Tag Archives: self-sufficiency

How Vivid the Painted Rainbow Stripes Were

Vanessa and Emmanuelle

Me (bottom) and Emmanuelle. France, 1976

There were rainbow stripes painted on the upright canes. So pretty. Magical almost to our young eyes. There were four canes, wedged firmly into the ground, and they formed the four corners which supported the makeshift roof. The whole thing was no wider than the width of my arms stretched out, or rather Emmanuelle’sĀ arms, as she was the one that took the measurement. And probably half the depth, but I can’t be sure because we didn’t measure that. The canes were of the type that might be used in gardening, for plants to know which way to grow, thicker though than the ones my Dad used for his tomato plants. The sides and roof had been made from branches and grasses that must have been found close by. It was difficult to tell though where the structure ended and natural growth started, because they had become intertwined over time.

We pushed through the growth and sat inside. There was just enough room for the four of us to kneel in there. We looked up at the sky through the gaps in the branches of the roof. We knew there would be much fun and adventure to be had here, but not today. Today was for sitting and looking up and around and feeling happy at our new discovery. We imagined children such as ourselves must have made it, maybe with grown-up help too. We were sure it must have been made for playing in though, we couldn’t imagine grown-ups having a use for it. This was a place for make-believe.

It must have been there for some time because nobody lived in that part of the mountain any more apart from us. It had somehow withstood the adverse weather that is prone up there, and still it stood. Perhaps more surprising was how vivid the painted rainbow stripes were still. Yellow. Red. Orange. Green. Blue. It aroused the curiosity of young minds. We wondered whether the children would come back sometime to play in it again. Or just to see if it was still here. Perhaps we would get to meet them. What fun that would be. New people to play with. But maybe they were too old to play now.

We had ventured a little further than usual today, probably further than we were allowed if we were to check. Sometimes it’s best not to check.

This is my third memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the first two parts, they are here: A year in the French Alps


When Your Greatest Treat is Butter

Packet of French butter

This is my second memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the first part, it’s here – Sardine Cans In the Dirt
In my memory it was once every three or four weeks, but it may have been more, or less, often. Probably not at all in the depths of winter. The men in our house, of which there were two, would make the long walk down our mountain to the nearest village at the bottom. They would go on market day. They had no money, but they would take things we had grown or produced on our mountain to trade for things that we couldn’t produce ourselves. They would leave very early in the morning and come back late in the evening. The main thing they would bring back was flour so that we could make bread. Enough flour to bake a fresh loaf of bread every day until their next trip. There was always a treat for the adults in their haul; coffee, and for the next few days after a market trip, the morning air would be filled with the scent of coffee to complement that of the freshly baked bread.

I don’t recall what other items were in their bags, because the only thing us children really cared about, the one thing we would be most anxiously waiting for when they returned, was butter. We made goat’s cheese on our mountain, but not butter. We knew that the morning after one of their trips, and only that one morning after, our freshly baked breakfast bread would be spread generously with the deliciously rich, sweet, golden butter. When your daily food is simple and basic, then butter becomes a luxurious treat.

I would sit with the other children around the huge solid wood slab table, bathing in the glow of the morning sun that crept in through the windows. We sported huge smiles, and our wide excited eyes would be drilling into my mother’s back, willing her to hurry up as she cut up the rustic loaf, then unwrapped the paper from around the heavenly gold bar, and slathered it over the slices. A plate piled high would be placed in the middle of the table; in my mind, it radiated light. Within minutes it was gone, and we would be on with our day.


Butter Photo attribution – By Lionel Allorge (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons