In my Occitan class this week we read a piece by Gui Benoet about the knowledge of the natural world that older generations pass on to younger ones. Benoet comes from the Minervois area of the Languedoc, a beautiful, wild area of vines and rocky garrigue-covered hills with watercourses which rush water down from the mountains in winter but which are dry for most of the year. Some very good wine comes from this area. In the piece we read he was more concerned with the wild plants and animals which have provided food since people began living in these parts – in Occitan, las plantas, l‘ensalada del Causse, las bèstias salvatjas, la pesca e la caça (plants, salad of the Causse, wild animals, fish and hunting). And the traditional ways of cooking which have been lost to modernity, like the ast or spit turning in the fireplace. Benoet is sad that his grandchildren will not see him turning a hare on one of these. Although we know that hunting is still an important part of life here. We’ve eaten delicious wild boar given to us by friends here.
While we were talking about all this, several members of the class spoke about learning from older people where they could find certain plants, especially the wild salad plants of the garrigue and mushrooms in the woods. Benoet mentions several varieties of mushroom which grow locally, including las aurelhetas, chanterelles. One class member said that his father-in-law had taken him to show him special secret places which he knew were good for mushrooms, passing on the information, keeping it in the family. It made me think about how important it is to have this transmission of knowledge from one generation to another. It happens in the gardens too, where we see a lot of middle-aged people who have taken over their parents‘ gardens and use the knowledge built up over centuries and passed on to them, usually by their fathers (this is still a traditional society where men garden and women cook). We benefit from this because our neighbours tell us what we should be doing – although sometimes the advice can be contradictory!
We don‘t see many young people in the gardens, though, and I wonder how much is being passed on these days. Just as the Occitan langauge almost disappeared within a generation during the middle of the twentieth century, a lot of traditional skills and knowledge are in danger of being lost. Thinking about this, I was heartened to see in L‘Hérault, the magazine delivered to all the homes in the département, a photo of community gardens in La Paillade (a social housing estate in Montpellier). On ground surrounded by tower blocks there are plots of broad beans, leeks, herbs and a few flowers. Two local residents coordinate the activities in the parc de la Carriera. Local schoolchildren are brought to learn about gardening. And here, it seems, the older generation are passing on their knowledge to younger people. On the Montpellier Green Party website (here) there is an interview with one of the gardeners of La Paillade, a retired builder who says he is very pleased that he can advise young people and that they listen to his advice about gardening.
We had two bits advice today from our neighbour as he walked past. We should tie the leaves of the garlic, which are dying off now, into a knot to prevent bolting and to encourage the bulbs to swell. And we should put vinegar on our artichoke plants which have been infested with black fly.
garlic leaves tied in knots
Summer‘s here at last! The view from the chaiselongue: