Today we visited Benac, one of those small and almost picture-postcard-pretty villages outside Foix. I think it’s unlikely that too many horny-handed sons and daughters of toil live there these days. Too many freshly painted facades and cheery boxes of geraniums at the windows. Too many sleek and highly-polished cars.
But once upon a time it was a busy working community. For the last few years, every summer the villagers here and in nearby hamlets arrange carefully constructed and dressed figures into appropriate corners of both village and countryside. These figures celebrate the way of life that persisted here – and throughout France – for centuries, and only died out some time after the First World War. They call the paths you follow to hunt out all these scenes Le Cami des Encantats: Occitan for something like the Enchanted Pathways. Come with me and take a look.
Welcome to le Cami des Encantats. Here’s the Garde Champêtre, paid by local farmers to keep local crops and stock safely in one place.
This is a World War 1 poilu (soldier), looking dazed but surprisingly clean after months in the trenches.
A wedding. Always above all a civil ceremony here in France, the mayor is wearing his ceremonial sash.
Retired at last. Why not watch the world go by in the village square?
…. though there’s usually baby-minding to be done as well.
Pudding basin haircuts weren’t just for English children
Then as now, the Tour de France, complete with the wearer of the maillot jaune, might go through the village
Baron Cyprien-Emmanuel-Marie de Bellissen-Bénac. The lord of the manor I think
A colporteur: a hawker, purveyor of books and other good things.
The mobile distillery or alambic came round every autumn to distill some of the fruit crops into potent alcohol. It still happens.
As in England, the pig played an important part in keeping the household nourished through the winter months.
An important craftsman: the nail-maker
This man’s work is indoors. He’s at the forge.
A woman at the village lavoir, or clothes washing place. Sinks are fed from a natural water source and sheltered by a roof. One of the centres of village life.
Log sawing: always important in this wooded region.
Now the French hunt for pleasure: then it was more sheer necessity.
Le pelharot: the rag and bone man.
L’estamarron: the tinker dips worn cutlery to bring it back to life
At the Romanesque church, the bellringer calls the people to worship.
And here’s the priest arriving.
If you work in the fields all day you need water. This young woman brings it to you.
This shepherd will spend the whole summer at high mountain pasture with his sheep.
This woman’s a seed sower.
And he’s preparing the soil for her.
Autumn. This young girl’s off to look for chestnuts and mushrooms to dry and store for winter.
And this is the view from the village.