MIDI LIBRE. It's the name of our local newspaper. It means 'Free Midi'. 'Free' meaning that it's not linked to any political interest, although it has always struck me as editorially quite right-wing in a predominantly left-wing region. And 'Midi'
MIDI LIBRE. It's the name of our local newspaper. It means 'Free Midi'. 'Free' meaning that it's not linked to any political interest, although it has always struck me as editorially quite right-wing in a predominantly left-wing region. And 'Midi' because that's the familiar name of the south of France.
For many in the village, Midi Libre is as vital a part of the morning programme as a bowl of coffee or chocolate first thing in the morning. Mme Phalippou in the village tabac - i.e. newsagents, where you can also buy cigarettes - sells about 70 copies every weekday and double that on Sundays, which isn't bad for a village of some 550 souls. Sales figures like this, multiplied up to take account of all the hundreds of villages and small towns in the area, may explain why regional newspapers in France are keeping their heads above water while the future of national dailies like Le Figaro and Le Monde, which hardly sell at Mme Phalippou's, are uncertain. Le Monde, organ of the French left, is in deep trouble at the moment. It's the local news that sells Midi Libre, of course.
You could be forgiven for thinking from all this that first thing in the morning I put on my beret and my blue overalls and shuffle down to M. Gosset's boulangerie for our croissants and then on to Mme Phalippou's for our daily dose of local news, views and interviews, not forgetting local matches, hatches and despatches, nor indeed our daily Midi Libre horoscope, in which I am verseau (Aquarius) and Josephine is balance (Libra) and never are the two complementary.
It's not like that at all, I'm afraid. I haven't quite gone native. I do look at Midi Libre every day, but online, which keeps me up to date with the broad thrust of what's going on in the region. But the other day I particularly wanted a hard copy, because friends had said there'd been an article in the issue of the day before that would interest me. Mme Phalippou had returned all her unsold copies, so I had to ask around. William l'Indispensable (Indispensable Will - oh, come on, you can do this for yourselves) proved the value of his epithet: he'd put the copy I wanted by for me. Wonderful.
I began to search through for the article I wanted. I suppose trawling through the local paper is as good a guide as any to what makes an area tick. Here's a selection:
Cap d'Agde is 40 this summer
Cap d'Agde, on the Mediterranean coast about an hour south of our village, is a resort built largely on drained saltmarshes. There's a marina, lots of seaside flats, some excellent fish restaurants and, slightly apart, Europe's largest naturist complex, so sophisticated that to call it a nudist camp would be like referring to a vintage claret as a bottle of plonk. Or so they say. How would I know? I went there once, fully clothed, at the invitation of some Brit friends who later, after we'd gone, found themselves in a free-for-all, anything-goes disco they were glad to escape from. But there's no mention of that in my Midi Libre.
All Sérignan at Thomas' funeral
Very sad. A few days before, Sérignan, a big village just inland from the Mediterranean beaches, was celebrating its annual festival. At the open-air disco that evening a fracas developed, during which the 17-year-old Thomas was stabbed to death by youths from elsewhere. By the harshest of ironies, he was in the habit of saying, in fun, 'One day I shall be famous, everyone in Sérignan will be talking about me'. Virtually the entire population of Sérignan turned out for his funeral.
For Bastille Day, the children sang 'Ah, ça ira, ça ira'
It's July 14th, the French national holiday to commemorate the outbreak of the French Revolution, at Sauvian, another big village not far from Béziers. Ça ira ('It'll be OK') is the true song of the Revolution: the Marseillaise came later. Les aristos à la lanterne, it continues, we'll string up the aristos. They'd dressed the village kids up as revolutionaries, with red Phrygian caps with the tricolour cockade and the striped baggy trousers supposedly worn by the Paris mob of 1789. The kids led the procession of the village council, village personalities, firemen, ex-servicemen and the public to the war memorial, where two wreaths were laid. Later the children performed a round dance with the village councillors. I can't see this happening in too many English villages.
Village council at Riols
Aha, this is nearer home. I know Riols well, it's a few kilometres along the valley, and we were there just the other evening at the little restaurant called l'Auberge du Jaur for moules frites, i.e. mussels seethed in a white wine broth, served with chips. Maybe it was that very evening that the village council met. Only two items were on the agenda: the signature of an agreement concerning electricity supply, and how much to donate to the appeal for the recent flood victims in Provence. 150 euros (£120) was earmarked, but I don't have time to consider whether this is exceptionally generous or exceptionally measly because on the same page there's the article I've been looking for:
St Julien: Threefold birthday celebrated by a première at the Priory
Yes, I've hit the headlines. Well, the headlines on page 14, anyway. Almost a year ago I started composing - composition having always trotted alongside other forms of writing - a cantata for my little choir, Les Jeudistes, who are 10 years old this year. As 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the concerts society to which Josephine and I belong, and as its President and Jeudiste tenor, Jean-Claude Branville, is 70 this year, I thought I'd write something to celebrate all three birthdays. (I was unaware, at the time, of the Cap d'Agde 40th birthday. Now that would have been a challenge . . .) I called this cantata L'Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune, The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon, after the collection of poems of the same name by Jules Laforgue, a little-known French poet who died in 1887.
So we gave this new work its first airing at the Priory of St Julien, a beautiful 9th-century chapel a couple of miles from here, to a packed house and great acclaim. All very gratifying. Here we are in full swing, accompanied by a super string quartet from Toulouse.
Many years ago, when I still lived in Scotland and came to France on holiday occasionally, I used to think how wonderful it would be to spend time travelling round the villages of the Midi giving concerts. Now I know what it's like: very hard work, but exceptionally rewarding. Especially if it makes it into Midi Libre.