When I wrote my post about 10 things to do in 2012 I somehow forgot to mention that the world is scheduled to end this year – on 21st December to be precise. According to proponents of this theory, the ancient Mayans predicted it all: their 23,000-year cyclical calendar ends abruptly on that date. I suppose this solves the problem of what to buy people for Christmas.
However, all is not lost for the people of Bugarach in the Corbières, who benefit from a dispensation denied to the rest of us. Seekers after a bolthole from the Apocalypse have been besieging this otherwise unexceptional place. Le pic de Bugarach, the peak that overlooks the village, conceals an extra-terrestrials’ base, which apparently guarantees its immunity from the cataclysm.
Those of us not fortunate enough to live there have been stoically continuing with our daily lives. At least 2012 is a leap year, so we get to enjoy an extra day before destiny overtakes us. The prospect of annihilation has added a certain piquancy to the “Meilleurs Voeux” that we have been wishing our neighbours for 2012 – “surtout pour la santé”. Most of them don’t seem to realise that the end is nigh; we feel it kinder not to enlighten them.
Our first stop was chez M. et Mme F. Her first words were, “Oh dear, I haven’t prepared the bottle yet.” The bottle in question contains vieille prune spirits of lethal strength. We give our neighbours the surplus plums from our trees. They then have the liquor distilled from them. Monsieur F. took us to see it being distilled a year ago, which we found fascinating.
Our first introduction to this fiery spirit came early on in our life here when we agreed to send a fax for our neighbours. That evening, Monsieur F. turned up to thank us, bearing a two-litre plastic water bottle full of vieille prune. Every year since then they have given us a bottle of it.
Since I don’t drink it at all and the SF drinks it only occasionally, we now have litres of the stuff stowed in a cupboard. We cannot turn it down without offending them. The SF refuses to get rid of it. “You don’t throw alcohol away,” he says.
Yesterday, Mme F. rootled about in the buffet for a while before emerging with a bottle which someone had plainly sampled already. However, this would have to do. She didn’t want to go into the attic – “It’s full of spiders’ webs!” I wondered how much vieille prune they store in the attic. You can imagine the explosive results in the event of a fire. We used it to flame a Christmas pudding once in the absence of brandy and had to smother the pud with a damp towel when we realised that the spirit had set it alight.
Mme F. swathed the bottle in a piece of old Christmas wrapping paper, and we laid it on the back seat of the car. Next stop for our New Year’s calls was Mme M. over the road. However, she informed us that she was in the middle of her lunch and was unable to invite us in. She would telephone us instead.
We went off to the market. A pervasive smell of alcohol emanated from the car when we opened the door on our return. Mme F. had neglected to screw the cap on the bottle properly, and it had leaked all over the back seat. Fortunately, there were no police contrôles on the way home to detect the tell-tale odour.
At least if things come to pass as predicted on 21st December, we will have plenty of vieille prune with which to drown our sorrows.
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