some time about the price farmers are paid for their milk by the distributors, and there have been all sorts of protests ranging from ransacking the shelves of the supermarkets so there is no milk to buy, blockading the distribution plants, pouring milk on the fields and, finally, giving it away, either on market day or at the farm gate. Needless to say, the government is taking action both in Brussels and in France, and there is an offer of an improved price in the air. At this point, the milk producers are divided. Some want to accept the offer, others are holding out for a price which they claim more fairly reflects their cost of production. The divisions are acrimonious and last week the local farms giving away milk were targeted...their notices torn down and in one case, both notice and the straw bale on which it was sitting being set alight, damaging the hedge alongside. No one thinks that it is anyone other than a milk producer who wants to accept the offer......the question is, which one? Someone is bound to have seen him, or his car, but will that someone talk? If they do, I shall hear all about it from the postlady.

Another bright spark has been in trouble with the courts as he was untidy enough to leave over twenty rotting sheep carcases along the watercourse on his land - where they could be seen. Majority opinion is that they were so weak when they arrived that they died trying to get something to drink, as his speciality is buying sheep that are going to the knacker's yard, then fattening them up for sale! No enquiry into the welfare of the animals, but a fine for polluting the watercourse. This is the same bright spark who made a living for years selling 'local' lamb...his name and his farm proudly displayed on the supermarket counter. Now, the French will always buy French produce rather than foreign and local rather than national, so he was on to a winner. I have seen New Zealand lamb - chilled, not frozen - French lamb and his lamb all on sale concurrently, and his stuff was flying off the shelves at top dollar. It did look nice lamb, not all long shanked like the normal French stuff, but, for the price, I stuck with the New Zealand. Then came mad cow disease when not only beef but also lamb imports from the U.K. were banned in France and, suddenly, his lamb no longer appeared on the shelves. Monsieur had been buying live sheep in Wales, shipping them over to spend a week on his land, and had then sold them on as local produce! No wonder it had looked so good.

He isn't unique. I think it was last year - because this year there has been some sort of oyster plague - oyster producers down the Atlantic coast were the object of legal action, for importing oysters from Ireland, keeping them in their tanks for a while and selling them on as local produce. The courts finally decided that they were entitled to do so. It makes a nonsense of all the fuss about unique local habitats which is used to push up the prices, but the oyster producers were happy.
French purchasing habits never cease to astonish me. Take tomatoes. In the winter, there are the anaemic, tasteless products of the Nantes glasshouses sitting alongside ripe fruits from Morocco...they buy French! I once saw an offer of T bone steaks from Ireland - wonderful, marbled objects - at half the price of the miserable French offerings.....guess which product was shifting! You really do start to wonder if all this propaganda about the French really knowing about food is just that...propaganda.

Still, back on the farming front, there is a project to install a windfarm, paying undisclosed sums to the farmers who own the land. There is a lotissement - a housing estate - just under the site proposed and the inhabitants are, not surprisingly, kicking up. They don't want it. The two farmers involved have been 'visiting' the protesters, to make it clear that they do not want formal remains to be seen whether some forty families weigh more than two farmers in the French system. One thing is for sure, it wouldn't be any good complaining about harassment to the gendarmerie.
Personally I think that windfarms are a con...I have deep suspicions about the green lobby and the commerce which lies behind it...and to contaminate the landscape with these horrors is to me an aesthetic crime.

The postlady goes on her way with the addition of my contribution to the speaking newspaper. I have at last found a lawyer to sue the hospital that nearly killed my husband last year.

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  1. Interesting read! And I can think of only one thing to say. 'Old order changeth to make a way for new'

  2. I can remember the time when postmen and women in the UK were as caring about the elderly in their community as your postlady is.

    Times change..not usually for the better...which is probably why I love Turkish village life...time seems to have stood still in so many respects.

  3. I hate windfarms with a passion - they are con, and a con which blights the landscape. Huge areas of Wales have been destroyed and more will follow. And it is not an idiotic binary choice between windfarms or leaking nuclear power stations as some would have us believe. Oh, I could so rant on....

  4. Agree with you and Mark on windfarms - which are currently being installed on every hill top in Spain. Like Mark, I could go on, but won't.

    French loyalty to local produce reminds me of the Buy British campaigns of years ago. My father stoically bought British cars for years as a result,which promptly rusted up and broke down. I hear there's a similar movement in the USA at the moment, as a defense against other, more competitive industries. The bastions of the free market turn out to be a bit nimby-ish. Would I be wrong in thinking, however, that in France this is less a political strategy than an outdated faith in the quality of locally grown? I remember as a teenager going on several exchanges to a family in the Loire valley. They always bought locally, and it WAS better. From yor post, it sounds like attitudes haven't caught up with the sad reality of the market today.

  5. recipes for the life, what we would do without the postlady to pass on the local news I do not the time she has heard a rumour and sifted it through the opinion of everyone on her round you have a pretty good idea whether or not it is genuine!

    Ayak, I didn't have a country postman when I was young, but I did get to know one who had retired, much later on, and he said he enjoyed keeping an eye on the old folks as part of his round and his boss agreed how important it was.

    Mark, rant on...I agree with you. Friends in Germany, where the Greens held power for a while, called them the Green Terrorists for what they were doing to the landscape.

    Pueblo girl...go on about windfarms all you like..they are a curse.
    As to local produce, I think there's a point when the fresh fruit and veg are in the makes sense then....but when it's a question of out of season goods then it's time to use judgement as to quality.

  6. As always, a very interesting post on French rural life. Did you know, by the way, that if you bank with La Poste, your postperson can and will, at your request, collect cash for you?

    After 12 years of driving several kilometres to the local post office and queuing patiently while the people ahead recount the highlights of their week to the cashier, I only learned that a week ago. I knew they would collect prescriptions, but not cash. I suppose all this will be lost once the postal part is privatised.

  7. nodamnblog, yes, our postlady has been doing this for us for years when Mr. Fly has been too ill to stir outdoors. If I ring the office before 8.00 am, the money is out on the same day. She fetches and carries all our banking is a wonderful service. She thinks it will continue. I think it will continue until someone in authority finds out it is going on and puts a stop to it.

  8. Thank you for your kind words during the past few weeks, they were very much appreciated by the people this end.

    A great and interesting usual.

  9. Jimmy Bastard,
    a pleasure to have you among us again and thank you for your kind comment.

  10. Fly!! I am learning so much about life in France. I think I'll stay put for a while... Very interesting about the mail carrier and the gossip. Our US postal people will wave hello and speed on to the next street. Our postlady was transferred to a different route last week. [We will have to break in a new fellow. You can hear his Jeep roaring a mile away.] I miss the lady because she would give us the most important news if we happened to be waiting at the box for her. Our post offices do not handle savings accounts nor do they deliver cash. Rural and some suburban mailboxes are routinely knocked over by speeding cars and very often whole neighborhoods find that their mail has been stolen from their boxes!

    On windfarms: have you seen the studies that suggest they produce illness in humans? I think I saw something about a family living near a windfarm and the constant "hum" produced neurological disturbances and tumors. But of course if it is true, you'll have a hard time finding credible information.

    Lastly, your farming stories are shocking and disgusting. What has become of our world? Is there no decency? One word says it all: corruption. Looks like "Chicago" style business practices and politics aren't confined to Chicago.

    I am sorry to learn Mr. Fly was so terribly ill last year. Good luck with your attorney. Please don't let the workings of the court system put either of you back in the hospital!!

    Keep up your excellent reporting!

  11. Sunflower Ranch, they steal from mailboxes here, too. Mine has been broken into a couple of times and once was even taken bodily away!Our postlady knows what is important and gives it to you personally...if you're not there, she leaves a note and comes again the next day...she also knows who you trust to take items on your behalf.
    I hadn't seen that about windfarms...something else to add to the tally...
    Farming in france has a big political lobby and they get away with a lot. It gives them confidence to throw their weight around and that's just what they do. Their practices are disgraceful.
    It has taken me a year to find a lawyer who will handle the case, I'm not happy about having to sue a public hospital and I'm not looking for huge damages, but I want the people responsible to take the responsibility they are busy shrugging off.
    Life in rural France is not the 'dream' that is peddled by the magazines which encourage people to move there....

  12. Hiya Fly. Hope you're well!
    I liked your remark about the propaganda line that would have us all believe the French know all about good food. They love cheap junk food just as much as the next nation. And this buy French at all costs malarkey is just silly! My approach: buy the best quality ingredients I can afford, preferring local and seasonal whenever I can.

  13. Lis of the North, the French are really good at propaganda...but why do we swallow it?