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Sorry, Monsieur... buffalo is orf!

PUBLISHED: 08:00 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

CHARLES ROBERTS

It was one of those “quotable quotes” which stays in the cranium. Especially so when the head belongs to a Francophile. The words were those of Miranda Neame, editor of that information-packed monthly paper, French News.

CHARLES ROBERTS

It was one of those “quotable quotes” which stays in the cranium. Especially so when the head belongs to a Francophile.

The words were those of Miranda Neame, editor of that information-packed monthly paper, French News. And if she doesn't know about France, the French . . .and the British, who does?

So here was Miranda, chatting about her favourite subject in life, backed by 23 years living in the hexagon.

Her target audience was the people who have become part of the still expanding ranks of those who've made the great leap. Which is, to set up home permanently in France.

In France, she believes, “you can be anyone you want to be. You're not defined by accent or background. It's liberating. We could never envisage returning to Britain now.”

Sounds pretty serious stuff. But she acknowledges the fun side too. It's all about “the freedom of being a foreigner”, she suggested. And for her that means countryside, space, village markets, cheaper wine (and why not?) and tobacco (if you must).

Since I settled here, I've repeatedly, against many backgrounds, recalled her list. And though involved in so many activities and demands, there's been consistently a swathe of time when I can't avoid the feeling that every other day (or more) has been a holiday.

As for laughter, there can be few complaints . . .

Recently I and my French companion, Guy, were led by the image of seeing at close quarters a magnificent herd of bison. Only a week or so before that, we'd been (I for the very first time) to one of those chain restaurants whose emblem is a mighty spread of buffalo horns. “Sorry, Monsieur. Buffalo is orf tonight”.

As it happened, bison was on the menu. I took a chance - and regretted it. If that tough as old rope meat was normally like this, how come other clients were shovelling it into their mouths with unseemly relish? The waiter was much displeased.

Which was why we made a snap decision, 10 days later, to visit a Vienne farm dedicated to breeding bison. Bison in gently rolling Vienne, I ask you! And mighty beasts they were - through binoculars. They fed in small groups on huge grazing grounds, well away from visitors, and when they did glance in our direction, it was with withering disdain.

Not that there were many visitors interested in looking at them. For they knew what I didn't know: that the real object of the event was to listen to Country & Western music; and to watch the most unlikely collection of human shapes, all attracted from the audience, practising cowboy step-dancing.

After which came real Indians (Well it said so!) who sang, danced, and thumped tympanic instruments. While doing so they directed ferocious scowls just above the heads of the audience of palefaces (Or is that Politically Incorrect)?

They must have been the warmest folks on the showground, for everyone else, sitting or standing, was chilled to the marrow by a totally unseasonable, wintery wind. A walk to get the blood flowing again was deemed a good idea.

About 100 yards up ahead, we noted what looked like a stuffed appaloosa, the distinctively marked Indian pony, white with black spots.

We watched it keenly as we approached. Till the last moment I was still convinced it was a stuffed specimen. Then it moved, first a bend in an ear, next a clockwork movement of the head.

Gosh, it was the most intriguing attraction of the afternoon - until a quartet of young cowboys hove to. They too examined the wonder and, faces smiling, hands flying, quickly came to a conclusion. What their answer was I'll never know - for their entire discussion was conducted in the sign language of the deaf.

Their exuberance, their animation, were inspirational. Contagious too. As you walked away from them, you felt caught up in their vivacity.

As for the original subject of our attentions, he was by now serenely cropping the grass.

Two or three weeks ago, I was reporting on the pride locals take in my part of France, at the consistently low crime record here.

In the villages and small towns, major crime has always been rare. Now it has struck again. In one relatively small town, the fourth murder has been committed in eight years, all vicious knife incidents.

Local response is shock and disbelief. A witness told the police that she and other neighbours needed to be reassured. “The more you know, the more you feel supported.”

The language may be different, but the fears and sentiments are universal.


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