Chickens, chambres d’hôtes and UFOs
My Brazilian friend Paulo & his boyfriend Didier had been talking for years about leaving Tooting and spending a year or two in Didier’s home region of Burgundy, but once I’d moved to Céret in the Pyrenees-Orientale they decided that the sunny south of France was rather more appealing.
Paulo’s practical skills and artist’s eye were vital in refurbishing the dilapidated townhouse they bought in Quillan and transforming it into a quirky and welcoming chambres d’hôtes. (Thinking about running a B&B? Paulo’s advice is only do it if you like ironing…)
Nidelice (‘delightful nest’) is popular with cyclists, walkers and white water rafters, and with Dan Brown-readers and conspiracy theorists drawn by Rennes-le-Château, for its claimed links to the Knights Templar, and also by the Cathar castles of the Languedoc; the last bastions of the Cathar ‘heretics’, whose fascinating religion saw men and women as equals, had people rise to become ‘Perfects’ by forgoing meat and sex, and deemed the Catholic Church to be the ‘Church of Satan’.
In the hysteria building up to December 21st 2012, the supposed Mayan doomsday, Nidelice was also overrun by tie-die wearing crusties and beardies; OVNI-enthusiasts (OVNI = Objets Volants Non-Identifiers – UFOs) for whom every lenticular cloud has a silver lining, hoping to be amongst the chosen beamed up from nearby Bugarach, the ‘Mystic Mountain’.
Now that I’ve moved back to England, my Dutch friend Yvonne is living at our old mas in France as the ‘chien du garde’ (guard dog / housekeeper), whom Paulo loves, and calls ‘mother’. While moving for Yvonne was a simple matter of lugging her furniture and belongings 500 metres uphill, a whole new ‘poulaillaier’ (chicken house) needed to be designed and built before she could relocate her chickens.
Fortunately Paulo, who in a previous life ran a prop-building company in London making sets for Madonna videos, shop displays for Donna Karan, and giant props for exhibitions such as the ones I used to run at Earls Court, can build just about anything. (Paulo and Yvonne both ‘have hands’ as Yvonne says; meaning they are both incredibly practical and good with their hands.)
The resulting poulailler, made mainly from found pallets, is a luxury 3-storey chicken hotel, offering views over vineyards towards Canigou, the sacred mountain of the Catalans.
Unfortunately, a couple of months ago, Yvonne’s son Arno forgot to close up the chickens one night and some feral dogs (owned by a feral family) ran amok, killing and injuring a dozen of them. The dark red chicken who laid the huge chocolate-coloured eggs was among the slaughtered; Yvonne’s favourite cockerel, Jean-Jean, the daddy of them all, was left with his head half-hanging off, which meant she had to finish him off; and the only ‘poulet adolescent guerrier’ (agressive teenage cockerel) to survive lost his big back tail feathers, and now wanders around looking confused, denuded and chicken-like, his crowing mournful and tentative.
Yvonne was quick to rebuild her brood of chickens. Within a week Yvonne’s one remaining fluffy-legged white chicken was sitting on top of twelve fertilised eggs acquired from a friendly neighbour, her body spread flat as a cd in order to cover them.
Chickens play a large part in Yvonne’s lexicon. She calls her father’s acquisitive, sourpuss partner ‘chicken arse’. (She also calls her ‘cuckoo’, ‘the caterpillar who has never enough’ ie the very hungry caterpillar, and ‘the wife of the fisherman who caught the golden fish’.)
I’ve written a short ‘faction’ piece about Yvonne and the tumble-down old house she used to rent, ‘Lieu dit Balleres’. I’ll post this up in the next couple of days: it would be great if you could read it and let me know what you think. Thanks!