Postcard from Provence

© Tim Wesson

© Tim Wesson - Credit: Archant

Carol Drinkwater on life in the sunny south

There are many communities inland of the Riviera who live side by side, keeping faith with their own customs and beliefs without, as far as possible, treading on their neighbours’ toes. I relish these petites differences, but am amused at how the tiniest detail can ignite a clash of cultures. Let us take the wild boar dinner as an example.

For us landowners, these great hairy hogs are an ongoing nuisance. They break our fences to hunt the land. (Of course, they might argue that we are trespassing on their territory, for what do they know of property agreements?) They destroy our dry-stone walls by clambering over them or sticking their snouts between the stones in search of snails. Escargots are a boar’s delight.

To the French hunter who traps and transports our hogs to the mountains, where he releases them – as the law insists – only to shoot them during the hunting season, the pigs are both sport and dinner, well earned after trapping, trekking, shooting, skinning and hanging.

Wild boar is delicious game meat for barbecues, roasts or winter stews. It also makes an excellent pâté, which even I enjoy. But were I a Muslim, the boar would not be part of my diet. It is pork meat and for both Jews and Muslims, pork is forbidden.

A herd of two boar families roam our hillside, and the valleys and forestlands surrounding us. In summer, as a rule, they head inland to higher grounds, hunting in higher climes and avoiding the intense heat, so we enjoy a couple of months’ respite from their intrusions. However, this year the boars remained at the coast. I was puzzled why, until a few weeks ago when I descended into the valley at dusk to our water house. To my amazement, as I walked through the high grasses, I sighted a small crowd of North African labourers with cameras. What was the attraction, I wondered.

“Bonsoir,” I called, approaching.

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“Bonsoir, Madame Carol,” several replied.

I stopped in my tracks. There, beyond the gathering of labourers and children, were 19 boars: four hefty sows, two adult males and a schoolyard’s worth of piglets. The piglets, cute as characters from a Disney cartoon, are known as rayonés because they have stripes down the side of their torso. One of the sows gave me a threatening look as she approached. I stepped backwards, but she closed in on me. I admit to growing fear. The labourers, who live and work locally, began laughing, as did the children.

“Ha, ha, Madame Carol is afraid of the hogs,” they chortled without malice.

“Could someone call this beast off me, please?”

“She won’t hurt you.”

“Yes, she will. Why are they here?”

The answer was instantly clear. The sloping ground was littered with dozens of crumbling baguettes. The men had taken to visiting boulangeries at closing time, asking for leftovers, which the bakers were more than happy to supply. These were distributed to the boars which, being smart creatures, saw that dinner, albeit a rather repetitive one, was readily available at a set hour without them lifting a hoof. The boars had become the group’s pets.

Once news spread among local homeowners, an almighty rumpus broke out. The council called in hunters and several boars were shot.

The men and children, heartbroken, continue to scatter the stale bread, ever hopeful. Meanwhile, our three dogs creep off the farm through holes made by the boars to steal the abandoned loaves for themselves. The rich diversity of life goes on.