La Ferme Musicale

La Ferme Musicale is made up of Vincent, Ursula and their two daughters, 14 and 19. The small organic farm hosts workshops, and groups of children and families to see how food is grown and to get a taste of music from around the world.

Vincent and Ursula met in Indonesia, while backpacking through Asia. Ursula is a cooking teacher from Switzerland, with a graying pixie cut and a perma-smile. Ursula doesn’t walk around the farm, she power-walks.  When a customer stops by the farm store to pick up a plateau of peaches, she runs from place to place. Slightly obsessive compulsive, she works us hard but never harder than she works herself. Just like Stephanie the honey farmer, a woman’s work on the farm is never finished.

The other half of the farm is Vincent, a professional percussionist. He makes guitars, maracas, and drums from homegrown gourds of all sizes, which litter every available space of the veranda and music rooms (‘Batons de pluie a vendre -bon marche-resultat guarantie‘). Summer is by far his busiest season for concerts all over the region. When Vincent picked us up from the village train station with a boyish grin I thought, “Yes, this is going to be great, we lucked out again.” But things were not to be that simple. Vincent can be charming, but he needs Ursula’s help to find the dish towels, and probably the dishes too. He likes to take naps by the poolside, lathered in suntan oil.  It didn’t take us long to realize that he is more than a little tired of WWOOFers, these young strangers who traipse through his house all summer long, disorganizing his CD collection or dripping peach juice all over the pool deck. I’m sure he is painfully aware that this free labor allows them to keep their shared business going. At first it wasn’t fun to feel like unwanted house guests, but with daily dinner conversation over good food we are getting to know and trust each other, like the slow release of a clenched fist.

Perhaps of all the family members I like the farm’s Labrador best. Boogie is blacker than the night and likes to buck her nose under our restive elbows, demanding table scraps. Hardly ever successful, she bucks on, undaunted. Every night, Vincent condemns her with a sharp, “Boogie, mais arrête! Combien de fois est ce que je t’ai dis?,” as if a simple scold can be used to reason with a hungry dog. There is also a mean orange cat who does nothing but sleep and glare at us, clearly impressed with herself for being able to put up with it all.

On the bee farm, we were part of the family and work was secondary, now we are here only to work and are expected to give the family space to continue to live their lives. But neither Brett nor I have ever been afraid of hard work, so bring it on, I say. We eat our toast and homemade jam at 8 am sharp. Mornings are filled with weeding, peeling produce for jam, accompanying Ursula on trips to the dump or the bottling factory, sweeping, dusting, harvesting zucchinis, carrots, potatoes…

We arrived in the syrupy thick of peach harvesting,  fuzzy sun-kissed orange globes everywhere. Ursula takes hundreds of kilos to a nearby canning factory that turns them into bottles of delicious peach nectar. Whenever I get hungry before our very European and very late dinners, I’ll wander through the peach grove and scavenge for fallen or slightly bruised fruit. The light bump on their way down only makes them sweeter. At the table we eat peach tart, peach clafouti, peach compote with ice cream, peach jam with vanilla or coconut for breakfast, chicken with peaches and honeyed onions… Last night I dreamt that I was in a strange land where the peaches were as big as basketballs.

Once I spent a day and a half watering a grove of baby white peach trees, heaving the heavy hoses to the base of each tender plant. I would assume warrior pose while the tree drank its fill until my thighs burned like hold it no longer and I’d run off to see how the hose at the other end of the grove was carrying on. Just when I’d get in the swing of it I’d hear the ‘à table!’ call for lunch. We work hard and eat well, and in our free time we use the assez-functioning bicycles to explore the nearby beaches, Pyrenees Mountains and ancient cobblestone towns.

At the first chance I moved out of the house and into a tent near the orchard. I had missed sleeping outside, the chance to sleep with dreams scented by peach and fresh grass. At night I can hear Boogie on duty, making her nightly rounds through the orchard. The well-planned farm has some squat palms which remind me too much of India; one lovingly leans over the outdoor dinner table. The pre-pool shower is concealed inside a romantic grove of giant bamboo. Hidden inside, I look up and watch the graceful stalks sway between the liquid pieces of turquoise sky.

La chambre de musique

 

The farm regularly receives school visits from children of all ages. Last week we had two mornings of day-camp children, mostly 4 and 6 year olds, who all bounced off the bus in sun caps of shades of yellow, pink, and batman blue. Predictably, they instantly gravitate towards Boogie, who receives their sloppy caresses with panting grace. Brett led them on a hands-on tour, through the pumpkins and tomatoes, passing out leaves of menthe and verveine for them to rub and sniff. The chickens are always a hit. And then for the grand finale: potato harvesting! I love that kids find unearthing golden spuds just as miraculous as I do. After the tour the children pile onto benches to taste veggie quiche, peach tart and cold glasses of the pretty peach nectar. Snack is followed by Vincent’s clapping, drumming, singing music session, while the rest of us fall into the nearest chair.

The Final Harvest

“C’est sympa d’avoir des artistes chez nous!”  -Stephanie

During our last week at the bee farm it was less honey and more art! The family has a small summer cabin in a beautiful grove of acacias, but the cabin itself was filthy and the walls unfinished. Brett and I dusted and white washed the one room interior and then tossed around the idea of doing a mural on the outside. We only had a week, so something simple, natural. Giant wildflowers? After we showed her some sketches, Stephanie was in. Poppies! Si French, and they were everywhere on the hillsides, papery orange drops of delight. It was sad to say when we had to say goodbye to the joyful flowers, but to have turned a gray block of cement into something beautiful is like giving a handknit scarf to a cold stranger.

Les Coquelicots

We also replaced their roadside advertisement for honey which had broken in the wind last winter. This was a fun project Brett and I did side by side. We all agreed that it turned out better than the original.

Our last day at the farm we harvested honey! We cut into the slats with big knives, popping shavings of the falling honey comb into our mouths. The fresh honey melted on our tongues, leaving only the chew of soft wax behind. We ate so much sweet we felt slightly sick, but after about ten minutes we’d be reaching for another piece because it’s too pretty to resist, like eating liquefied stained glass.

After all the tops of the comb is opened, it is put into a machine that spins the comb at top speed and forces the honey out by centrifugal force. The honey poured out through a hole in the bottom, caramel colored and smelling like the heart of the summer forest. And just like that, our time in the fairy tale village of Treziers was over. We were heading south, to chase salty sea breezes.

To Go to the Ball

Kitty and I danced all the dances-” “-And Mary none!”  -Pride and Prejudice

Balls don’t really exist. Right? Yet last Friday night our beekeeping family went to a countryside barndance, or ‘un bal.’ I guess this French fairy tale paysage doesn’t let boring reality get in the way of pleasure filled evenings.  There are few things I liked better than dancing, I thought, and it had been so long since I’d had the chance! Brett and I excitedly scrubbed ourselves clean of the day’s grime and donned our swishiest skirts.

Set in a refurbished barn, the ball was in full swing when we arrived. Ignoring the tables laden with wine, cider, and clafouti, we wasted no time in kicking off our sandals. The the jaunty ecclectic band of bagpipes, drums, accordion, and a massive white tuba welcomed us onto the dance floor. Everyone was dancing, French, English, children and seniors. At the beginning of a new dance, the dispersed crowd would strain their ears to identify the beat. The few who knew the dance would lead off while everyone stared at their feet, memorizing the steps as quickly as they could so they too could join in. We danced Scottish jigs and Italian tarantellas, waltzes and spiraling line dances, until little Manon’s eyes started to glaze over and her giggling turned into sleepy whining. With a regretful look behind me at the swirling couples we ventured into the night towards the truck.  I could have danced all night, but I left happily grinning to have had the chance to dance at all. Besides, I knew how the fairy tale went, and the stroke of midnight was just around the corner.