Friday, February 25, 2011

After Roussillon

Strangely, the visit to the ochre deposits was not the highlight of my day. The highlight was an unexpected event that happened in the middle of the infuriating “replace the gas tank” mission Tom and I had set out on. The tank in one heater had run out and the other heater needed to be set up. Our landlady told us the local Tabac store here carried the gas so Tom ran out in the morning to grab one. The store is only open 8-12 so you must be quick. He lugged the old tank down (It is roughly 1/3 larger than propane tanks at home) and discovered they did not stock the gas. This began our quest for gas.

We decided to leave the kids to do their schoolwork while the two of us nipped out quickly. Since it was so easy to replace, we thought we’d just to head down to the slightly larger town of Saint Didier nearby where the stores opened in the morning AND the afternoon. Stores here keep the oddest hours. Everyone closes for lunch and I mean everyone. Even bakeries that sell food close at lunchtime. Figure that one out. Lunch can mean one to two hours but generally two and sometimes longer as we’ve come across stores that are closed when their posted hours clearly state they should be open. It’s like one big federal government union. So off we went to Saint Didier only to find that although stores on either side of the Tabac were open, the Tabac was closed. A Tabac is like a general store. Fine.

We debated the merits of trying the next small town over, Pernes Les Fontaines but decided we were better off driving the 10 minutes into Carpentras, the closest larger city. We headed for a gas station Tom had seen but when we began unloading the tank from the back of the car, the gas attendant (yes they still have those) shook his head. I asked where we might find the correct gas and he pointed us off towards Pernes Les Fontaines.

Carpentras is the most frustrating city to get around. Each little village has only one exit road out of the city and the city has a one way circle road around its old town centre. It takes about five minutes to circle the town so if you miss your exit you get another lovely circle tour. We have made this circle tour many…many times. The Pernes exit was one exit before where we entered so we circled the city and were off. We found the gas station quite easily a couple of miles along the Pernes road even though all the directions had been issued in French. It was obvious they didn’t carry the correct tank even as we pulled in but we stopped to ask anyway. The attendant here pointed us back to the grocery store in Carpentras. We headed back to the grocery store gas station to find they didn’t have the correct tank either. This attendant had no idea where we could find our extremely rare gas tank replacement.

Tom had one of his “feelings” we should head back towards Pernes again so we did, after circling the lovely city centre, of course. We were zipping along when I spotted an orange tank at a station by the side of the road! Hallelujah! Turns out our orange tank variety is old and has been replaced by the newer red tank. The attendant was quite knowledgeable and showed us the new connection technique. As you have all probably guessed, every station we’d been to had carried the red tank but let us not get our noses out of joint because if we hadn’t spent the last hour chasing after the correct colour of gas we wouldn’t have been trapped behind the sheep drive!

Yes, isn’t that exciting? As we headed back to Venasque we took a wrong turn and that led us to a road with hundreds of goats and sheep. A woman in a bright yellow jacket stopped our car and told us we could try to drive through if we followed the car ahead very closely so no animals would get between us. Tom did a marvelous job of driving closely to the car ahead but it didn’t work anyway and half way through a tiny gap opened and IN slipped a sheep; fast little buggers. The woman came over looking apologetic and told us we were lost. We’d have to just follow along for the next 15 minutes until they turned off the road. She looked as though she thought we were going to get upset about this but as I had just spent the last five minutes excitedly laughing, shrieking and filming farm animals, I wasn’t too torn up about it.

She told us they were from Avignon and were taking the animals to La Drome which is about 100 km north of Orange, I think. I had to look it up on a map and there were several Dromes. Anyhow, they take about 2 weeks and sleep in a camper along the way (the people not the animals). It sounded like grand fun to me.

They had a dog with them who obviously relished his job. He ran about chasing errant sheep and goats back onto the road. This was a fulltime job because just as he’d get one group back to the herd, another group would be drifting off to the side. The dog looked a lot like Jack and I bet Jack would just LOVE this dog’s job too! I imagine the farmers dread this time of year because the animals snack on the farms as they move. The dog and people do their best to keep the animals out of the orchards and vineyards but the goats and sheep are slippery devils and if you divert your attention for even a moment ONE of them is snacking on SOMETHING. It was hilarious to watch. They had little lambs and kids as well. They scampered along at the back of the pack. They were so adorable! When they finally did turn off, we were sad to see them go, leaving us free to get on home.

The video below on the left shows the race between us and the sheep. For awhile it looks like we are pulling ahead but then in the end the sheep win. The second video is of the lambs at the end of the pack and the dog. He is quite gentle herding the little lambs but he gets more aggressive with the older ones or slower ones.


Steve said...

I have a feeling Nancy is very envious. Between Greek bunnies and French sheep, you have had your share of "animal swarms". I can only imagine all of your shrieks and giggles! said...

Loved the sheep stories and the pictures...Off to be recorded again! Love Mom

Rhonda Staples said...

So I'm wondering, are you conversing with the gas attendants and the shepherds all en francais?! And isn't it glorious to see dogs trained and working and happy! I just love that. from Rhonda