Our Modest Utopia—A Farm in Provence
WE never took seriously the fantastic scheme of our V V friends to become farmers in the South of France. But they were so pressing and so enthusiastic about it that soinehow, almost in spite of ourselves, we jointly became owners of some land there. Their scheme was in 'a way so ingenious and so simple, and the terms so favourable that it did not at the time of the purchase require any considerable outlay of money.
With great pains we at last succeeded in finding on the map the whereabouts of that mysterious village of X. in the, department of Var. All that the Baedecker told us Was that this "village was the final resting-place of the Due de B., which was not a very cheerful. beginning. All the other information about the place we derived from the letters of our partners who had taken up residence immediately after the purchase, and had already started developing its latent possibilities and treasures.
This correspondence lasted for about six months. As their schemes were getting more and more ambitious we at last decided that it was high time to take the matter seriously ; that it was, in fact, high time for us to go there and liquidate the whole concern and so get out of our rather-light-hearted and hazardous venture before we were in too deep waters. None of us really knew any- thing about farming.
With the arrival of summer we started out, bearing this sane resolution in mind. At Y. we left the Paris-Nice express, and with it the last Of civilization. A pre- historic car was there to meet us, and we set out on a 35-kilometres journey to the farm, high up in the mountains, which was our destination and destiny.
Now, looking back, I think that this one-hour journey amidst the marvellous scenery and the sunshine of Provence already weakened our resolve to have done with the scheme. The chances of our farm were going Up as we were zig-zagging higher and higher on the winding, mountainous road. At last we drove through that mys- terious, tiny village across its picturesque village square bordered, of course, with old plane trees. Their shadow and the stone fountain in the centre looked very cool and inviting. The chauffeur told us with pride that there were real gold fishes swimming in it. In five minutes were were already within the boundaries of our estate, amidst terraces of olive trees. Suddenly we had a glimpse of a lovely old Provencal house, half hidden by the green branches of lime 'trees. - It stood on a hillock, on the left there was "a pine wood, lower down emerald= green fields of lucerne, and beyond it all one saw the blue line of the Verdon mountains. The whole landscape was so magnificent that it took our breath away. Thus it happened that instead of selling our property we lin- gered there till late autumn, and the farm is still ours.
With our arrival the number of labour hands was made up to ten. The great charm of our life lay in the fact that no one was forced to work, and therefore everyone did work. The unwritten law happened by itself. All for each and each for all. It is true that during the first days there was some confusion, as all the newcomers set out to do the really hard work : cutting the hay, digging potatoes, planting new fruit trees, chopping wood. " All this is too easy," was the refrain. Our pioneers let us do -what we wanted ; they well knew that the weaker ones would soon tire of it. And, indeed, within a few days everything went smoothly, the work happened by itself to be equally divided. The stronger and more energetic ones did the harder tasks ; those inclined took it upon themselves to embellish the place by painting the out- houses or clipping the long alley of evergreen that led to the main road. Others fed the chickens, and looked after the incubator and the new batches of chicks. The romantically inclined of our party could often be seen lying in the green fields with a book, gazing at the bright -blue sky and guarding the cows and Antoinette, the only pig (originally bought as Antoine).
The morning started with an early breakfast, everyone talking about what he was going to accomplish that day. At noon we went for a swim in the reservoir, which was an ideal bathing pool, or to the fountain stream in the nearest wood. To get there one had to cross a lavender field. We used to pick some lavender so as to have a baits parfume.
At half-past one the bell was rung for luncheon. By and by we all had become vegetarians—it was such a point of pride to eat only-the produce of the farm. Everything came from our own vegetable .gardensand what vege- tables and what melons ! Our chickens we never ate, although the cocks used to be sold to the local butcher.
Twice a ,week everyone worked together. That was when the watering took place, amidst great excitement. Our watering was a system of locks. The reservoir was opened and the water-let down narrow canals, first to one vegetable garden, then to the other, and then the fields. Although one man could easily do it, it was such fun that we all helped with it.
And when the vintage time came we even used to go to our neighbours to help them. The reward was a free and generous supply of wine and grapes. By the time we left the farm, many routine arrangements were running quite smoothly. The vegetables and the poultry and milk farms were even giving a fair reward. Our vineyards, it is true, are not yet planted, but we are confident of that for the next season.
- But apart from the possibility of this becoming a paying proposition, it is wonderful to be able to look forward to spending three or four months of the year in those sur- roundings and amidst such charming antiquated human beings as our neighbours in that remote and as yet un- spoilt part of Provence. I hope our frequent guest will again be the old-fashioned local doctor, that_ up-to-date Don Quixote who so believes that every passer-by is truly his brother. -He is so afraid of missing anyone with his brotherly greeting that when he walks in the streets or even just stands on the doorstep of his little house he is for ever raising his hat in a continuous rhythmical movement, his small dark beard bobbing up and down to beat time. He charges 5 frs.. (10d.) for visiting his clients, and 10 frs. for receiving them at his own home—it costs more, for he has to'pay ome-one to openthe door.- -When once he was given a 500-frs. note by a rich man from Marseilles whose wife he had saved from death he was very con- fused. He had no 495 frs. change, he said, and flatly refused to accept more than 5 frs.
This, his unbreakable principle, the local gossips told us, was the chief reason for his wife leaving him. His father-in-law, a rich local wine merchant, insisted upon the husband of his daughter providing her with better fortune and raising his absurd fee. " Monsieur, you may raise the price on your wine," he answered ; " I will not raise my fees for serving the pains of humanity."
And we shall have to meet our noble neighbour the Marquis in his noble family castle at his fours de reception, when all the neighbourhood for once put their stockings and hats on, get into their barouches, and drive across the woods to take a biscuit and drink orangeade with the seigneur du pays.
On week-days, it is true, one can see him drive into the village in his old horse-cart to buy onions and lard'. But he is no ordinary man, as we were told by our old cook who had been at the castle before coming to us. He eats meat twice a day, Monsieur le Marquis ! The family, it is true, is quite impoverished, but they proudly and firmly uphold the traditions of their old lineage. "Mademoiselle," the Marquis said to me when I shyly ventured to tell him that there was no bath as yet on our new estate, " my ancestors have been here for the last 500 years without having a bath, and to this day you will not find a bathroom in my castle."
In fact, the nearest bath is 15 kilometres away, but notwithstanding traditionS and public opinion we are determined to have one installed next summer. That will, perhaps, be the only touch of modernity in our