Reapers reaping early

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For the past few years Arlebosc has organised a Fête de la Reboule at the end of the summer, which has proved to be a great success, in spite of the nay-sayers who were of the opinion that no one would want to come and look at old tractors and steam-driven agricultural machinery.  In fact it draws crowds of people to watch the rope making machine, the ploughing contest, the tug of war and the sawing challenge along with  more traditional attractions, ranging from coconut shies and white elephant stalls to the immensly popular piglet race.  The day starts with an open air mass, then the ancient tractors and vintage cars puff and gasp their way through the village and back.  After that there is of course lunch, and the ploughing and threshing starts in earnest in the afternoon.

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It would be easy to see this as simply a nostalgic look back to how things once were.

But this morning we were able to catch one of the unsung and truly authentic moments which go into the preparation for the event.  We glanced out of our bedroom window to see half a dozen chaps armed with scythes in Roger’s wheat patch above our courtyard wall.  Popping out to see what was going on we caught them just finishing stooking up the first cut.

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We offered them coffee, but it was already far too late for that, so we and Roger joined in their mid morning snack of saucisson, goats’ cheese, bread and un petit coup.

Then everyone headed off to another little patch of wheat hidden amongst the apricot trees, where Firmin, Fernand and Louis expertly scythed around the edge of the field and cut an opening for the tractor to pass through.  Their scythes are different from those used to cut hay as they have a metal contraption attached which bunches up the cut stalks, making it easier for the reapers to bind up the swathes.

Markus was given a lesson in the correct way to do the binding, which is pretty nifty.  Then the swathes were collected, piled into stooks and left to dry out.

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It was a lovely convivial occasion and entirely spontaneous.  The thing which struck us most was the atmosphere between the men, working together in a traditional rural task.  The older ones are farmers born and bred who worked like this for most of their lives and they are clearly pleased that there is a genuine interest in their skills and know-how.  But the younger ones too have lived here all their lives and although they may be artisans or work elsewhere, they have a real understanding of the rural traditions.  We were reminded of the harvests we used to join in with in a tiny North Ardèche village in the 1970s:  the cheerful bantering atmosphere was exactly the same.

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It is really nice to know that the fête in late August, although it may appear to be no more than a nostalgic nod to the past, has at its roots an on-going tradition.  La Reboule, a local dialect word, clebrated the harvest and a successful end to the season’s labours.  A celebration indeed if you consider how many disasters might befall a crop during its months growing in the field and the dire consequences of a bad harvest to a self-sufficient community.

The weather has been unseasonally wet over the past ten days and this was the first moment they have had to open up the field.  On Monday they will be back with a vintage tractor and binder to reap the rest.  Watch this space!


3 thoughts on “Reapers reaping early

  1. What an absolutely fabulous post! It just seems completely wonderful.

    I have a lovely scythe that I bought via the Royal Horticultural Society magazine years ago – blade forged in Turkey from a tradition going back thousands of years. It is a joy to use. Now we haven’t got an orchard of our own I sometimes use it in an area of public open space which our civic society maintains. But even my very limited expertise with this superb instrument is all-too unusual in modern Britain.

    But when I read the section in Anna Karenina in which Levin takes it into his head to join the reapers for a long day with a scythe made me wonder whether Tolstoy actually knew what he was talking about. Levin might have been strong enough, perhaps, but without regular experience he would have been crippled by blisters within a couple of hours.

  2. It sounds wonderful. That was the way the harvest was done when we were small children, although with a reaper pulled by immense (to me as a child) shire horses rather than a scythe. We’d rush to see a very rare tractor if we heard one a field or two away.

    Of course, after the harvest we’d go gleaning, to find ears of wheat left behind on the ground to feed to the chickens at home.

    The piglet race sounds fun and made me think, “This little pig went wee wee wee wee all the way home!”

  3. Loved this post, so “authentic”. I just feel guilty to read that the weather has been bad when here in te Côte d’Azur it’s just gorgeous everyday not even hot, a mere 28° at the maximum and a cool breeze all the time. It’s seems more like September weather…

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