Continuing the little series of travels around les Sarziers, this one is not about an object actually in the house but it fulfills the criterion of having been brought from afar, and in this case in a fairly unusual manner.
For many years finding the turn into the little lane leading up to les Sarziers was a bit of a gamble. Signs were unknown in those days (how different from now) and our lane joins the road in a blind bend. The turn is marked by a small crucifix set on a fine granite column, but that was not much help since it was enveloped and mostly obscured by an enormous cedar tree. Both tree and crucifix marked the family connection between Les Sarziers and Morlanche and dated from 1897.
More crucially, turning out into the road was always risky and with a slow but noticeable increase in traffic over time it became quite alarming. In the late 1980s we suggested to the then mayor that it would be a good idea to put up a mirror in the ash tree opposite the turn and were struck by his evasive mutterings about “it might be stolen” and “one does not erect traffic mirrors en milieu rural”. We had always suspected that there was some ancient feud that affected our little valley in relation to the administration in Arlebosc. Nothing was ever said, but we had observed that none of the people who live further up the lane, as far as the head of the valley – five or six families – had ever stopped to say hello, waved as they passed or made any sort of contact with us. We took this as a fait accompli, deciding that eventually something would happen to change the situation, and left it at that. And, without going into too much detail, the following story proves that we were correct.
We decided that the thing to do was to take matters into our own hands and put up a mirror ourselves, but after a pretty extensive, pre internet search, we had no idea where such a thing could be found.
So now picture Markus at the end of a gruelling two-week tour through Europe. It’s 35C in the shade and he has arrived in Rome with his tour group after a day of exploring every boiling hot and picturesque hill-top town in Tuscany. In half an hour he has to take 40 people to dinner in a restaurant he has never seen before. He has a vague map, provided by the local office, which resembles the meanderings of a spider across the page after an encounter with an ink pot. So, whilst the group collapses with relief in their air-conditioned rooms, he heads out to ‘walk the course’. (This is the reality of life on the road as a tour manager!)
En route he spies a ferramenta, with a traffic mirror in the window. No time to stop and enquire, but in the interminable pause between the secondo and dessert, having exhorted the waiters to hurry, as he still needs to take the group on a romantic evening walking tour of Rome, he pops back in. Yes, they do sell mirrors, but not that one, it is the display model. In fact they make them themselves in the workshop, fitting circular mirrors into metal frames that they make to measure, adding a little sunshade like an eyebrow over the top. Yes, they should have some completed by Friday, two days away, the day of the group’s departure. Yess!
In this sort of situation you can rely on Italians to deliver what they promise and so, undaunted by the fact that he was in the wrong country and more than 1,000 km from Arlebosc he returned to the shop on the appointed day, where the mirror was waiting for him. He settled the bill, wrapped up his prize in several tee shirts, packed it into his suitcase and flew back to Paris with this unlikely souvenir of the Eternal City. All well and good. He then took a train to Lyon, changed and arrived in Tain l’Hermitage, our nearest station, 40 minutes by road from the house. It was at this point that he realised that he had missed the last (and only) bus up the Doux Valley to Arlebosc and resorted to hitch hiking as far as the village. From there he still had 2 km to go and the suitcase was getting very heavy, so he left it at the café for the night and walked the last stretch, finally arriving as dusk fell.
Extremely pleased with himself, the next day he unpacked the mirror and was delighted to find that it had survived the journey intact, but that the tee shirts had picked up quite a lot of orange paint from the metal surround. In the excitement Markus had forgotten that he had been warned in the shop that the mirror had only been finished in the morning and that the paint was not quite dry!
Anyway, that was a small price to pay. We attached it to the ash tree and were very satisfied with the result.
Some days later I was at the baker’s, where the talk was all about a tragically fatal accident on a dangerous stretch of road outside the village of St Victor. “Ah well, you are all right at les Sarziers” someone said: “the village authorities have put up a mirror for you!” I hastily corrected this assumption, explaining that we had done it ourselves, bought my bread and went home, thinking no more about it.
However the news must have spread like wild-fire and the results were spectacular. Throughout the afternoon a procession of neighbours stopped to introduce themselves, to congratulate us on our initiative, and to invite us to sample their variously lethal home brews. The ice was broken and over a series of evening visits we learned all about the misunderstandings, grudges and grievances resulting in the impasse over the matter of road safety which we had innocently and unwittingly resolved.
There is a sequel to this story. The bend being pretty dangerous notwithstanding, it was decided at departmental level that the main road had to be straightened to improve visibility. But here another difficulty arose, since the new owners of the land on which the cedar tree and crucifix stood steadfastly refused to give their permission for the necessary alterations. An endless legal battle over expropriation ensued which was only brought to a conclusion when the massive cedar was struck by lightning and had to be felled!
The cross roads is certainly safer now, but much less charming.