Le Gers: Heatwave, driving and the nicest people one could ever meet

I’ve been told that the heatwave that has hit all of Europe has broken all records. I have certainly felt it down here in Le Gers. There is something so different about being this hot when you live in a stone house and have a pool!  I get errands done in the morning or plan a hike and make sure I’m back in the house by 2pm at the very latest.  Then it’s nap time, reading time, swimming time.  If I need to go out again, I make sure I’ll be in the shade as the heat doesn’t even begin to subside until 10pm at night.  Who knew when I planned this month down here in March that I would be escaping hot and miserable Paris.  I feel very fortunate.

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Is it because of the heat that all the sunflowers are bowing their heads?  Probably not, That’s what happens.  They bow their huge heads into their long necks and nothing but a pale yellow and green shows in the fields.  It’s very pretty but it’s not like seeing proud sunflowers looking at the sun and loyally following it’s path during the day.  Soon they will be harvested and turned into sunflower oil.  That patch of ground will then be home to wheat.  It’s so fun to see sunflowers popping up willy nilly in and around the wheat.  The stubborn ones kept their seeds nearby.

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The Gascons drive terribly.  Very fast on roads that are barely wide enough for one car.  The Gascons live here and probably know these roads like the back of their hands.  It must be frustrating to have summer people driving slower, looking at the gorgeous countryside, filling up on the beauty that is Le Gers.  I’m pretty sure of this because they come right up on my tail and wait for the first possibility of passing.  I pull as close to the right as I can to make it easier but when I see a van coming in the opposite direction and the road isn’t wide enough for both of them, I find myself holding my breath, my eyes grow very wide and I say a little prayer to the driving gods that all will be ok.  So far, I haven’t seen an accident.  The people that live here tell me accidents happen a lot.

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The people that live here….  I’ve met Gascons, I’ve met Brits, I’ve met a few Americans.  Everyone of them is genuinely happy to help if I have a question or just chat if I don’t.  Saturday, I was in Agen with my friend Barbara.  We went to a pharmacy to get some bug spray and anything to help with the itching.  Barbara got a prescription filled and we just chatted away with the pharmacist.  As we were getting ready to leave, she disappeared for one second and returned with two french soaps.  One for each of us.  Just because.

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Not the Brits but I didn’t have a photo of them so you get the swans!

There are two Brits who live in Pouy and have done so for 12 years.  The wife arrived on our doorstep last week with a big box of tomatoes, corgettes and green beans that she had just picked from her potager.  The smell of freshly picked tomatoes is unlike anything I’ve ever smelled.  It makes me wonder how I ever ate those tomatoes my mother used to buy that were wrapped in cellophane and sold in the A&P.  Today, we went over to see their home.  They had bought a house that had been empty for years and they gutted it except the bones.  They now have a lovely, tasteful stone home (the walls were maybe the ramparts of the Chateau next to them) with something precious to look at at every turn.  After drinks of cool, cool water, it was time to leave and she handed us another bag of fresh green beans and tomatoes.  The thing is they would treat anyone this way.

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Sara, Sallie Erichson and Fatiha

Then there is Sallie Erichson, the American Photographer, who I met two weeks ago at a Fete.  When she realised that I was just visiting for the summer, she got my contact info and invited me for dinner with her and her husband.  When my friends from Paris arrived, we went over to her home and she entertained us for a couple of hours.  Plus, each time we were going out for dinner, I would ask her for a suggestion.  So far, she is batting 1000.

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And lastly, there is Simone, the mother of a friend of Barbara’s.  She is 93 years old and when Barbara realised we were staying only 2 km distance from the mother’s home, she suggested to her friend that she might check up on mom in all this heat.  Both of us were picturing a frail old woman suffering from loneliness while everyone was staying inside.  We rang her doorbell and a sturdy woman answered and shook her finger at us and said she wasn’t interested.  She thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Her son had told her that Barbara would visit so when she realised who we were, we all doubled up laughing.  She took us through her house, completely shuttered up to prevent the heat from entering, to a small terrace in the back.  We must have stayed 45 minutes while she entertained us.  We walked through her lovely gardens and both Barbara and I hoped that we looked and functioned like her at 93 years old.  Each time Barbara asked if we could buy her something or help her with something, she didn’t need us.  She has plenty of friends who stop by.  She is well cared for.

And thus continues my wonderful month in Le Gers.

A bientôt,

Sara

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Le Gers: Condom and Environs

My guidebook Insight Guides: Southwest France, that I read before coming down to Pouy, described Condom first as a name bizarre to English speakers.  The name is thought to be derived from the word Condominum–land ruled by 1st-century Vascons (later Gascons).  It concluded saying the town had accepted the inevitable and greets tourists every summer with an expo on contraceptives!  This is no longer true.  Thank goodness!

Condom is the town closest to me and where I have gone for my shopping.  There is a BioCoop to satisfy my vegetarian needs and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere.  Many of the farms near here open up as a store one day a week and sell their goods straight from the vine, so to speak.

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The centre square fronts the Cathedrale St-Pierre, rebuilt in the 16th century on the ruins of an 11th century abbey.  In front of the Cathedrale is a statue of the four musketeers.  D’Artagnan was a real person born near Lupiac in 1613.  His story was made famous in the adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas and, I’m told, there have been no less than 25 film versions of the book!  Lupiac is southwest of Condom, west of Auch, and may be a visit when my friends come down next week.  In the Centre d’Artagnan, the exciting story of the Gascon hero can be found.  Something I think I’d enjoy immensely.

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“All for one and one for all”

Condom seems to be the crossroads for many of the villages I want to see.  Larressingle is about 10 km west of Condom and called “the little Carcassonne” by some.  It is a fortified village with it’s 13th century walls intact.  I bought a book on Larressingle and the author concluded that the walls have stayed intact because it was too small to be an important village and was often left alone when fights between the Gauls and the Romans broke out as they so often did.  Along with Fourcès, Montreal and Lavardans (all short drives from Condom), Larressingle is listed  as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

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Bridge and tower that is the entrance into Larressingle

From the parking lot in Larressingle, I took a 5km hike that circled the fields that surround the town.  Even though it was hot, much of the walk was in shade and delightful.  It was on this hike that I found myself on GR65, the Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle.  A sign welcomed me as a pilgrim and a hiker!

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Fourcès, a village 10 km north of Larressingle, is famous for its main square  which is, in fact, a circle.  Guidebooks say it is the only village that has all it’s establishments surrounding the centre park and benches.  There is a circular covered walkway for one to keep cool.  I met two store owners.  One was so delightful.  She clearly loves her village and when she saw my interest directed me to a book by Perry Taylor called Le Selfie Gascon.  This is the third book by the British artist (watercolour) and honorary Gasconian (is that a word?). It is full of wit and a deep understanding of the Gascon personality.  Of course, I had to buy a copy.

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My friends who own the home I’m in had suggested I go to a Fête on the other side of Condom in Caussens.  A friend of hers, a photographer, was selling her work and she thought I’d be interested.  So I made my way through Condom, which takes all of 5 minutes, and had to go through the small village of Caussens to find Au Vieux Pressoir, an auberge that had transformed itself into a local Fête for the weekend.  It was not easy to find! I persevered on a long very narrow road praying the whole time that no car or truck would come in the opposite direction. I discovered a lovely restaurant and hotel on beautiful grounds.  All the locals were probably there.  Everyone seemed to know each other and were having a great time dancing to live music and eating Gascon food.  I found Sallie Erickson at the very back of the property.  She congratulated me on sticking to my guns and finding not only her but the Auberge.  I think it would be safe to say that I was the only ‘visitor’ there.  Wagons full of kids pulled by horses clippity clopped by me.  One of the women I met there told me that the owners rescue horses that are to be killed when they are no longer useful.  This is the second place of it’s kind that rescues animals from early death and lets them roam on lots of land.  The first was near Giverny where I was 6 weeks ago.

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Fleurance is southeast of Condom.  I had heard there was a lively market there and I wanted to see for myself.  I got there late for a market, around 11am, but it was still difficult to find parking.  Having turned half French, I no longer mind having to walk a half-mile to get to where I’m going!  The market took up four or five streets maybe more and included a covered space surrounded by arches under which we all walked.  One could find pretty much anything you were looking for. Maybe not the kitchen sink but I could be wrong.  Much was junk, much was the regular tourist fare which I like but have enough of and a minority of tables had fresh vegetables, fruits, honey, etc.  I could tell by the dirt the food had come straight from the farm.

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This area I’m sure is one of the few places left where things don’t say Bio.  Everything is so fresh and grown locally that the word Bio is redundant.

Next: Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle

For more information on Perry Taylor, his books and drawings:      http://perrytaylor.fr/en/

For more info on the Auberge:  https://www.auvieuxpressoir.com

For more information on Sallie Erichson, her Gite on the Chemin de St.Jacques and to see her photography:   https://www.gite.com/chapelle-roses

A bientôt,

Sara