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, 24 November 2011

They call it sport....

François-Gabriel Lepaulle-Chasse a courre a Ba...Image via Wikipedia
We are in November, when la chasse  starts killing your cats, the shot rattles against your windows and longer established British expats tell you that this is all part of French tradition and is to be respected.
What they mean is that they are frightened of the buggers, the gendarmerie are frightened of the buggers and they reckon that you should be frightened of the buggers too.

I've had chasseurs send their dogs into my poultry runs, fire towards the house at close range from the vineyard beside it, and shoot rooks nests out of the trees while the young are still unable to leave the nest...coming onto my land to do so. Not to speak of the insults and threatening telephone calls.

In my own experience, I have known of one man (British) meeting a mysterious death after several run ins with la chasse, a (British) holiday house burnt out - problems with la chasse for years before - and a (British) family forced to give up their B and B business - after problems with la chasse.

Not to speak of the cats, lost, injured or killed, two people shot at while on public roads (one French one British) and a man killed while walking his dog (French). There might be more, but this is just what comes to mind.

Not all associations are the same...some are well organised and observe the law, others are simply bullies in camouflage jackets, whose chasse membership allows them possession of firearms, which in turn gives them effective immunity from the attentions of the gendarmerie.

Still, for the Pollyannas in our midst, help in maintaining the idea of the chasse as just a traditional rural pursuit is at hand.

In the month of November, many local churches celebrate a mass of St. Hubert...a nobleman of the Merovingian court who was so addicted to hunting that he even ventured forth on Good Friday.
As he became a saint, you will have already divined that Something Happened to him on that day and indeed it did.

Having brought a stag to bay he saw a cross shining between its antlers, and  heard a voice asking him if he thought hunting more important than his salvation.
Taking the hint. he became a  monk and eventually Bishop of Liege.
Given the vision you would think he would be the patron saint of the anti blood sports league, but since hunters pre-dated them they got to him first, thus all the adverts for 'la messe de St. Hubert' - not only in rural France, but in posh churches in Paris.

The main feature of a St. Hubert's mass is the presence of the 'trompes de chasse' in the church, playing at appropriate moments of the service.
You will notice that the musicians have their backs to the congregation so that the bells of the instruments face them, just as the hunt servants on horseback are heard by the field behind them when they signal the points and events of the hunt.
You will also note that they wear livery, again, just like the hunt servants.

The point of this is that the musicians, and the St. Hubert's mass, have very little to do with the armed followers of 'la chasse' and everything to do with the moneyed followers of the 'chasse a courre, a cri et a cor'....French hunting proper.

Hunting on horseback.
Main occupation of French monarchs until later ones took a lesson from Louis XVI who was more interested in hunting than in finding out what was going on among the revolutionaries and lost his head.

Don't be thinking Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities, here...this is France.

No jumping, for a start. Might fall off...though this used to be a technique for ladies to attract the royal attention in the days of the monarchy. A glimpse of white flesh and the chateau was yours...

No taking your own line either. This is, as I say, France.
You follow your leader, down the long rides through the trees leading to a sort of roundabout where the rides converge....take a look when you're driving past the remains of the old royal forests and you'll see the that the layout remains to this day.

I've put up a link to a video of la chasse a courre here, so that those who wish can look at it without upsetting others who don't.

But if you don't approve of hunting, or you loathe the behaviour of la chasse near you, you don't have to sit down and do nothing, as the wiseacres always tell you.
You can do as the French know...integrate. What you're always being told to do but no one tells you that it's more than exchanging 'bonjours' in the bakery.

You could look into joining  the roc association which tries to dialogue with the hunting fraternity on a way in which all can enjoy the countryside.
Or you could join abolition chasse which has a more formal name which currently escapes me.

A good website to check whether your local band of terrorists are within or outwith the protection of the law is that of the Office National de la chasse et la faune sauvage, and the person to contact is not the man on the desk at the local gendarmerie (they are under 'suggestion' to keep any complaints about anything under wraps in an election run up) but the garde chasse, who is employed by the ONCFS.

In my experience (considerable) these gentlemen know their patch, know the chasseurs and know what's what. They won't stretch a point to help you, but they will administer the law.

Our guy laid an ambush for those shooting the rooks' nests...not that rooks are protected, but the nests are, as offering nesting capacity to raptors.
He arrived before dawn, hid his van and lay in wait with a thermos of coffee until the band arrived and started activity. Then he cut off their retreat and copped the lot of them.

Upshot? They were fined 200 Euros each.

Some days later, I had a phone call from the wife of one of them.

My husband's been fined 200 euros.

I know.

I'll be round to collect it today.

From whom?

You. If you hadn't reported it he wouldn't have been fined.

Ah, yes, France...the land of reason...

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  1. Interesting, if horrifying, Fly.I am SO glad I'm only in France in the summer. All the threads on expat forums about the stresses of life in the hunting season put me right off the thought of autumn visits.

  2. Perpetua, experiences can vary, but my impression is that the more you are out in the boonies the more la chasse are loonies.

  3. You didn't mention the copious amounts of cognac and such that they swig in the pre-dawn chill. The combination of alcohol, firearms and natural belligerence is what scared me the most.

  4. English Rider, yes, a potentially lethal combination!

  5. When I bought my farm it hadn't been farmed for 10 years so the chasse had 'taken it over'. When I complained that they were leaving gates open so the horses got out, driving their 4x4s along my tracks where even I didn't drive in the winter so as not to have deep ruts and they were shooting the boar too close to the house, things went from bad to worse ...
    I beat them - first of all I turned up for the AGM of the chasse and said I would like to be President (what?), that I was taking the exam for the permis de chasse (a rather large porky!), they all fell off their chairs - English and a Woman - never heard of and 'Women don't hunt'. The idea that I might go hunting with them made them terrifyed so things calmed down.
    I then got together with the landowners with fields adjoining mine, we got the 300 hectares necessary to get our land out of the chasse and afterwards they had to come and ask permission to hunt on my land with advance warning.
    It was long, bitchy, but it worked and from then on I was inundated with choice bits of boar meat!

  6. Not being out in the boondocks, I hadn't realised hunters were quite so loony. I know they were a bit mad from that funny Les Nuls (?) sketch about good and bad hunters, but I didn't realise they terrorised the countryside.

    They sound as bad as those American pseudo-military groups who have the reputation of being a bunch of nutters (justified if you ever watched The Blues Brothers 2001).

  7. Grotesque. Reminds me of the quote from Oscar Wilde about fox hunters: the unspeakable chasing the inedible...

  8. "French Leave" has been included in this weeks Sites To See. I hope this helps to attract many new visitors here.

  9. Return of the Native...what a good scheme! Your neighbours must have been having problems too.

    Sarah, it varies from place to place.In my first village la chasse itself was fairly O.K., but there was a wild bunch whom no one wanted to control in the next door village who wreaked havoc.

    Steve, yes, Oscar usually had a word for it. And it is grotesque.

    Fishhawk...most kind of you.

  10. Across the road from me is the 785,000 acre more or less White Mountain National Forest. There are hunting seasons for bear, moose, deer and birds in the fall. Usually, there's a few shooting incidents of hunters shooting hunters but I don't think our hunters are as wild as the French. Or it is more regulated. Or, it is just that we have more wilderness so there are fewer incidents of back yard shootings. There was one some years back where a woman hanging out laundry in her yard and for some reason, wearing white gloves (maybe it was cold out) was mistaken for a white tailed deer and killed.
    Still, anyone going near the woods wears bright orange, including dogs.

  11. Sharyn I wonder if it's because culturally, your hunters are atuned to getting licenses and whatnot while the french variety have it dinned into their heads since schooldays that they have a 'right' to hunt and get arrogant in consequence thereof.

  12. Our cacciatori seem to have been spending quite a lot of their time this season accidentally shooting their own dogs, as opposed to the wild boar they should be aiming at. The hunting dogs often get a very raw deal, not just due to the risk of being "accidentally" knobbled by their masters, but the time in between hunts is often spent trapped in solitary confinement in a pen the size of a chicken coop. The life of a working dog on the continent is so often a bloody miserable one.

  13. statusviatoris, just the same in France.
    Kept in shitty pens, underfed 'to keep them keen' it any wonder they take to the hills at the first opportunity and their owners spend all night tooting hunting horns trying to get them to come back.

  14. I just found this comment...written days ago and I never pushed the button...

    I come from the land of hunting as well. I have no problem with hunting in general.( In fact, where I come from it's probably necessary. The last time I was in Wisconsin I counted 40 dead deer within a 90 mile stretch. All hit by cars within the previous 3 or 4 days.) As long as you're willing to eat what you shoot, respect those around you, shoot only when sure, and hunt while sober. Alas, this is not always true and I even had an orange vest for my dog when we were up north and I was afraid to stray to far from the cabin. Do you know it's legal for blind people to hunt in Wisconsin?

    I do not think, however, that hunting deer with dogs is remotely fair any more than I think baiting bear is fair play. Now that I've gone on and on...I know nothing about French hunters.

  15. Delana, but what you said is so right.. hunt for the pot if you need to but respect what you kill....
    Sport to me is c lean pastime, what goes on in hunting is anything but clean.