The "canton" of Fayence is made up of several villages perched atop neighboring mountains. The village where I owned a house for many years was called Tourrettes par Fayence to distinguish it from all the many other villages named Tourrettes in the south of France. Fayence is the largest of the villages in terms of shops, restaurants, and activity, and so close to Tourrettes that a newcomer could be excused for thinking that Tourrettes was a suburb of Fayence. But Tourrettans would set you straight in a hurry. Tourrettes is and has apparently always been the largest in area, if not population and central village activity. The first time we saw it was in 1974, when there was still a bakery just down the street from where we eventually bought a house. The aroma of baking bread drifted through our dreams at about 4:00 Am and lulled us back to sleep until later, when one of us would buy a fresh baguette or pain au raisin or pain au chocolat for breakfast.
In the tiny square a butcher washed tripes in the ever-flowing fountain, Madame Helene ran a restaurant for the working single men in the village, and anyone else who wanted to eat there, if they rang first to warn her. M. and Mme Trimarchi ran a small store with canned goods, dried beans and flour, and some fruit and vegetables. The nearest supermarket was 20 miles away in Grasse, and although Fayence had butchers and greengrocers and bakers, it was easier and friendlier to shop in Tourrettes. There was also a bar, where the old people gathered to play cards and drink pastis in summer, and children ran in and out for ice cream from the big yellow freezer.
My sons attended the village school with 10 other children of varying ages. The teachers were the mayor and his wife.
Old widows (they might have been 55 or 60) wore black dresses and stockings and didn’t color their hair, and on warm evenings, everyone gathered in the square to sit and talk and watch the children play. In Madame Helene ‘s place, cats roamed the kitchen and tables at will and nobody but us seemed to mind. It wasn’t an experience we repeated after the first time, but in her black dress and her waving fan, she was a fixture of the village as she sat by the fountain , gossiping with passers by. The Tunisians and Morrocans and other North Africans gathered too, in groups of their own, but there were friendly greetings and cross chatter.
In 2007 there are three big supermarkets in the valley, LeClerc , Super U, and Intermarche. Across the valley from the villages, on land which belongs to the commune of Tourrettes, there are two golf courses, a gated community around a Four Seasons Hotel, several new housing developments and villas dotting the slopes of the hills around the villages. Instead of the charming, lilting, southern-accented French of the area, you hear Dutch, English, German, Swedish and Danish. Tourrettes has no bakery, no butcher shop, no grocery, no bar. No one gathers in the square to chat about the lack of rain, or who has run off with whose wife, or which child is ill. No North Africans.
No doubt most people are better off now than they were then, especially if they were lucky enough to own a patch of land and/or a house to sell to rich foreigners. The house we lived in then had a tiny water heater mounted above the sink. There was no central heating, just a nice big fireplace, and don’t let anyone tell you that stones heat up in winter. And when the mistral blew down the Rhone Valley from
the steppes of Central Asia, the tiles rattled on the rooftops and the wind fought it’s way into every chimney and crack.
But the sense of being in an honest village is gone. It is becoming a theme park, a caricature of itself. The passing of a way of life is so thorough now it might never have existed.
- Into the home stretch –