So we said goodbye to our hosts and to the last guests, who were lingering over their coffee in the shade of a cherry tree and set off for Alboussière where an annual event, repeated in all the towns and villages at this season, was in progress. La Rentrée, rather than New Year is the is the national moment for good resolutions, when the whole of France is back from its holidays and returning to school or work. This is the time to decide that you will really get to grips with learning English, take up the piano or Tai Chi, join the basket ball team or a woodworking class. Consequently each locality holds an open day one Saturday in early September where all the different clubs, associations and good causes set up an information stand and encourage inscriptions. François and his trio were to provide music for part of the afternoon, but before they started they had an important call to make.
We found the three of them fortifying themselves with gelato and espresso at Cuto. The place is tiny and unpreposessing from outside but as soon as we stepped into the cool interior we knew that we were back in Italy: gelato to die for and proper coffee! What’s more they sell wonderful peccorino cheese, sheeps’ milk yoghurt and the best ricotta this side of Umbria. Cuto is just one part of an ambitious project being undertaken by an incredibly dynamic young woman who arrived in the Ardèche four years ago from her native Assisi. She bought a ruined farm, which she is renovating with a view to creating a venue for a wide range of cultural events and exchanges. Music is obviously going to be part of the story and she has been in discussions with Paolo Fressu and Carla Bley, two of our all time musical heroes. François says “pourquoi pas?” and indeed, given the vibrant music scene around here, why not? The building work is dragging, but Roberta has no time to waste and all through October she will be hosting an event for illustrators and photographers with an exhibition, workshops and master classses. Definitely one to watch!
We had a bit of time to kill before our next jazz engagement so we went to look for Roberta’s farm. It is tucked away in the hills down an endless winding track through a scrubby landscape which could indeed be Umbria. We passed the sheep which provide milk for the cheese and yoghurt, doing their bit to keep the rough grass down, and and encountered a few of her Pastori degli Abruzzi – those vast and deceptively cuddly looking Italian sheepdogs which guard their flocks against wolf or human attack with equally instinctive ferocity. Roberta breeds them and also rears Cardigan Welsh Corgis although we saw no sign of them. There’s still a lot of work to do on the farm buildings, but with energy like hers we are sure that she will be ready for the October festival.
Then it was time to head off to François’s farm for a party to celebrate the completion of his new music room . . . .