Not far away from us is an unusual village. From the road it looks like any other in the area, but looks are deceptive. If you walk around you will find, tucked away behind the village, families living in Mongolian style yurts, bivouacs and tee-pees.
After the Second World War this village was much like any other villages in this area. Its population started to drop. Young people moved off to the cities for work and the average age of the villagers started to rise. Then in the 1960's something odd happened. Hippies moved in. Why they chose this particular village, no one seems to remember. But once a few settled down, others followed. They didn't all arrive at once. A few came each year. Some came and went. Some came and stayed. Some of them even bought houses in the village. There was no real hostility, even though most of the newcomers were foreign. English, Dutch, and German hippies were a novelty in one of the poorest and most conservative region in France where life had changed little since the middle ages.
Why was there so little friction? Well for one thing the hippies' lifestyle was not so very different. They planted their own organic gardens which is what all the locals have been doing since time immemorial. For another thing they kept the village alive as so many others accelerated into decline. They had children, who ensured a thriving village school while other village schools declined and closed. They restored houses. But mostly they were much like the native villagers. They kept themselves to themselves, but were willing to lend a helping hand, they were not obsessed with the trapping of material success. They liked a party. It is true that they dressed a little oddly, but not nearly as oddly as those alien Frenchmen who lived in cities and wore suits and ties. Certainly they were far preferable to the Parisians who sometimes bought up property in the Languedoc. These Parisians were reputed to come in two main types: the ones who behaved like the ancient nobility, and the ones who behaved like American tourists in the third world. Hippies were far preferable to either type.
More and more hippies moved in over the years until they became a majority. In France this makes a big difference. Every village has its own mayor and council, and the mayors wield enormous power - much more than their counterparts in Britain. Electing a hippie mayor meant that the hippies could do more or less as they pleased. They seem to have used their power conservatively, for the only practical change has been the annual motorless vehicle race. On a certain day every year a long stretch of road running down to the village is closed off. Five miles up-hill from the village hundreds of people gather, bringing with them freewheeling home-made vehicles. These vehicles vary each year. This year we saw children's trolley carts, adapted boats, bicycles welded together, engineless cars, farm carts, and a range of indescribable constructions. Drivers and passengers dress up in whatever outfit takes their fancy: pantomime dames, superman, space aliens, engine drivers, whatever. My favourite this year was a small child decked out as a giant mushroom, gliding past on hidden roller-skates. It is not much of a race as the road is too narrow. Competitors set off one after another, a bit like bump races at Oxford and Cambridge, although the order is random so there is no way of telling who won when they reach the village. Although the "race" is not competitive, participants consider it acceptable to impede others by the use of water pistols and flower bombs.
The original hippies became mothers and fathers over thirty years ago. Their children are now grown up and have their own children, so the village is now flourishing with three generations of hippies. The children all speak perfect French, with the rich local accent. As everyone here says, you need at least two relatives in the graveyard before you're regarded as a local, so in a few more years the hippie families will be fully integrated. There is just one old man left whose family had always lived there. He lives in the middle of the village surrounded by hundreds of incomer families. He is respected as the village elder and seems happier than his contemporaries in other villages. His new neighbours join him at the war memorial for armistice day, and put chrysanthemums in the village graveyard for All Souls' Day. He joins them in the unconventional village fêtes - Bob Dylan, heavy metal, communal drumming, and fire-jumping at Midsummer. Dogs and animals run around on their own, safe in a society where everyone knows everyone else. As at all village fêtes, locals provide the food, the wine and the music. Inhibitions dissolve as the party stretch through the night and into the morning. Grandmothers dance with grandchildren, Youths fall over drunk. Hanky-panky takes place in barns. Its not exactly like the fêtes before the Second World War. But it's not that different.
JdeSt-F © 2004,2005.
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