Harcèlement sexuel

On Saturday I heard the harrowing story of sexual harassment told by a good friend of mine here, a woman in her sixties. I knew she had been suffering from stress this year. Now I know why.

For years she has lived amicably alongside her neighbours, a couple the same age as her. Then a few months ago she became aware that whenever she went into town she was bumping into the husband. Wherever she turned, he seemed to be there.

At some point he made it clear that he was in love with her, tried to embrace her, but was rejected. He continued to stake her, sent her endless, often explicit, text messages and cut down a tree so he could see into her house more clearly. The neighbours had exchanged keys so they could feed cats and water plants when the other was absent, and my friend then became aware that her neighbour had been looking at emails on her computer.

As time progressed he became more aggressive: he attempted to rubbish my friend, and told people that she had slept with him. Why did she not go to the gendarmes, I asked. She replied that at that point she did not have confidence that they would intervene.

Then things got nastier. My friend is proud of having a large, organic garden, untouched by pesticides for over 50 years. She became aware that everything in her garden was dying – trees, bushes, flowers and vegetables. He had poisoned her land. Worse to follow: she found that the long pipe bringing water from her source in the hills above her house had been broken in several places, and the joints and taps seized up with cement or glue.

This is what broke her spirit: she is a woman of the land. At last her daughter persuaded her to go to the gendarmes and went with her, first printing out the long list of text messages. The gendarmes also asked her why she had not come earlier and were faintly hurt when she expressed her scepticism that they would do anything about this.

There was no proof that the poisoning of the land and destruction of her water system was done by the neighbour. But the text messages – which at first he denied sending – were proof of his nasty harassment. My friend didn’t really go into what happened to the neighbour other than that he had to go before an investigating judge – juge d’instruction. I think he was admonished, warned to stop his behaviour and to keep away from my friend. I was taken aback that he was not punished further. I think that in the UK now he could have faced a fine at the very least.

For her the most important outcome was that he has put his house on the market and he and his wife are renting somewhere in town. It will take her some time to recover from this trauma.

Village drama

As I live outside the village, my friend Margaret is the source of much of my information about village life. Yesterday she rang me as the latest excitement unfolded. Three huge, emaciated hunting dogs had appeared in the village and were creating havoc.

Of course everybody was out there, giving their tuppence worth: the man whose car roof one of the dogs had jumped onto, various people involved in rounding them up, a hunter who recognised the dogs and rang the number on their collar – and Margaret, who was so shocked at the bad condition of the dogs that she gave them an entire packet of dog food she keeps for Poppy.

It turns out that the dogs came from Aulas, the village the other side of the hill. Their owner was in hospital and the person who was supposed to be feeding them had clearly not done so (Margaret says they were in a very bad state indeed) and the dogs had apparently broken out of their compound in desperation.

When a van eventually arrived to collect then, more general excitement. The oldest had gone meekly into the van, but one of the younger ones took some time to be caught. We just hope that now these poor dogs will be looked after.

Well, that’s village life. Nothing happens. And then suddenly something like this turns into a whole rural drama.

New permis de conduire

I’ve got my new permis de conduire. It arrived less than ten days after I applied for it! And its half the size, just a card rather than three page document, will fit into my credit card holder and thus has less chance of being lost again.

I well remember when my friend Charles lost his driving licence at it took months to replace, with several visits to the Sous-Préfecture. Magically a Government internet service is working as it should, with the application no longer sitting indefinitely on the desk of some fonctionnaire.

Actually I had to make one visit: to the Poste to collect it. The postal service in the Département du Gard is on strike “indefinitely”. The only staff still working are the young employees on short term contracts. I got involved in a debate at the Post Office about the strike: the woman in front of me, whom I know, said she thought the service should be completely privatised, while I and the man behind me said that the problem was the cutbacks in the service: fewer staff (and more on short term contracts), longer hours, not being paid for jobs for which they had previously received extra payments (delivery of phone books, election papers etc).

The day I collected my new permis, an employee at the local supermarket stopped me in the carpark and told me, with pleasure, that my old permis had been found and I could collect it from reception. As this had been the only place I had gone between needing the permis to hire a car and going home I had of course checked two weeks earlier, the day after I lost it. So I wonder where it had been lurking meanwhile.

Permis de conduire

Last week I lost my driving licence – a first in over 50 years of driving and three licences – British, Nigerian and now French.

Normally my licence lives in a wallet on the back of my car seat. But I needed it in order to hire a larger car for Allan and Gayle’s visit, and somewhere in le Vigan or my house, this flimsy, dog-eared, inconvenient, three page card went awol. Allan and Gayle had to put up with me obsessively looking again and again in the same cupboards, drawers, pockets, shopping bags, under the sofas… … They joined in, searching the two cars and the ground up to the house.

Yesterday I decided it was definitely lost and set about the laborious job of requesting a replacement. There is an extremely complicated on-line site which I now know backwards, as I struggled with navigating through its officialese.

First stop was a visit to SuperU, one of the two supermarkets, whose photo booth has the facility to produce photos and electronic signature which go direct to the government site. After feeding the machine – twice – and summoning a member of staff to help, I ticked this off as done. In fact the machine said none of the photos conformed to the new rules (despite my glowering to avoid the prohibited smile). The shop assistant convinced me that this was a load of nonsense and my photos were OK.

Then three hours of work, collecting digital versions of the various documents – passport, proof of domicile, records for the lost licence (thank goodness I had scanned mine!) and completing the online forms. I took so long because I spotted at the end that I had put Allen as my Nom de Famille on page 1, whereas they were expecting my maiden name, Filson. I went back to page one, but it would not let me change this – so I started all over again.

This morning I downloaded a second copy of the declaration of loss of permit, completed the pdf file and took it to the gendarmerie to be stamped, only to be told this would not be needed (despite everybody having told me it was essential that the police put their mark on it).

So now I have to wait for the new licence to arrive – fingers crossed this will not take as long as my carte de séjour. The one big improvement is that driving licences are now bank card size. Which means I won’t lose it so easily – until that fateful day, of course, when my whole handbag is stolen… …

One complication is that La Poste has gone on indefinite strike in our département. So it could end up sitting in a sorting office somewhere. This morning I went to the mairie to check that my request for a proxy vote in the EU elections had arrived. (The elections in France are on Sunday, by which time I will be in Lisbon with Jude and family.) My request had arrived, but several others have not.

Postscript

Friday evening, just as I was packing to travel to Lisbon, I received an email saying my application was incomplete or incorrect and that I should return to the site remedy this. They didn’t actually tell me how to find my dossier so once again I spent a lot of time wandering round the menus. Got there eventually and found that they wanted proof that Filson was my maiden name and that I was required to scan and upload my livret de famille.  This is a document which records all events like births, marriages and deaths. Well of course we don’t have this in Britain. So I wrote them a letter and uploaded my marriage certificate with translation. Let’s hope that suffices!

Kiwis in the Cévennes


On Wednesday I said goodbye to Allan and Gayle Gillies, the parents-in-law of Kate, visiting Europe from New Zealand.

The weather was not kind to them in their five-day visit, although this gave them a chance to rest after a hectic bus tour round Spain and Portugal – and before the challenge of childminding in the Gillies household in London. I was also the beneficiary of Allan’s DIY skills: he modified a cupboard and installed a shelf for me.

Then the last day was better than expected, so we did an impulse trip to visit Roquefort, home of one of my favourite cheeses, and then on to the splendid Millau Viaduct, which they had never seen.

It was my first trip to Roquefort too and we all found the tour of one of the seven underground labyrinth of caves (formed by the collapse of the mountainous limestone plateau) fascinating (though being in a guided group made taking photos difficult).

The next day, while I took Allan and Gayle to the airport, Margaret took Poppy for a much needed haircut. Since Poppy hates this almost as much as going to the vet, I was relieved that it was Margaret who received the reproachful sulks on the drive back from the toilette in Ganges. As it was, Poppy spent a restless night and followed me round in an anxious state for twelve hours. Worth it though, to get rid of all those burrs and grasses and unkempt coat.

A photography lesson

My friend Dessa currently has two visitors from Germany: Manos – a professional photographer – and his wife Katya. Yesterday there was a break in this year’s unreliable weather, and we headed off and up into the Cévennes. Manos is here researching possible photo opportunities for the future (he is particularly interested in early churches), while Dessa and I were hoping to watch and learn.

It is so easy to forget that we are just a few miles from one of the most beautiful, unspoilt stretches of rocky and green valleys and mountains. Each time I venture up into the hills I think why don’t I do this more often.

We did not in fact take pictures of this wonderful landscape – that is another project. Instead we were heading for two Romanesque churches, in St André de Valborgne and Pompidou. In fact both churches were a little disappointing, the first because it was not open (as advertised) and the second because. although in a charming rural location, its restoration had not been particularly well done.

But both villages have some striking Cévenol houses, and what we learnt from Manos is how to look around us and notice details. In particular he showed us how to be aware of doors, windows, gates – the little features that make up villages or towns. Of course when he takes a photo there is so often an added clever visual twist- a piece of railing, or steps – which invite the eye to look up and beyond. Why, we asked ourselves, had we not thought of this. Answer: as well as his talent, Manos has years of training and experience behind him. Luckily he is also a good teacher, and we enjoyed his explanations of how to produce a more interesting picture.

I feel rather like a student presenting an unimpressive portfolio, but here are my photos. I’m hoping Manos will have time to look at them on Monday and give me a few more tips.

May Day

I am pleased that the French still celebrate May Day on the 1st May. I know May Day has many historical associations with spring or religious festivals, but for me this is a day when one marches for better jobs, social reform, or against racism. So I regretted the UK decision to move the holiday to the first Monday in May, breaking this link with workers’ marches.

The May Day marches in Paris and other French cities were spoilt by violence and the confusion caused by competing groups such as the Gilets Jaunes. And I’m I don’t even know wether there was a ceremony in le Vigan this year.

Instead, as it was a lovely sunny day. I joined others at the annual spring plant show – La Main Verte – in the grounds of the Chateau d’Assas.

Poppy’s tenth birthday

Of course the other reason May Day is important is that it is Poppy’s birthday. Ten is quite a landmark: Poppy has become a wonderfully adaptable, (mainly) biddable dog, with a friendly, happy temperament and lots of character. I’m very lucky to have such a special dog. Lucky also to have friends like Hans and Margaret, who look after her when I need to be away for the day or longer. Theirs is her second home.

Carte de séjour

Ça y est – as they say here. At last I have my carte de séjour.

I applied last July for this card which entitles me to live in France for ten years. I finally got the interview when I handed over the weighty dossier in December and was told the card would take a month or two to be available. In February I wrote asking what had happened to my application – and got no reply (no telephone number of course).

So I decided the only thing was to go to the Préfecture in Nimes (a round trip of about 180 km) and confront the fonctionnaires face to face. I went armed not only with a copy of everything I had presented them last year, but also a circular from the Minister of the Interior which says that although EU citizens don’t need a carte de séjour they have a right to one and it is the obligation of the Préfecture to fulfil this request. I also found some text which spelt out that an absence of a written response by the préfet could be interpreted as a tacit refusal and could be contested.

As I waited in the inevitable crowd in front of the Accueil for Etrangers, I prepared myself mentally to be pleasant but firm and to insist on seeing a manager if necessary. But once again I was struck by the pleasant manner of the two officials fielding the multiple queries at the Accueil – so different from earlier experiences in Nimes.

I handed over my passport and the official receipt given for my dossier and explained I wished information on what was happening. The woman looked at my record on her computer and said the carte was ready! She reached out beside her desk and found it instantly.

How long had it been sitting there? Why did I never receive the promised letter telling me to come and collect it?

Never mind. I have it – unlike several compatriots in le Vigan, who applied after me and have had their applications returned. In anticipation of Brexit, Nimes has stopped processing British applications. This is blatantly against the Minister of the Interior’s ruling, but I suspect people have not the energy to fight the system. Anyhow, once Brexit happens we will all have to apply for a new carte de séjour, to be devised just for Brits. I’m hoping the fact that I have a current one will make it easier to get the new one, and will ease the next, long postponed action: applying for dual nationality.

Of course the real big question is what will happen to healthcare after Brexit. Still a horrible unknown. Given the chaos and utter weariness I witnessed when in the UK, I fear dealing with this is low on the British government’s agenda.

Chez Fatou

Saturday was a sad day: Fatou offered lunch in her restaurant for the last time. She has sold the business to the cafe across the square and is moving on to new pastures.

Chez Fatou was the smallest restaurant in le Vigan, but with some of the finest food: a wonderful, subtle spicy mixture of African, Middle Eastern and French dishes, served with a cheerful albeit leisurely service.

Fatou is a magnificent, larger than life character: a tall, elegant woman from Mali, with splendid Afro hairstyles, a great smile, strong opinions and a wonderful laugh.

She has – oh dear, had – a regular small clientele of people who loved her food and the casual, friendly ambiance.

On Saturdays there is a regular group of half a dozen friends, whom I sort of know (friends of friends) and gradually over the last year they have welcomed me at their table.

They were there when I arrived (late – but Fatou is more relaxed than most French restaurants about what hour she serves lunch), greeted me – and Poppy – with enthusiasm, and they slid up the bench to make room for me.

Everyone talks with great animation and as so often, neighbouring tables became involved in the conversation. It’s not a place for people who cannot handle noise. The restaurant is a semi-basement cave with no sound insulation, so it is quite a challenge for me sometimes to follow fast flowing conversation in French, accompanied by the wonderfully energetic waving of hands and shrugging of shoulders. (A glass of Fatou’s delicious punch occasionally helps.)

I don’t know where we are going to eat on Saturdays, but with any luck I will enjoy Fatou’s dishes again, as she plans to offer to cook at parties and other events.

La Saint-Valentin

Who would have thought I would have ever attended a Valentine Day event? Not at all my cup of tea! But I went – to show willing.

Lou Rossignol is the old folk’s club – club des ainés – in Bréau. It does an impressive number of activities through the year, from afternoons of Lotto (I draw the line at these) to some great outings, last year to Spain, for example (I always seem to be ill or in England when there is a really good trip).

My friend, Margaret, is the treasurer, so its finances are impeccable. She and the other two committee members also do a great job on the food front. At the Valentine event, there were crepes and waffles, with a huge variety of home made jams – with Margaret’s orange flavoured with whisky and lemon flavoured with gin being particularly popular.

The afternoon’s animation was music by the Vacquier brothers, who are really good. Margaret says they are outstanding blues players, but they adjusted the repertoire to the audience in Bréau, including a cheerfully vulgar local song La Viganaise (wish I could follow the local patois enough to get the whole thing).

I was sitting opposite the former mayor (who was involved in the organisation but not ceremony of Jude and Ed’s wedding). Now in his eighties, he takes a back seat in village life. His wife, Lina, is the president of Lou Rossignol and, despite being in bad health, a dynamic force which rescued an association which risked becoming moribund.

The three committee members are all over seventy (and Margaret is 80). I fear for associations like this; there is no sign of the next generation getting ready to take over community activities.