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 May 2012

Raining on the Parade,

English: "[John] Bradford Appeasing the R...  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While keeping the notion of motes and beams well to the forefront of my mind I am aware that I regard the Roman Catholic church somewhat warily, due in part to the sole Sunday reading matter available at one grandmother's place being Foxe's Book of Martyrs and in part to my father's stories of families in the horror of the depression in Glasgow so poor that their children had no shoes but put to contribution by their well shod parish priest.

One thinks one overcomes the prejudice engendered by these things but, though pushed to the background of one's mind, it takes but a jolt to raise the old Adam - before Eve slams him back in his hutch, doused in a little realism.

France has divided state from religion since 1905 in order to deprive any religious body of influence in the body politic. Churches belong to the state and congregations are allowed to use them but not to own them.

Didier always used to snort at this notion of lack of influence.
He was young in the days where if parents didn't scrape to send their children to the private 'church' school they wouldn't be employed by the unco' guid checking attendance at mass on Sundays, in a building whose upkeep fell to the commune's finances and thus on the local taxpayers, churchgoers or not.
As did the maintenance of the presbytery, although the priest was reliant on his tiny stipend from the diocese and the gifts of the faithful in order to keep body and soul together.

Madeleine was another snorter.
At every budget meeting in her commune she would protest at the grants being made to the private (church) school in the commune.
But, Madame, it is the law that equality in grants between the public school and the private school has to be maintained.
Yes, passed under Balladur, 'Sa Courtoise Suffisance', to get the bigots' vote - much good that it did him!
So much for the separation! It separates givers and takers all right!
But Madeleine was an old fashioned Republican and had even been a 'godmother' at a Republican baptism!
You don't see many of those these days....

Guy was yet a third snorter.
A devout parishioner, a grenouille du benitier, had given land in the vines outside the village for the construction of a replica of the grotto of Lourdes.
There had to have been a large slippage between the cup and lip of commissioning because the result was a true 1960s concrete brutalist structure which was the cause of many an accident as motorists arriving at the junction nearby were so fascinated by its ugliness that they forgot to check for oncoming traffic.
What Guy wanted to know was how the monstrosity had obtained planning permisssion while he couldn't even build a shelter for his tractor.
Dirty deeds at the clerical crossroads, he was sure...

I snorted myself when the new priest persuaded the best black pudding maker in the area to close his shop on Sundays....his black pudding day.
It had been a ritual.....the women in the church, their husbands in the bar and then a gadarene rush to the shop for the black pudding....
A priest with no respect for tradition.

He might have persuaded the charcutier, but all his firepower could not make headway with the local council on the question of the public lavatories.

I am convinced that the post war maire - truly the father of his commune in every possible sense - had been inspired by reading 'Clochemerle' when proposing to clean up the village square once the traditional cattle fair had given up the ghost under the twin attacks of the pre-war removal of the tramway and the wartime German occupation when congregating cattle just made it easier to count them.
Just as in 'Clochemerle' he sited the loo alongside the church, the difference being that given the lie of the land, his loos were subterranean.

As is usual with a French loo, people unaccustomed to its little ways tended to shoot out rather faster than they shot in, but it was, indeed, of public utility.

However, this being in the days when the separation of church and state were marked locally by two bands ...that of the cure and that of the commune...and two amateur dramatic groups, one marked by its improving material and the other by liberal shows of female leg - the maire decided that his loo would also partake of the nature of the separation.
He had it bolted on Sundays.
It was still bolted on Sundays some forty years later.
It was still bolted the last I heard some twenty years after that.
The maire's successors had a great respect for tradition.

And just recently I heard that in Chiottes la Gare the old antagonism has raised its head once again.
The church in the town centre has been undergoing renovations. For about eighteen months.
Roads have been barred to traffic, local businesses are going to the wall and the council's answer is to set up an enquiry to delay possible compensation yet further.

Tempers in the area are high, the general feeling being that the council should do something to control the activities of those living in subsidised housing in the old town....marked by tattoo parlours, pitbulls and their droppings and loud music at late hours.
The council's feeling is that it will set up an enquiry.

The church finally free of scaffolding, it was the day appointed for First Communion and fleets of cars approached the church in a fury of lashing wind and driving rain.

Parents,grandparents, aunts and uncles all in their best, not to speak of the little lads in suits with white armbands and the little girls in their white dresses, veiled and crowned with flowers.
A sight to soften the heart of the most dedicated Republican.

Except one.
The deputy maire with responsibility for traffic had had barriers set up to all the approaches to the church - the council feels that parked cars are not a suitable adjunct to their shining new old church.
It doesn't occur to them that it is a building which people wish to is a council project.
To be looked at.

After some hooting and honking, fathers decided that their little treasures were not going to their First Communion like a gaggle of drowned rats so they removed the barriers, deposited their families in the church porch and parked in the streets and squares alongside.

The service took its course.....but outside another vehicle approached.
The paddy waggon of the municipal police, called out by the deputy maire to do its duty and stick a parking ticket on every car around the church.

Now anyone could have told the deputy maire that he was on a loser. It was known to all that you could safely speed through the town as if on a Formula 1 course and park where you liked in wet weather because the municipal police are afraid they might melt if in contact with water.

The problem was...what to tell the deputy maire to excuse their inaction....he'd never accept rain and high winds. It had to be something better.
Heads were put together in the caff on the corner and a solution was arrived at.

The police could not stick parking tickets on the illegally parked cars as the local caff owners were in revolt at the thought of the custom they would miss as the families turned out of church....and would be claiming increased compensation.

The police went home to dry out..the families filled the local caffs and restaurants..and the deputy maire was left to gnaw the dry bone of old controversies.
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  1. Bizarre. Church as symbol in stone rather than a flesh and blood community? In a sense the building's are nothing more than something to look at - it's what goes on inside that matters (for good or ill) - but to spend money on the exterior and then not allow people into the interior? Can the Bible be opened with so much red tape fastening it down?

    1. For the council the newly restored church is another mark on the way to becoming a 'town of history and culture' which attracts in its turn more grants for shutting down more streets to undertake restoration of other buildings...most of which will be owned by the 'big' families of the town....

      I think they've lost sight of the way real people want to use the buildings they restore...

  2. Hello:
    Power corrupts they say and, indeed, one cannot help but wonder about the wisdom of these words when one just looks at the operations of council offices and government departments the length and breadth of Europe.

    Of course, in Britain we have become so accustomed to the Eton / Harrow factor in securing privilege for life that we have almost lost it as a topic of conversation. And, in Hungary, government corruption generally just elicits a shrugging of the shoulders, if that!

    Still, no harm in trying to raise a little frisson of excitement about it all......unless, of course, you would like to just join us in the local bar [if it is still open] for a nice glass of red?!!!!

    1. You have hit the nail on the head...corruption and sheer wrong headedness is taken for wonder 'un p'tit coup de rouge' is used as the plaster on the wound!

  3. Ah the nitty gritty of rural France. What great blog fodder. :)

    1. Do why don't the blasted croissants and lavender set notice what is under their noses?
      Don't speak French?

  4. Oh, the tangled web of rural life. In our tiny commune the public loos stand at the edge of the churchyard, right next to what was once the village bar/epicerie. The latter is now a holiday home, the former only used for funerals, weddings and the occasional weekday Mass, but the loos continue to fulfil their traditional function and even get cleaned on occasion! As for policemen - what are they?

    1. How true...the gendarmerie are only to be seen manning speed cameras and breathalysers, but the municipal police are at the disposition of the maire - an official of the judicial police ex officio - and can be sent scurrying at his whim.

  5. We have no such problems or controversies. Most of our village is taken up by the car park, which is conveniently located for both church and bar. Not that the church gets much custom, owing to only being open when there's an "R" in the month....Our biggest local controversy is rather more "State" than "church": we have a brand spanking new all-singing, all-dancing gendarmerie with accommodation behind for a whole collective noun of Gendarmes. I've yet to catch it open. I understand it IS open, two half-days a week. Or is that a quarter? The church could be mobbed and there wouldn't be an officer of the law in sight....

    1. Yes, a new gendarmerie barracks has just gone up near to my house...just like the old gendarmerie it is locked and barred against anyone who might wish to use their services (never knew that rural France was full of terrorists) while the bold gendarmes patrol the roads with their speed cameras and breathalysers.
      You have a break in?
      Call your insurer....

  6. Your posts explains a lot. Our village church is under renovation -- we wondered how it was being financed -- didn't realize it was owned by the State. As it's advertised as a 12th century church upon entering the village it sounds like a plan to bring in some tourists -- there aren't many. There is also a 15th century château which was willed to the village and the maire is desperately trying to off-load it for one million euros. Fat chance and he knows it -- it is falling down and needs millions spending on it! So he tries to sell it to susceptible foreigners whenever they stop by to see him!

    1. Sounds like your village needs another of those notices you see on approaching....

      St. Ragondin...messe a 10 heure...les commerces...l'eglise du XII siecle - mais gare aau maire si vous visitez le chateau