It was the end of an era in two senses, to which I’ll return below. Every year, as part of the summer walks laid on by the commune of Espinas, we visit a pretty hamlet called Flouquet. The houses are grouped around a village green and the inhabitants, now only part-time, put on something of a show for us. We learn new things every year.
Nicole Bessède, who was born and brought up at Flouquet, and her husband Denis are the leading lights. Denis restored the bread oven about 20 years ago, which he lit for us to demonstrate how it worked. He explained that each family at Flouquet had its own bread oven, although most of them have now disappeared. The people made bread about three times a month. No wonder they had to soak it (tremper) in the soup.
Denis bakes all the bread for the annual fête at Espinas, which takes place this weekend. Since 700 people turn up for the evening repas champêtre, that’s some task. While he baked some croissants for us, we went down to the lavoir for the next attraction.
Nicole told us, as she does every year but it’s always fascinating, how she helped her grandmother to do the family’s washing. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into detail. She was convinced, though, that the whites were whiter than they are today, even with all our sophisticated washing machines and soap powders. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll be swapping any time soon.
An anecdote that I hadn’t heard concerned a young woman of the hamlet who was engaged to be married. She prepared her trousseau, including exquisitely monogrammed sheets, etc. The day before the wedding, she decided to call it off for reasons that remain unclear. She and her former intended remained unmarried for the rest of their lives.
First end of an era
Gilles Sicart, a poet and writer, who was also brought up at Flouquet, spoke about how life was there 60 or so years ago. At that time, there were about 60 inhabitants who lived off about 80 hectares of land. This was subsistence agriculture. You grew enough for the family to live on, with perhaps a small surplus. You made a few extra francs by selling soft cheese at the market in Saint-Antonin.
Gilles pointed out the number of meules (millstones) dotted about. Many families had their own threshing floor, which they meticulously cleared of grass before spreading out the heads of corn. The meule was then attached to a cow or an ox, which was driven in a circle over the corn. One of the younger family members had to run behind the animal with a suitable container to collect the precious dung that they spread on the fields.
It’s easy to romanticise this existence, which must have been tough. If you were in trouble, you only had the neighbours to help. But, listening to Gilles, Nicole and Denis, I realised that these people are the last witnesses of a way of life that persisted for centuries and has gone forever. The next generation will know it only by hearsay.
Second end of an era
The people of Flouquet have been welcoming the Espinas walkers for 15 years or so. Sadly, this year is the last time. They have grandchildren and other summer commitments that prevent them from doing it anymore. Merci, Nicole, Denis et Gilles for the glimpse you gave us into the history of your hamlet.
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