Friday, 21 December 2012

joyeux noel

After a snowfall some of the neighbours in the village appear with their shovels and brooms to clear the paths around their houses.  At first we think they are slightly obsessed but we soon realise the advantage of doing it before it compacts and freezes.  The snowploughs pass back and forth along the roads to keep them open. All the locals have winter tyres, and they're needed sometimes for the steep roads.  The landscape is draped in white layers - it's hard to distinguish the mountain tops when the sky is white too.

"I'm sure Gayle's here somewhere"

On a couple of days we accompany Magali on her guided walks.  The snow is fresh and dry and oh-so soft you would just sink right in if you didn't wear raquettes (snow shoes).  On both days we walk with Helene from Toulon and Marco and Rosy from Milano.  Magali breaks trail and leads us through woods, along barely defined tracks, down steep slopes and winding paths.  On our first day she points out to us tracks of some of the animals that live in these mountains and then we see chamois and deer, a rabbit bouncing off into the woods.  Everywhere is silenced by the blanket of snow - all we can hear is the gentle crunch of dry snow underfoot.

One Saturday night we are invited to the village hall for their Christmas party.  There are a few young families in Clavans with their children and hogging the seats around the room are the older folk.  We are all in thick sweaters or fleeces.  The mayor says a few words and then we are invited to help ourselves to drinks and vol-au-vents.  Our conversational French is a little rusty but Gayle thinks that it's getting better as we drink more wine.  What she doesn't realise is that she's actually speaking English with a French accent.  But it's fine - the folk we speak to understand us and we understand them.  Soon pastries and sweets are being passed around followed by the cheese.  Everyone seems fairly merry and the event reminds me of the ceilidh scene in Local Hero.  We take our leave before we're left with the local boozers.

In such a small community it obviously helps to get along with the neighbours.  There's a mixture of locals and incomers and it seems it can take a while to become a fully-fledged member of the village.  Jean-Baptiste describes how some of the older people can't yet use tu when they address him, as he is still a new arrival in their eyes (he's lived here just over a year).  But equally they don't want to use vous when they address him as this is too respectful and of course, he would use vous to address them as elders.  This linguistic and social difficulty is therefore overcome either by addressing him in the third person (e.g. if Magali is present they might say "Would he like a cup of coffee?") or using passive sentences ( e.g. "This wood might be useful for starting fires" instead of "You might find this wood useful for.....").  Jean-Baptiste is not offended - he knows these are good people.  We do have a laugh about Xavier and Mairie-Odile who run a guesthouse with quite a lot of self-catering accomodation.  Indeed, it seems they own a third of the village property.  He is always out and about fixing this or doing that and she is always complaining that she doesn't know where he is.  If you appear at their door in the evening there's a fair chance that Xavier might invite you in for an aperitif, as without a guest it seems his wife does not approve of these tipples.

Clavans le Bas

Before we know it, the days have flown by and Christmas is upon us.  The ski resort is filling up with holidaymakers and Magali's work gets busier.  Meanwhile Jean-Baptiste is starting work at the Alpe d'Huez ski resort.  The winter season is high season for most of the workers in this area.  It seems nearly everyone has some job linked to the ski resorts.  An exception are Francine and Pierre who are shepherds.  It's their holiday at the moment but soon they'll be moving around to shear sheep in the valleys.  We are thinking about our next steps on this journey and the route to Tunisia from here.  Despite the good time we've had here we know that after Christmas we must move on.

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