Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Cabane de berger (the shepherd's wooden hut) photo by the Neurdein brothers. Here we have a slumbering sheepherder with his border collie and german shepherd (is it?) minding the troup. (When Mom sees this photo, she'll ditch her latest treehouse scheme... in favor of this fort-on-wheels with a nifty sliding door! Mom has had a hard time deciding where to anchor, here on the olive farm. This just may be the answer!)
un berger (une bergère)
: a shepherd, or shepherdess
la bergerie = sheep pen, sheepfold
Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence, in French: Download MP3 or Wav file
Le berger amène ses moutons dans la plaine. Cela s'appelle la transhumance.
The shepherd brings his sheep to the flatland. This is called "la transhumance".
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
A Modern Day Nomad
Returning home from the doctor's on Monday, we ran into a roadblock along our driveway. Dozens of sheep, great and small, were feasting on the grass beside the olive trees!
They're here! Hurry, get their picture! I said to Jean-Marc, who got out of our car to check the mail. Hurry! Before they wander off!
Having collected the courrier, Jean-Marc made his way up the crowded and bleating path. There were sheep everywhere: in the road, in the meadow, and in the trees (or nearly!). I watched, amazed to see the peaceful-looking animals rip off and devour the thorny stems of the bushes, enjoying them like chewy licorice sticks.
Driving cautiously in my husband's wake, I rolled down the window to get a better look at the troupeaux, which included several nursing lambs—agneaux—and even a few black sheep. I smiled thinking of their proverbial brothers and sisters (and a few of my own family members...).
As Jean-Marc advanced, a shepherd appeared on the restanque just above. The two men began a lazy conversation. I struggled to get within earshot, but it wasn't until the shepherd whistled—and a Border collie materialized—that the path instantly cleared of its four-legged traffic and I was able to pull my car over to the side of the road.
Jean-Marc, interested in some free soil amendment for his soon-to-be planted vines, was informing the berger about which pastures belong to us, and which were the neighbors'. As the men pointed and stretched their arms, measuring the expanse of the pâturage, I stole a closer look at the sheepherder.
He appeared to be in his early thirties, an unusual age for sheepherders, who, once upon a time, were either the very young or the very old (deemed useless to the family for anything but watching sheep!).
History had changed since the down-and-out times of early shepherding; it wasn't likely that this modern day berger was a burden to his family. Shepherds these days earn a living and, from all appearances, made enough to afford a smartphone!
Apart from the portable phone, I noticed the shepherd's tattered wooden cane, une houlette. It had the famous hook at the end, useful for freeing the hoof of a trapped sheep, one that has fallen from the path.
The shepherd tucked his canne under his arm, pausing to roll a cigarette as he listened to Jean-Marc. He was no ordinary shepherd, wearing a newsboy cap and a punk haircut. His short locks were punctuated by a single strand of braided hair that signaled nonconformist. Come to think of it, weren't punk rockers noncomformists who aspired to be nomads? This shepherd was the real deal, a living, breathing wanderer.
"Tomorrow, I'll park on the other side of the field," the berger informed Jean-Marc, pointing to his beat-up shepherd wagon. It was one of those classic Estafettes, the kind Jean-Marc's grandmother drove during WWII, as she peddled house linens to the Pieds-Noirs in Morocco.
"Ça marche," Jean-Marc waved goodbye to the sheepherder, before getting back into our car.
I still hadn't had a word with the shepherd, though I was itching to know him. What a fascinating story he must have to share. But I had a feeling he was a private type—he reminded me so much of my rebel sister-in-law. And though I had so many questions, (just as I had for her), I didn't want to put him out and, admittedly, I didn't want to say something stupid or square to someone so authentic.
But then, wasn't I a little authentic too? How many times had I let my perceived squareness keep me from befriending the nonconformists? But I wasn't so straight as that. Gone were the perfectly made-up face and fluffy hair. With a bandaged nose* and, wearing a sweater with holes (my dear mom's, for comfort), I might pass for a bohemian, like him.
Before putting the car into gear, I stuck my tattered nose out the window. "Nice dog!" I offered, admiring the hardworking Border collie, and noble chien de berger. "Is she good at what she does?"
A smile now stretched across the nomad's face, revealing a row of teeth as wandering as his sheep.
"Elle est la meilleure!" the berger replied, his enthusiasm as endearing as his smile. "If one of these moutons ended up on that far off colline (with this, he stretched forth his cane, waving it for effect), Mieszka (mee-esh-ka) would be there in a flash, to steer her home."
It didn't take much, after all, to connect with the mysterious nomad who was so different from this heart-on-sleeves homebody. I had thought I had nothing to say, and yet, venturing the question, I was rewarded by the friendly, universal connection.
To comment on this story, click here. Keep the conversation going by sharing your own stories about connecting with people so seemingly different than yourself. And what about Border collies and the intelligence of dogs? Notice any other themes in today's essay? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, in the comments box.
*bandaged nose: the stiches from the biopsy were taken out on Monday. Good news: this time the results came back benign, and not bcc!
Read about Jean-Marc's grandmother in the story "bouder" (to pout). It was Jean-Marc's grandmother who gave me some of the best mariage advice, namely ne jamais bouder! Click here for that story and the scene of the grandmother peddling linens from a military supply vehicle....
le courrier = mail
le troupeau = herd
un agneau =lamb
le mouton = sheep (some fun & colorful "mouton" expressions, such as "revenons à nos moutons, here)
la restanque = a kind of terrace held by a wall of stacked rocks
le pâturage = field of grasses from which animals graze
la canne = cane
le pied-noir = French citizen who lived in Algeria before independence. The term included citizens, like my mother-in-law and her family, living in other North African countries, such as Morocco, during or after wartime.
ça marche = that'll work
le chien de berger = sheepdog, such as a Border collie
elle est la meilleure = she's the best
la colline = hill
Gus was so suprised and touched by the messages you left him for his 88th birthday. Gus writes (in typical Gus "all caps"):
IF I REALLY TRIED, I COULD COME UP WITH A FLOWERY PHRASE TO TELL YOU ABOUT MY FEELINGS FOR THE BIRTHDAY AFFAIR. THE BEST ONE IS A VERY SINCERE "THANKS"..
Gus is pictured, above, with daughter Mary, who is, Gus tells us, "MY ONE FLOWER AMONG FIVE SONS".
Marguerites in the lavender town of Sault. Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign up, here, to receive French Word-A-Day in your in-box.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety