26th August: I wake to find an overcast day and, as the picture indicates, signs of an approaching autumn. The temperature has dropped to a sticky 28C. As the day progresses, this will rise but the clouds will not dissipate. I find this to be the perfect time for visiting chapels. Armed with a small but handy booklet highlighting a number of, as yet, unseen constructions of a religious nature, I choose Eyragues: they have a church, two chapels and an excellent cake shop
Eyragues is en fete: the fete of St. Symphonium. Readers might think that a saint’s day is the perfect time to visit venues of a spiritual nature. In France, a saint’s day is yet another excuse to shut everything. Like the church. And the cake shop. And judging by the hoards jammed in behind the barricades, it’s clearly the day of the bull. The poor taunted bull.
Sheep-like, I follow a passing crowd uphill. Like a human transhumance, we are headed in the direction of who knows where. I have my suspicions and, of course, we duly arrive at the arena. I push my way to an upper circle and watch as a solitary taureau is drawn into the midst of a multitude of adolescent gladiators.
The youth of Eyragues wave bandanas of various colours and shout abuse at the confused animal. The brave bull runs hither and thither as the lads try to touch the space between its horns. This is practice for later years when they will try to grab the ribbons from a similar spot on an older animal. For now, it’s just a prank, though not for the bull
As everything is closed and my car is temporarily trapped within a confusion of barricades, I wander back into the village. I locate myself behind the relative safety of some iron grids and wait for the next stage. More youths, sporting the neckerchiefs of their team, stand on the wrong side of the barricades. Beautiful female stick insects wait in huddles. They also wear bandanas, the colour depending on which young man they’re currently supporting. From somewhere, comes the sound of a gunshot followed by pandemonium: ‘Il arrive’, the cry goes up and people scatter as the bull runs through the village streets. It’s chased by almost every man in Provence including a group of lads who, inexplicably, have brought along a giant wheelie bin.
I escape the madness and follow a tortuous route to Verquieres. There are no chapels in Verquieres but my booklet advises me there is a magnificent pigeonnnier (which is French for dovecote). Naturally, Verquieres is shut. To be truthful, it doesn’t look as Verquieres has ever been open but, being an intrepid explorer, I manage to locate the only living being in the place. I ask him if he knows where the pigeonnier is and he starts laughing. I don’t suppose they get many visitors here. He says it’s very hard to find but gives me directions. I follow the directions and end up down the bottom of someone’s drive where I find a pyramid. As you do.
I also found this lion. After that, I found the owner of the garden I was taking photos in. Unsurprisingly, he’d come out to see who I was and what I was doing. He was very nice and told me the pigeonnier was in the neighbour’s garden next door.
The neighbour wasn’t quite as pleasant. I rang the bell on her gate which seemed to be the signal for the commencement of horrendous barking. I looked through a hole in the wall and saw the hound of the Baskervilles galloping towards me. Making slow progress behind the slavering beast came a small, cross-looking woman who opened the gate about half an inch. ‘Bonjour, my good woman, any chance of seeing the pigeonnier?’. If you thought the first man was surprised at the purpose of my visit to Verquieres, you should have seen her face. She regarded me as if I was as mad as the hound which, by this time, was frothing at the mouth. The gist of her reply was ‘no chance’. She must have seen the look of disappointment on my face as she clearly felt obliged to remind me that the dog wasn’t on a lead. Personally, I don’t think a lead would’ve done much. A ball and chain might just have worked. I was persistent. A compromise was reached: she would open the gate three inches and whilst she was busy kicking the dog in the jaw, I would push my camera through the opening and take a quick snap. Before the dog did likewise. I hope, dear reader, you appreciate my efforts to bring the unknown into your homes.