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.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Secrets of the tomb....

CrysanthemumImage by daisee via Flickr
The eve of All Saints' was not marked by trick or treating in my area of La France Profonde, not even on the little modern housing estate on the edge of the village.
No child in its right mind would brave the wrath of the farm dogs and no parent in its right mind would risk Papy - once apprised of what was required of him - 'treating' a child to a glass of gnole at eighty per cent proof.

Not that the day was unmarked. People who normally lived a troglodyte life behind their shutters were seen at the cemetery with cleaning materials for Tante's tomb....municipal employees were tidying up the alleys and the water tap was finally repaired in preparation for the avalanche of chrysanthemums to be brought by relatives on November 1st.
I liked the feast of All Saints. One week afterwards, the municipal employees would dispose of the wilted chrysanthemums and I would visit the dump to collect the flower pots which were, at that time, both hard to find and expensive.

Normally the cemeteries were deserted.....I could wander about looking at the tombs...everything from a simple slab with lettering half obliterated by time to gothic style mausolea with wrought iron and massive locks very much in evidence.
I often used to wonder whether it was to keep someone out or to keep someone in.
Celebrating the passing of mother in law by the purchase of a very sturdy iron lock in her memory...

In one graveyard a few villages away a stroll to the edge backing on to the fields would revel a heap of earth with bones....which used to set me thinking about the habit of only being able to rent a grave these days...forget eternal rest, when your thirty or fifty years is up, out you go.

Of  course, every commune would set its own rate for tomb hire, communes with old peoples' homes being particularly suspect...and that, linked to detailed study of the prices proposed by the funeral directors...the 'pompes funebres'....could give rise to unseemly incidents.

Thus the gendarmes who came across a van in a ditch before the driver could rouse a local farmer with a tractor to pull him out.
They were somewhat surprised and decidedly put out to discover a corpse neatly wrapped up in the back.
It would mean Paperwork on the grand scale.
Worse, when the driver appeared it was clear that he had been drinking.
He explained.
The corpse was his Tante Marcelle who had died at his mother's home, where she had been looked after for years.....but the price of a plot was exorbitant...and as for the price of the local undertakers!
So the family decided that she should appear to have died in her old village where she still had a house...and a plot, bought in the lifetime of her deceased husband.
And he had drawn the short straw to provide the transport.

Why didn't you just get the local undertaker to take her body there, then?
Well, have you seen what he charges!
Well, what about the undertaker in her village?
It's the same firm! They're everywhere! You should see what it costs for the refrigerated bed!
What do you want that for?
Well, it's hot, and people don't want funny smells when they're paying their respects...we can't do without the bed, but we thought if we could just economise a bit on the transport...

The gendarmes had of which involved Paperwork and one which didn't.
A call to their barracks confirmed the family relationship of driver and corpse...and the van was allowed to go on its way.
And this is not back in the dark ages of Monsieur Untel...this was only a couple of years before I left France!

It's a good job the family were not thinking of economising on a that department there is now a ban on bonfires in the garden.....all compostable items must be taken to the local recycling plant as it is euphemistically known.
How it is supposed to help the environment to use litres of fuel to drive kilometres to the gyppo headquarters...which is what these sites have dump your prunings rather than burn them yourself and have the ash for your garden is beyond me, but, as usual with France, if there's a box it has to be ticked.

Being of a generation that saved its bawbees, I think I would definitely prefer to go up in a pyre of apple wood in my own garden than to form an element of a spontaneous combustion in the compost skip at the local dump, but, of course, no one will ask me.

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  1. Hello:
    What splendid tales from the depths of rural France and what a relief to learn that there is some place other than Hungary where the night of 31st. October is not devoted to the somewhat, in our view only, dubious practice of 'trick or treat'.

    Here in the Motherland tonight, and also tomorrow, is taken very seriously with nearly all families visiting the cemeteries with flowers, wreaths and candles to be left on graves. For the next day or so the cemeteries will be illuminated in the most magical of ways by candlelight when even the ubiquitous chrysanthemums will not look too dreadful.

  2. As you know, I plan to cook on a viking long boat. I daresay I'll need to grease the wheels of the local authority to get planning permission to build the bloody thing before I burn it.

  3. Jane and Lance Hattatt, all the 'hallowe'en' tat would be for sale in the town shops...and windows dressed accordingly by diktat of the commercants' association but I saw nothing of it in the country.

    When one year we had the family complete with teenagers, we put out pumpkin lanterns and nearly had a car accident on the road outside.

    Have you seen the lanternes de la mort...there are still a few around.

  4. Steve, as long as you don't build it in the kitchen and need to get a demolition permit as well...

  5. Yes, Clochemerle comes to mind again!
    Here it's little girls dressed like strumpets, tottering about in silly heels.

  6. dinahmow....they turn up all the year round...what I'd call majorettes and what is known in France as 'twirling'...little girls dressed like tarts which figure at every village fete.

  7. I'd like my ashes to be put into egg timers for all my loved ones!


  8. Delightful post - gave me a tiny twinge of longing for France, isn't that odd? The thriftiness! Here in small town US, Halloween was a delight - my bewildered British husband looked at the hordes of kids marauding in costume, saying now he understood why I always felt like something was missing overseas on Oct 31. Unhealthy sweets, slightly dangerous - still magic.

  9. I have no idea what will happen to my body after I die. Non-muslims can't be buried in the cemetries here, unless you are fortunate to live in a town where there is a separate section for non-muslims. I wouldn't want to be shipped back to England, and even if you could be cremated here, I would't want to be. I'd be happy to be buried in the garden really...well I'll just leave it up to Mr A to decide!

  10. S.P., if I were to do that there'd be a few people never eating a boiled egg again...

    Amy, there are lots of good things about France....just not anywhere near as many as propaganda would have us believe!

    Ayak, the garden it is.
    I always think I'll die alone and be gnawed by the dog.

  11. I quite fancy of those burials by air, when the vultures coem and pick your bones clean. Or left out to be washed away by the monsoon, like I saw in Nepal.

    So much less expense.

  12. Great post! I'd say only in France, Fly, but I bet it happens elsewhere. I know just where I want to be buried - in the churchyard of our village in Wales where I was once Vicar. Still lots of space there as it covers a huge area and has a splendid view.

    Now to see what image comes up when I post this. Fingers crossed....

  13. Mark, Mr. Fly likes the towers of silence too. We have the vultures...which in pre columbian tradition purify the souls of the dead.'s you!
    I seem to remember that you would see the faithful shepherds buried among their flock...until the C of E started moving people around like chequers...

  14. Well it was me on here, Fly, but I've just had to reload my profile image again this morning, as all that was showing was a dire, black no-entry sign. Even worse than the exclamation mark! Sigh....

  15. Perpetua, computing in general and Blogger in particular demonstrate to me that what 'they' call improvements I call traps for the unwary.

  16. Just stick me in the ground and I'll compost quite happily when the time comes. Problem is not yet decided where said ground will be. Good old Scottish kirk prefers cremation but that's no Niall's cup to tea... oh well it will be somewhere...
    Didn't miss the trick or treating we used to get in Suffolk at all! It only really works in the US of A.

  17. Niall and Antoinette, I fancy composting too...but Costa Rica does not permit. So I'll have to be very careful that no one tells the authorities!