Wednesday, December 14, 2005

These feeble strands of memory

Perhaps I'm too easily pleased. Perhaps I don't have enough to do. I don't think either possibility is likely, but then I wouldn't would I? But surely there IS something special about this morning?

One of the village elders called round this morning, to say thanks for the two photos of her I printed and framed a little while back. She wasn't in on Sunday when we agreed I'd take them over and wanted to apologise for that too. Neither gesture was necessary, but we appreciated both. The great thing though was having the time to chat over a juicy cup of strong coffee.

No school for li'l lamb on Wednesdays, and we were doing some school-type stuff in English. My work/life balance is such that there are many times when I can go with the flow. And the flow was started this morning by mixing our observations of the village since we moved here with this elder's rich personal and inherited knowledge of life here dating back over many generations.

To give you but one example ... In a few villages around the area there are small buildings sometimes called l'assemblée or la maisonnette. They are most often marked by having a little bell or campanile on the roof. Here la béate, depending on her experience and the needs of the village, would provide a small nursery, teach prayers and the catechism, la dentelle and other things. In some places, where she was better educated than many other in the area, she also acted as midwife and doctor, or the much more evocative sage-femme in French. This woman may have had a little garden of her own, but was also brought food, milk and so on by the villagers. She lived in l'assemblée, upstairs in one small room, itself often built simply by the villagers.

When school was made compulsory, la béate and then l'assemblée seem to have lost their place in the villages. Another change in the law seems to have transfered ownership and responsibility for the buildings, (along with other property) from the village to the commune, roughly equivalent to the parish council, possibly hastening their decline further.

These feeble strands of memory stretch back many decades, maybe even centuries. But they are frayed and will not survivie this generation. The last time it was used, the elder as a young woman, together with two of her contempories, both still here, set up some kind of shrine to celebrate La Sainte Vierge in May. I wonder if they have any photos ...

These memories, together with the feu de joie and the old stone walls are being lost and destroyed as I write. What, I wonder, can I do about that?

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