Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The French and their Animals

I take a break from writing everyday at noon and go for a jog. On my first exploratory run-- checking out the town's layout-- I found myself in a gorgeous park with a pond and sloping green lawns. (Later in the week I would discover that the retired men congregate here at 3 pm, cigars in hand, for competitive games of boule.) I started to run around the lake, pleased at the tranquility of the place with weeping willows and flocks of ducks, and then the track turned to mud and I smelled something rancid. Before I stumbled into what appeared to be a petting zoo, the thick, musty odor announced the beasts. Long-haired billy goats with curling horns, thick-coated black sheep, all sorts of strange species of animals. Under the watchful eyes of parents, kids grabbed onto the fenceposts and pointed at the cute little babies. And as I kept jogging, I looked ahead and noticed a buzzard pecking at some bloodied carrion, and as I ran closer, I saw the unmistakable knifed hindquarters of a rabbit. (Some hunter's refuse.)

The whole episode struck me as representative of the strange relationship between French and beasts-- how the French show the same remarkable fondness for cooing over barnyard animals in these wooden pens (sometimes at weekend produce markets) as they do for slaughtering them.

Take, for example, Pierre's adorable father. He keeps as pets all sorts of flocks of chickens, ducks, and geese, and reveals enormous pleasure in constructing hen houses, gathering eggs, analyzing the birds' behavior (like Harry and Mom with "Braveheart"). The goose is now sitting on a nest of 14 eggs, and Pierre's father quietly explained how her mate, Coco, is sad and dejected that she stays indoors all the time. Coco will stand watch when she ventures outside "to take a bath" and ruffle her feathers. Then the shocker. Over Easter, I watched Pierre's father eat with relish (with the perfect manners and etiquette of a French gentleman) a plate of tender goose breast-- Coco's ill-fated son.

I guess it's pretty obvious that Americans are very separated from the source of their food. We see food in its shiny Supermarket packaging and have a total disconnect about its source. But eating pets?! Nope, we could never do that.


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