Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.
to pinch, to lift, to steal
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Pirates of the Olive Plantation
For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!
Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.
It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)
I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.
Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).
Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said:
"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.
Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field.
More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.
"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).
"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?)
Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"
(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)
I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!
I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.
Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:
chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.
*Learn all about the cool name "Tanguy"--click here and scroll down to the story column. We met Tanguy via his partner, Aurélie. I wrote a poem about her here: "...Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul." Read the story-poem "Bohème" - click here.
un camping-car = camper van, RV
un olivier = olive tree
une créole = large hoop earring
une clope = cigarette
un séjour = a stay
le pissenlit = dandelion
la plante sauvage = wild plant
le plantain = known as ribleaf, lamb's tongue and other names
mangeable = edible
127 things to do in Paris: click here to read the latest reader-submitted tips!
Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety