22 February, 2011

What I'm reading.

I write about my life in the Cévennes, because I am quite happy here, whether visiting or living here full-time, as I do now. 
I tell little anecdotes, such as the differences between the French and Anglo-Saxons when playing bingo.  Bingo play as I have experienced it here is far more social than in the US, where bingo halls are notable for a certain dusty kind of stillness.  At church bingo in the US, you can hear the glasses of Kool-Aid sweat.  In France, it is apparently normal to have to crane to catch the number over the running commentary and chatter.
Image credit: Kraft foods. 
When someone wins, the remaining Anglo-Saxons clap and smile (writhing and cursing inwardly--I wanted that George Foreman grill!).  The French râlent.  This means they complain, or sound off, or whinge and whine.  Whatever you want to call it, they are usually very good at it.  Someone calls bingo, and there are waves of collective groans, eye-rolling, loud comments about it always being the same people, and then disconsolate, hurried dumping of the pieces back into a pile for the next round.  I watched my own daughter engage in this very French behavior, one square shy of a win.  She is on her way to becoming a râleuse, and is thus integrating quite nicely, thank you.

In French bingo, called loto, the rules are different; only numbers are called.  Our loto reader (caller? officiator?) gave character to every single number.  For example, an eight was a "belted zero".  Seventy-seven was "the tools of my grandfather". Fourteen was the Sun King.  Nineteen was a Renault classic.  Twenty-four was the pays du noix, or land of the walnuts (24 being the departmental number for the Perigord).  Thirty was home (being the departmental number for the Gard, where we live).  There were cultural, historical, musical and pop references I completely missed. All this was ad-libbed, mind you.  I've never experienced that full-entertainment experience in stateside bingo.  Yet anyway.

I've also never before experienced such bawdy humor at a school fundraiser. The hall was simply packed with people ranging from toddlers to the very seniors and everyone in between. The loto reader--who also happens to be the school principal--defined three as the "modern couple".  Sixty-nine? "Ta touffe m'etouffe!"  I'll leave you to translate that one...

At  the drop of a hat, I could rattle off a number of these sorts of experiences, but it's another thing to tackle your various impressions and experiences, then wrestle them into a winning story.   
This is what Rosy Thornton has done to most engaging effect in her latest book, The Tapestry of Love. 

Some of us write online and then graduate to books.  Rosy, also a Cambridge professor, went the other way around, and volunteers on her site that "there must be something pretty special about a place if you spend a fortnight there and, twenty years later, feel inspired to write a book about it."  Indeed.

Her heroine, Catherine Parkstone, does what so many Anglo-Saxons have done--or dreamed of doing: she picked up stakes and headed to the south of France.  Specifically, the Cévennes. And that's where the story begins, and where her life becomes richly complicated.  She becomes a furniture upholsterer, tapestry weaver and all-round seamstress without taking enough account of the vagaries of French bureaucracy.  She gets to know her neighbors through their idiosyncrasies.  She falls in love. (In my opinion, her Cévenols, while reserved, are still less reserved than my Cévenols...)  Deeply woven through this tale are the traditions, places and spaces that make the Cévennes what it is--beautiful, variegated, a little rough, and seemingly timeless.  There is the twice annual ritual of the transhumance, there is the history of the silkworm and silk production, a significant Cévenol industry until the 1850s or so, but the book is also rich in local, earthy detail.  Tapestry of Love is filled with delicate, discerning observation, and it won me over.
For more information you can go to her site, where she even provides a few choice recipes you can download.   

Full disclosure: Rosy Thornton is a La Vie Cévenole reader.


  1. Your bingo fundraiser sounds like a rollicking good time! I never had nearly that much fun at my son's school. EVER.

  2. Great, another good book to read!
    I think I already wrote about that before but have you read any of Andre Chamson's books about the Cevennes? I remember enjoying them a lot.

  3. Hi Rose,
    There were so many zingers: the hand (number 5), the carpenter's hand (number 4). But I suspect this was not the average French bingo, as he is not the average school principal. He's quite a character!

    Hello Nadege,
    Enjoy! Still haven't gotten around to reading Chamson...


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