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Breathalizer test: sunday morning 10:15 a.m.

how a drunken hunter may still score a hare...

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[http://images.travbuddy.com/1829587_13401515266944.jpg]St. Yrieix-les-bois, the tiny deserted village where I had to do a breathalizer test around 10:15 a.m. on a november sunday morning...

In autumn, the scenery in the Creuse gets really pretty because of the mix of pine trees that remain green and the foliage of the oaks, walnut trees and many others.

That sunday morning I was staying at my friend's house in the Creuse, the sun was out so we decided to drive into the hills for a walk in the forest. Into the hills, this means a drive through narrow winding roads, through a couple of very small villages, through the gorgeous countryside and the hills that gradually get higher in the direction of the Massif Central.

It was only 10 a.m. that sunday morning, it was crisp and cold, and there was absolutely nobody on the road.

Birds were singing, there was some haze between the trees, and the grass was glittering with the first ice crystals that morning.[http://images2.travbuddy.com/1829587_13401522587515.jpg]

One of the first villages in the hills, St. Yrieix-les-bois, was still asleep. Some houses are owned by Parisiens and a couple of English, so the shutters were closed and it looked totally deserted when we drove into the village.

Then, at the road juncture in front of the centuries old church, there was suddenly a police car with two gendarmes standing next to it, who gave us the signal to stop!

I was totally surprised: what sort of terrible crime could have happened here, at this time on a November sunday?

One of the gendarmes walked to our car, and summoned me to open the window.

Then to my big surprise he held a breathalizer in front of me, and told me to blow. At first I could not, I just had to laugh.[http://images.travbuddy.com/1829587_13401515257082.jpg] How on earth did they expect people to drive under influence at this hour on a sunday morning. Or even more so, how on earth could they expect any drivers coming up at all in this sleepy, deserted village?

When I finally managed to blow, he showed me the reading, and it said 0.0 in green digits, which did not surprise me of course.

But before we drove on, I just had to ask them. I could understand that they try to catch speeding drivers in a last effort to make the budget for that month, but why were they here? And why now?

"Ah", the gendarme said, with a look in his eyes that hardly hid his dispise about such an ignorant foreigner.

"Les chasseurs, monsieur" (the hunters, sir), Pretending that I now saw the logic, I nodded and greeted the officer.[http://images2.travbuddy.com/1829587_13401522593401.jpg]

"Bonne journée", he said, "Bonne route", the other one added, and we drove on.

I still could not stop laughing, and asked my friend if she had any idea. And oh yes, she knew.

The hunting season had just started, which could easily be seen by many old small white Renault, Peugeot, and Citroën pizza delivery size of cars, that we saw later, standing along the road in the forest, between bushes and just parked in the sides of the country roads.

For some reason, all the hunters in the Creuse seem to drive the same kind of old cars. The back compariment has no windows and enough space for the hounds, to put the rifle, and to carry a deer or a boar after a successful hunt.

And on sunday morning, hunting comes with rituals.[http://images.travbuddy.com/1829587_13403731351966.jpg]Plenty of deer, but will the hunters be sober enough, that's the question....First of all, the hunters go to hunting mass very early in the morning where the priest will bless them and their hounds and pray for a successful and safe hunting event. Then they go to the "locale" of the local hunting club or to the café-bar.

And in order to warm up for a day in the outdoors, some of them may consume quite a bit of alcoholica, like cognac or eau-de-vie. Then the hunting event starts. It is not uncommon that some of them are so under the influence that they could not hit a can from five meters. Good for the boars and the deer, I thought.

"So they may come home without any game?", I asked my friend.

"Oh yes", she said, "that is very normal, but that is why some farmers have some game that they already shot the previous day. They sell them to the less successful hunters, and insiders know where to go. It prevents a lot of marital problems when they come home".

Now, to be honest, I am not a hunter and I personally don't like shooting, other than with my camera.

But I must say, every time when I am there, I learn and understand something new about the French countryside culture. And it is somewhat comforting that French hunting sometimes is more about the rituals around it than about the actual result...

Plus, as a bonus, I now also understood why in the total middle of nowhere, on a sunday morning at 10:15 a.m., when every normal person still turns around in bed for a few more hours of sleep, you can be stopped by the gendarmes for a breathalizer test! You'd better be warned!

Posted by westwind57 03:30 Archived in France Tagged nature france church countryside forest roadtrip sunday blessing hunting eau_de_vie hare mass creuse la_souterraine gueret Comments (0)

The mayor's study trip

scandal in the village

View Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places & France – gossip and giggles from the middle of nowhere on westwind57's travel map.

[http://images2.travbuddy.com/1829587_1328838827791.jpg]on strike on monday - on internship on tuesday - sick on wednesday - late on thursday - and on friday, tired - do like i do - become a public officialI hope that I will not be generalizing too much in this entry, but let me tell you that in France many people want to become a public official, a "fonctionnaire". In some way, it gives a job in which you cannot really be fired, a good old age pension, early retirement, just a lot of security.

And because the privitization of government services in France is lagging behind compared to a lot of other European countries, many French are still public official. Those who work for the train, the mail, te utility companies, hospitals, etc. Many of them have the status of public official.

Attempts to reduce that number will meet a lot of resistance. That is why almost every group of houses around a tree has the status of a municipality, with its own mayor, vice mayors, and "city" employees.[http://images.travbuddy.com/1829587_1339308093962.jpg]every little town not only has its own mayor (plus assistents etc.) but also its own monument to remember "La Grande Guerre" (World War One)If I counted it correctly, the average municipality in the Département (province) of Creuse has somewhere between 400 and 500 inhabitants. That should tell you something, even if the public official functions are sometimes part-time functions.

A small village close by here has a mayor too. He is a man of status, that's why he has a wife and a mistress. Everybody knows that, and it's fine. It is one of the privileges of being in such a high position. So the mistress is not often the subject of gossip in the bakery.

Yet, for quite some time, there was a lot of gossip. The mayor, together with a group of other French mayors had been away for two weeks. On a study trip. Not to the province capital, and not to Paris, oh no.[http://images2.travbuddy.com/1829587_13393080932781.jpg] ... The study trip had been to... CUBA !! And it was a very important mission. You never know, it could result in important economic ties between Cuba and that 283 souls village. This is why it was considered useful. Wow, can you imagine how honored the Cuban authorities must have felt to host a group of French mayors, some of them from 283-souls villages.... :)

But neither this fact nor the spending of tax payers' money was the reason for the gossip. The really scandalous fact was that he did not bring his wife, he did not bring his own mistress, but rumor was that he had brought a 76 years old woman with him to Cuba... For weeks, the people were talking about it in the bakery. That rude man, for heaven's sake, a 76 years old woman, and that woman was even from a different village, which make things even worse! How could he do that? How could he insult his wife like this? And how could he insult his regular mistress like this?

Things have calmed down a little bit now. But one thing is for sure: he has not done himself a favor in terms of his chances to be re-elected. People don't forget things like this. Not in the Creuse.

Posted by westwind57 03:27 Archived in France Tagged nature france countryside forest roadtrip creuse la_souterraine gueret Comments (0)

New people in town

the immigration dilemma in the village

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[http://images.travbuddy.com/1829587_13288086079134.jpg]The village used to have 283 inhabitants, a mairie (city hall), a maire (mayor), two vice-maires (asisstant mayors), each of which have two administration assistants. Madame Thirioz (let's call her that) is one of the main characters in this little village. She must be in the second half of her 80's, fragile and tiny, but she races the narrow country roads in her old Peugeot as if she has to win a formula 1 race. She has no problem driving to the city as well. The city, that means La Souterraine, with a population of 5,327 souls. It may be one more or two less when you read this.

And Madame Thirioz knows everything about everybody. This is because her car allows her to spend a lot of time in the post office, or at the boulangerie (bakery). That is where you need to be to hear the news.[http://images2.travbuddy.com/1829587_13393072134447.jpg]wild flowers around my friend's house in the Creuse

A few months ago, this woman from Paris had bought one of the old farm houses as her retreat. She spoke funny and was not too friendly to the village people. One morning, the Paris woman was at Madame Thirioz' door. "Can I ask you for some help", she had asked. And then she had told her story. Since she moved into the village she had been sleeping very bad. And now she was fed up with it.

"Madame, I need you to introduce me to the mayor", she said.

"Why that?" Madame Thirioz had asked.

Then she told that every morning, as soon as the first light came, she had been woken up by this terrible rooster of the neighbours.

"But what does the mayor have to do with that?", was Madame Thirioz's obvious question.

"Well", the parisian woman had said, "I need his intervention. I am afraid to confront my neighbours directly, so I want that he, with his authority as a mayor, talks with my neighbours".

Madame Thirioz had looked confused: "And what should they do then?"

"Can't you understand what I mean?", the woman had said,

"I want the mayor to force my neighbours, to have a serious talk with their bloody chicken!"

Posted by westwind57 03:26 Archived in France Tagged nature france countryside forest roadtrip creuse la_souterraine gueret Comments (0)

What and where is the Creuse?

In the middle of nowhere and in the middle of France

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If there is one département (comparable to a province in other countries) that can claim to be the heart of France, then it must be the Creuse. Geographically it is located in the very middle of the map. And in many other ways it is also the middle between the extremes.

Its summers are not as hot as the Provence or the southern inland areas, and not as cold as the “Nord” or Bretagne (Brittany). Its mountains are much lower than the Alps, Pyrenees or Massif Central, yet it is not as flat as (again) the Nord. Its cuisine may be not as refined as the Provence or Burgundy, but certainly better than (again!) the Nord, or the Low Countries. There is meat and fish, there is forest and agriculture, there is much history and just a little bit of modernity.


And there are cows, many happy cows from the Limousin region. The ones that keep smiling almost until their juicy steaks are served on your plate.

Historically the Creuse has been one of the poorer areas of France. Many people used to work the whole week in Paris, and commuted every couple of weeks for a few days at home. Many of the masons who built Paris in the 17th and 18th century were from the Creuse.

Also nowadays, the Creuse belongs to the lowest priced areas of France. That goes for the property prices, for the cost of daily life and as a result also for the average income. One of the main motorways, the A20 between Vierzon and Toulouse, has never been a tollway for the biggest part, mostly for this reason.

The Creuse is not flying high in the sense of economic growth or technical developments.


Life is relatively simple and the population is declining in many areas. Some railways are no longer used by trains, and have high grass growing between the rails and the crossbars. Some places, even close to the "capital" (the metropolis of Gueret, with as much as almost 14,000 souls), only see a bus a few times per day.

Some villages are seeing the young people move out. And this is not an area (yet) where the Brits, Germans and Dutch have moved in massively to buy cheap property, as was the case since many years in the Dordogne. It is still possible to buy a ruin of a farmhouse with lands and barns for a very attractive price and renovate it with the aid of local
contractors who will not rip you off.

It is probably one of the greenest areas in France, and has a potential for the more quiet style of (agro-)tourism, although that sector is hardly developed yet.

Some facts and numbers:

Area 5,565 sq. kilometers

Population ca. 129,000 (Dec 31, 2007)

Density 23 inhabitants per sq. kilometer

Capital Guéret (population 13,789 per Dec. 31, 2006)

Municipalities 260 ( !)

Climate moderate summers, moderate to cold winters

Altitude roughly between 150 and 700 meters above sea level

Distances (by car from Guéret)

Paris apprx. 3 hours,

Bordeaux approx. 4 hours,

Lyon approx. 2.5 hour

Clermont-Ferrand approx. 1.5 hours

Posted by westwind57 03:23 Archived in France Tagged nature france countryside forest roadtrip creuse la_souterraine gueret Comments (0)

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