Friday, May 13, 2011


There are certainly some interesting people in the world.
Two nights ago, a guy stopped by the house for dinner that Vincent had met earlier that day; he's one of those people you can bring gold/ coins/ precious stones to, and he'll (possibly) buy them from you). (Tom and Léo brought some things they had and ended up with about 150 euros each- not too bad (though who knows whether it was actually worth more)). Apparently Vincent chatted with him, found out he would be passing by the house on his way to his next destination, and invited him to stop by. And this is one of those guys who likes to talk and likes to tell stories; fortunately, he's also one of those people who is fun to listen to. So, apparently he was in the army when he was young; since then, he worked as head of security for Jacques Cousteau for 11 years (apparently Cousteau's boat would sometimes be attacked, since I guess on some of his dives he ended up with some pretty valuable things); he also has spent long periods of time in South America, both traveling and looking for gold. Basically, his life has been ridiculous and awesome. Most of the stories he told seemed more or less genuine; some had the aura of myths about them (like the story about his friend, who was working on a boat for some scientists; apparently they lowered a giant metal cage with meat in it into a trench in the ocean; when they pulled it up (and this happened multiple times) the bars of the cage were all twisted and destroyed; apparently one time, a foot-long tooth was also embedded in the metal of the cage).

Then there's Vincent's good friend Hervé, who lives (for the moment) nearby. It's clear these two guys are cut from the same cloth; travelers/ adventurers (Hervé once spent 2 years in a Moroccan prison); genuine (such that if they're displeased with something, you'll find out- this hasn't happened firsthand, but I've heard enough stories from Vincent to understand that it's the case). And apparently, they both performed in the past; Hervé apparently was a professional dancer in the Opera (and I don't know if I mentioned this, but Vincent once spent 6 months traveling up the coast of Italy with a friend, paying for his entire trip by being a street performer as one of those robot mimes).

Speaking of Vincent, some more about this guy. It's clear (and he states this himself) that the life he's lived is a world apart from one like mine. Didn't go to college, left his family when he was about 16, spent many years herding sheep up and down the Alps, traveled around alone and eventually with Véronique and his sons (it's only the last 3 years that they've been "permanently" settled. And now, he runs a farm in a small valley in France!

In terms of interesting people, I also had my first-ever encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses yesterday. I was in the living room, and I heard a knock that I thought was from Véronique upstairs. Then I heard her calling out to me softly; I went to the base of the stairs where she whispered down to me "Tell them I'm not here!" Momentarily confused, I realized that there were two people at the door. I proceeded to talk to them for about 15-20 minutes. They seemed nice (it was an older woman and and older man; the man dominated the conversation, however); interested in why I was in France and how I had come to the Valley of the Desges (the small river that runs through the property), which he referred to as one of the most hidden corners of France; and relatively intelligent. What bothered me was that while we were having a nice chat in French about the area and my travels, I knew it was eventually going to turn to religious proselytizing. Which of course it did, but from an interesting perspective; he read several passages from the Bible but phrased them in terms of environmental ideas, which was a relatively new thing for me in terms of religious ideology.
One good thing that did come about (besides the ability to practice my French) was that the conversation made me think about what my response would be in the future to his question, "Are you a believer?" ("Est-ce que vous êtes croyant?") I hemmed and hawwed and he didn't wait for more than that. But I now have a response that I feel good about. (Not sure this is the right medium to explain my religious and spiritual beliefs, however).

Yesterday we moved the sheep again, from where they had been pastured up by the nearby village of Pébrac to a lower field near Hervé's house. As before, I was in charge of bringing up the rear (last time, it was me at the back with Gaia, the dog, and Vincent following in the car and shouting instructions to Gaia out the window). However, this time Vincent had to take a different route, so it was going to be just me at the back. Didn't start out great- one thing that I absolutely had to make sure of was that Gaia didn't run to the front of the herd, because if she did so the sheep would scare and either turn around or leave the route they were supposed to be following. About 2 minutes in 3, 3 sheep went to the left of a fence, and I had to get them to go on the right side of it; while I was doing that, Gaia ran to the front. Wasn't much of a problem until we got to one of the lower fields; the sheep were supposed to consider straight on, but they went right into a field (apparently the same thing that had happened last year). Part of the problem was apparently that they were quite hungry (having stayed at the previous pasture a bit too long), so any time they saw a nice field with long grass, they went right for it. Eventually, Vincent showed up, and he, Gaia and I managed to get the sheep out of the field and back on the path. Things were going well again when one of the sheep saw another field and jumped over a barbed wire fence to get to it.
This demonstrated well the widely-held idea that sheep will follow each other blindly. I knew of this stereotype (if one can call it that), but I had never really seen it in action before coming to La Combe des Saveurs. It's really fascinating- along the route to the lower pasture, sheep would stop along the side to nibble at grass; however, as soon as they perceived that most of the herd was passing them, they would run to rejoin it. And Véro and Vincent told me about one time when they had a large herd (on the order of 1 or 2 thousand) in the Alps; there was a cliff, and one sheep spooked and ran off it- and about 300 followed before they were able to head them off. It's clearly something hardwired into their biology, the importance of staying with the herd. And if one gets separated- especially if it's a lamb- it's a huge headache to capture it again, because it will just run all over the place if it doesn't have a herd to follow.
Anyway- so the rest of the herd followed the first sheep into this field, knocking over a section of the barbed wire to get in. At this point, it was just me and Gaia at the back again (Vincent had gone to get the tractor to bring up the rear). However, I was able, with Gaia, to get the herd back onto the path on my own, and we finally made it to the lower pasture. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself, and pretty exhilarated with the whole sheep-herding thing. Not that I would ever want to keep sheep myself- seems like more work than it's worth; plus I would feel bad about selling the meat, and it's even more work to keep them for sheep's milk.

As I've mentioned before, Vincent likes to talk about his life philosophies. Once, he was telling me about the virtues of being alone for long periods of time (which he of course did while working as a shepherd; there would be months at a time when the only other human contact he had was a bi-monthly decent into a small village to buy supplies). He estimates that in his 45 years, 10 of them have been spent in total solitude (I think it might be a bit less, but still clearly huge amounts of time alone). And I realized that as far as I can remember, I don't think I've ever spent even one day without communicating/ interacting with another person. Before college, I lived at home, and if I was alone in a day I still had the phone/ internet; at college, there was always someone around, and even now, traveling by myself, I'm either in a city, seeing people I know, or at a farm with the people that live at that farm. I have resolved to try to spend at least a few days totally alone (probably on some sort of camping trip) in the near future.

Speaking of things I haven't done, one thing I've realized for a while is that I've never had a real adventure. This, I think, is pretty typical, if going by my definition: for it to be a real adventure, one's life or well-being can't be totally assured. I'm not talking about super-dangerous things, but an adventure has to have much less of a support net than one is/ I am used to. An example would be backpacking through non-First-World countries. Problem is, I think it would be pretty hard for me to set out on a trip with that level of uncertainty or danger; however, the idea of living my life without ever having a real adventure, of course, is insupportable. But can you really "plan" to have an adventure? (I suppose planning one is kind of antithetical, but, as with the example above, I think it can be done). And an unplanned adventure, even if it's more genuine, is probably more dangerous too. We'll have to see what life serves up, and maybe shake things up a bit if it doesn't look like adventure is on the menu. (That metaphor didn't really work as well as I wanted it to. I was also trying to work in something about "spicing up the stew." I'll work on it).

About to arrive in Bordeaux to travel around with my parents for about a week, then back to the farm (as I said to Véro and Vincent, I'm quite glad I'm going back, otherwise the last few days would have been really sad! This way, I don't have to think about leaving the farm for good until after I see my parents).

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