Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Snippits from Life in France - "Ring them Bells"

“ Home is the wallpaper above the bed, the family dinner table, the church bells in the morning, the bruised shins in the playground, the small fears that come with dusk, the streets and squares and monuments and shops that constitute one’s first universe”.  Henry Anatole Grunwald.

The rhythmic chiming of clocks and church bells immediately transports me back to my pre-digitalised childhood - the days when mantle and grandfather clocks were wound by hand and church bell ringers weren't almost extinct. A simple, secure childhood filled with love, adventure and laughter. 

Throughout my travels across the length and breadth of France the sound of church bells has been a scarce occurrence, so it was quite perplexing to be welcomed to My French Folly by pealing church bells at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night - our first night in residence.

Amidst the dust, rubble and disappointment that greeted us courtesy of My Man on the Ground, (the scoundrel parading as our renovation project-manager) I felt unexpectedly at peace hearing these bells. By habit I counted the chimes. 3 different sized bells were identified without a discernible pattern to their ringing. ......100, 101, 102....... When the last bell was finally struck, a lingering, deep, resonance echoed across the valley.

The village's own 19C Notre Dame
By the next day we realised that our watches could be abandoned.  The bells rang 8 times on the hour, 4 times every half hour and come 7 o'clock, (a.m. or p.m.) the bells went bezerk. An irritation for some, reassuring for others.

Inquiries about the origin of this 12-hourly phenomenon usually met with similar responses. " I don't know" or "it just is". My curiosity was eventually satiated months later when exploring the remains of the 12C Church, (affectionately know as La Vieille Eglise), with a local historian.  No bells can be heard here now - the steeple collapsed a few centuries ago as most of the footings of the church subsided into the soft earth of a reclaimed swamp.

The remains of the village's La Vieille Eglise

The 7 o’clock ritual was a call to prayer. Nestled in a valley at the foot of the village, it is understandable why the ringing of La Vieille Eglise bells was so prolonged and varied – the sound had to carry up to the surrounding houses, across fields, and through the forests to neighbouring hamlets. Quite some distance.

Today the chiming emanates from the grand 19 C church, perched in the centre of the village directly opposite My French Folly. With only 10% of the community attending church regularly and the proliferation of timepieces, from watches and mobile phones to almost every technical household item, it is heartening that this centuries old tradition continues.

A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it. A song's not a song 'til you sing it. Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay. Love isn't love 'til you give it away. Oscar Hammerstein 11
Inside the remains of La Vieille Eglise