It was an interesting evening Chez Jo. The man himself appeared a couple of times during the afternoon, but at 86 years old he leaves the management to others and seems to take responsibility for the chooks. The loo is covered with posters of past events Chez Jo, including performances by various visiting bands and by Jo himself on the accordion. After supper, he brought out his instrument, his son grabbed a guitar, and everybody started dancing, including the dog.
We were eight at dinner, and the conversation was fast and furious, too fast for me, particularly with the accent in these parts, but it touched on a serious issue that is always just beneath the surface in France. I have encountered it many times.
There is a real fear, justified or not, I don't know, that France's very identity is threatened by the unwillingness of some immigrants and their descendants to participate in mainstream society and become "French". The perception is that they remain in enclaves with their own cultural and religious practices, and that with their higher birth rate, they will in time outnumber the secular French and threaten their very existence.
There is another problem in France, which also concerns the national identity. It was also evident Chez Jo.
No one in the village is employed. The people who drop into the bar are retired or on social assistance. And the same is true all over France. In countless villages, I have passed boarded up shops and factories that used to sustain the community.
In the capitalistic world, we let the villages die if they can't survive on their own. But in France, I suspect that rural life has been heavily subsidized in recent years because it is the real France, and the government cannot afford to let it die. But how can it afford to continue to support it?
Leaving the gite just after eight, I took the GR straight up the hill, cutting the road several times as it looped its way up to the Col Portet-d'Aspet, and then I climbed even higher as the path clung perilously to the side of the hill while the road wound on down. Three hours later I arrived in Juzet-d'Izaut where I stopped for lunch.
Then I climbed again up to the next pass, the Col des Ares. This time when the GR left the road up a steep slope, I decided to continue on the road. It was a seven-kilometre steady climb. And then down a Roman road to Saint-Pe-d'Ardet, our stop for the night. This road was a fine example of the Romans' engineering skill. In places, the original interlocking stones were still in place.
It was an interesting gite, an old farmhouse still undergoing extensive renovation. One of the workers was an Englishman, a carpenter, who lived in the nearby village of Lourde (without an "s"). He said he has no trouble finding work in France because he gets more done in a day than his French counterparts who tend to take long lunch hours.
In the evening, we strolled into the village. A gospel choir was making a recording in one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches I have ever seen. Apparently, the paintings above the altar had been discovered about 40 years ago. They had been plastered over.
This was not your typical French choir. They were all young singers and the sound was quite beautiful. Their director made dramatic cat-like gestures to draw out their voices, and they responded in kind, shaping the notes with their hands. They were feeling the music. Unfortunately, as I took the picture below, the camera made an audible ping, and he had to begin the recording again. But he didn't insist that I erase the picture.