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Friday, January 1, 2010

The Village of Bourré

We're here in a tiny cottage in Bourré (pronounced "Boo-Ray"). Bourré is such a teeny weeny village that it stretches only for 1.5 km from end to end. Little stone houses are built on both sides of its only main road. The little village is nestled into a small little limestone hillside. Off the main road, little streets snake upwards into the hillside with each small street bordered by even more stone houses.

The word "little" doesn't even begin to describe the streets. The width of each street is barely 2 m wide, and the stone houses are so closely spaced together that they would contravene every building code in Singapore... and we all know how closely houses are spaced in land scarce Singapore. Clearly, these streets were built for donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats to trot through... not 7-seater cars. Driving up to the cottage is an experience in itself.

I, Petunia, survived the streets of Bourré.

Many of the houses are built into the hillside... that is to say that some part of each house is a cave in the hillside. In the past, the area was a stone quarry for a type of limestone highly prized for castle building. It is a limestone that is soft when wet from within the hills, but after exposure to the sun and the wind, it dries into an elegant finish of brilliant white and durable hardness. Practically all the luxury castles of the French royalty in this region were built with this limestone. Every single stunning one from Chenonceau to Chambord.

I suppose this explains why houses in Bourré are built in such a haphazard manner. People probably found themselves an old quarried cave... made themselves a cosy home there, and then later extended their homes with stone walls and roofs of slate... and too bad when their houses invaded the streets and made them narrow.

I have seen no one in this village apart from the retired couple whose husband is paid to tend our garden, chop our firewood and spread salt on the driveway when it snows. The old gentleman invited us into his house and we learnt not to underestimate the size of what seemed to be a tiny house from outside. At the back of the old gentleman's garage, there were 3 huge caves used presently for wine, potatoes, carrots, bicycles, unwanted equipment and firewood.There were iron rings riveted into walls for holding cattle in place and even a stone trough for horses. In the roofs of the caves were roughly hewn holes, and step ladders were cut into the walls for people to climb down from the main house above... into the cave-barns.

There were even old chimneys and a huge oven cut into the limestone. The old gentleman explained that people did live in these caves before... and during the German occupation of France, people hid their young wives and daughters in these caves and covered the access holes on the house floor with carpet so that none knew of these secret places.

As we climbed higher up the hillside, we came to flat plains of neatly divided vegetable plots. I saw huge patches of broccoli and even leeks. I certainly wouldn't have guessed that vegetable patches would ever be found on the roofs of homes!! Rooftop gardens and Petunias like me seem to get along.

I keep wondering where all the people have gone because I see no one. Either they're all home and warm... or the village is little occupied because France has a problem with rural exodus where young people head to the cities to look for work. Of course, it is also X'mas and many people would celebrating X'mas with their families in warm living rooms beautifully decorated with saplings and mistletoe.

That's why I see no one.


Blur Ting said...

WOah, sounds like an interesting place. You sure know how to seek out these charming places.

petunialee said...

Ting - It was an interesting place indeed. But I suppose that in a different country, everything is interesting. Your biking trip to the same region was fascinating too!