Tomorrow, early afternoon, we, Raegan and I, will be taken via car with Aman driving us to Gwenole and Costina’s, who live with their child, Mona, and their Mom. They have a small garden, an orchard of cherry trees and, perhaps, other trees, along with some chickens, a goat, and sheep. We’ll be assisting with gardening and building their bread-oven building.
I think it will be fun and Raegan and I will have a room to ourselves. Nice.
description: Sleep in cottage room attached to house with separate entrance.
length of stay: 14 days
job duties: weeding, gardening, carpentary, general assistance, bicycling to fill milk bottles
Since Aman, who we were staying with for a week in Yvignac-La-Tour, France, knew Gwenole, the next person who we were going to stay with, he gave us a ride to Gwenole’s house and farm, an acre of land that contained a small garden, and an an orchard.
Journal excerpts – Svignac, France Saturday afternoon
Raegan and I are at 22250 Sevignac, France, wwoofing at Gwenole and Costina’s house and small plot of land, which includes a small orchard of fruit trees–cherry trees, apple trees, pear trees–and a greenhouse, a garden, sheep, a goat, a cat with kittens. Gwenole and Costina have a little girl named Mona, a curious child who is inside our room, a guest room that is attached to the house, but has a separate entrance.
During apple season, Gwenole takes the apples and uses some of them to make cider. He has a small building attached to the house with some equipment to process and make the cider, along with a row of bottles sitting upside down on a shelf that he built.
Today, I made a blunder. During a break for cider in the afternoon, I uncorked a
green glass bottle and it overflows all over the table, feeding half of it to the table, the earth, and the creatures underneath who are having a cider party, drunk insects on holiday.
Wednesday work & cherry liquor
Around noon, at Gwenole’s and Costina’s, we weeded, then picked cherries. In the afternoon, Fabian, a farmer from nearby, picked us up, drove us to his farm, where we planted leeks, harvested potatoes, milked a cow, rode horses, then poured glasses of walnut liquor and another type of liquor, then cherry liquor, which is 50% alcohol.
Then, he fed us dinner–salad, bread with butter, cheese that he made, salami, with a dessert of ice cream, coffee, and hot chocolate with bio (organic) cacao powder and fresh milk from his cow. Essentially, the ingredients were something out of a bachelor’s picnic, but the food was delicious, a real bohemian feast. By the time we got into the car for the drive back to Gwenole’s farm house, I was full and drunk.
These Frenchmen can drink.
Where we’ve been, Where we’re going
I think it’s Monday, 9:26pm, June 19. Raegan and I arrived in Brest, France on May 16, about 33 days ago. So far, we’ve been in these towns – Brest, Loqueffret, Yvignac-La-Tour, Svignac, where we currently are staying. In a few days, we hitchhike to Normandy, to Isle Marie, where we’ll work at a bed & breakfast for a month.
Being in France is just … wow. Especially WWOOFing. The people we’re stayinng with are a progressive young couple with a child and another on the way. He’s assembling a bakery and she’s learning how to make clothes using a loom. They’re participating in the lifestyle of transition, which involves moving from oil dependence to a more rural, agrarian, self sustainable lifestyle that involves old tools, hard work, farming, and bartering. It’s interesting and encouraging to witness their daily activities and how they are so different than the activities of most working class Americans.
At the end of the day, most people seem to want the same things–someone to love, something to do, shelter, a way to earn money or something of value, and freedom.
However, people define what-they-want in their own terms. It’s really interesting to see how they define those same things so differently.
To some people, freedom is using old tools and pulling up lunch or dinner from the garden.
To other people, freedom is standing in line to buy food at the grocery store.
The variety of how people define their life is what makes life such an interesting spectacle.
Traveling enables you to witness, firsthand, different ways that people approach their basic needs. It’s such a learning experience and my takeaway, so far, is that I can adopt these same skills and live in a similar fashion. The real freedom for me is knowing that I have options in life. Every decision you make leads to another life.
Today started early, aroun 8am, when Mona, the two year old daughter of Gwenole and Costina, wandered into our room, carrying something that she left at the foot of the bed, and speaking French. Raegan and I were cuddled in bed, her body curled into a little ball.
Around 8:30, we abandoned the comfort of the bed. The stone floor was cold and we dressed quickly, slipping on warm clothes in rapid fashion.
Sunlight poured through the windows, indicating a warmer day, somewhat rare as the days here have been cold, gray and cloudy, teasing rain.
We exited our little cave and walked the ten steps to the main house, through the wooden door into the open space–a dining room, living room, kitchen combination.
On the wooden kitchen table sat our bounty–a half-loaf of bakery bread, a carved brick of butter, glass jars of jam, a big sharp knife, and a half pot of lukewarm coffee. Essentially, it was residuals a breakfast eaten by early risers Gwenole and Costina.
After breakfast, I returned to the room, then Raegan called me.
I stepped outside and saw Raegan and Gwenole standing near a bail of hay. Time to work. We loaded the bail of hay onto the trailer, then got into the car.
Gwenole fires up the engine and we roll out onto the street, down the ribbon of asphalt that intersects the fields of farmland around us.
20 minutes later, Gwenole steers down a narrow road and toward a ramshackle barn. He gets out. We follow. He instructs us to roll the hay into the barn.
We jump onto the back of the truck and push the hay roll down the ramp. Using the momentum from inclined ramp, we roll it and steer it as best we can toward the barn door. It lands at the door with “thud”. It doesn’t fit.
At this point, we take a breath, keeping our hand on the hay roll so it won’t roll backward. Gwenole whips out a knife and snaps it open. He cuts the twine, then begins pulling chunks of hay from the roll, in order to get it to fit through the door.
We follow suite, ripping out chunks of the hay. It’s like a giant Nabisco Shredded Wheat roll. Strands of hay all over our clothes, in our hair. It has a delicious smell, reminding me of car trips, as a kid, through Canada, driving past farms in the country.
After a half-hour, the hay is a manageable size. We roll the core inside the barn.
Gwenole says something in French and we follow him back to his car. We get in and he drives us a few miles, up a hill, to a 2-story house, pulls into the driveway and parks. Nearby is a barn. We’re surrounded by fields. Grain? Maybe.
We get out and follow Gwenole to the door. He knocks. After a few minutes, a petite man appears at the door. He introduces himself. Maurice is his name. Gwneole and Maurice speak in French.
He offers us coffee, then he disappears into his house and comes out with glasses and a steel pot of coffee, along with a carton of lait (milk) and a saucer filled with sugar cubes. We thank him and pour ourselves a cup.
Then, things got a little weird.
With WWOOF’ing, you never know what’s going to happen next. Therein lies the beauty and the uncertainty, which reminds you that when you’re traveling like we were, there’s no way to rubber-corner the world.
Maurice, the farmer, is staring at Raegan. Not glancing. Staring.
He is completely ignoring me. It’s as if I was invisible.
We finish the coffee. Maurice shows us his barn and waves his hand out, like an orchestra conductor, over the field of hemp. The farmer and Gwenole are talking in French. After about ten minutes, Gwenole returns to his car. Us, too.
“What’s with that guy?” I start. “He was just staring at Raegan. I didn’t like the way he was staring at her.”
“He likes girl WWOOF’ers,” Gwenole answered. “If I have two WWOOF’ers who are guys, he’ll say no. But if girls, yes.”
Gwenole adds: “Maurice likes money and women.”
“If I have two girl wwoofers, Maurice will want to have them work and then take them out and show them around, give them wine,” Gwenole says.
“Wow,” I say. “Should I be worried?”
“No.” Gwenole says. “He says he is like that. People know.”
Later, I ask Raegan about it. She said it made her uncomfortable. It made me feel uneasy, too. The thing with WWOOF’ing is that incidents like this happen so fast, that sometimes it’s only after they happen when you realize how uncomfortable it actually is.
Our next errand is a hardware store where Gwenole purchased flats of tongue-ingroove wood that Raegan and I loaded into the trailer. We return to his property and carry them to the stone building that we’re helping him to to build out for a bakery. The wood is needed to shore up a ceiling and attic space that will, eventually, help insulate the bakery.
We break for an early lunch, then continue working.
At dinner, Gwenole says: “Tomorrow you will work with Maurice at 1:30 for a few hours, and he will give me hemp.” He said. “If that is okay with you.”
He paused. “You don’t have to.”
“It’s okay.” I said. “That’s cool.”
After dinner, Raegan and I, Gwenole and Costina, and Mona and Verika (Costina’s Mom) go to a music festival in town about 20 minutes away.
When you’re WWOOFing, you’re not really sure what to expect, especially when you get invited to a music festival, in a small town, in France, in Europe. That makes it exciting but it also can lead to disappointment, depending on what you imagine to expect. The way I’ve been keeping things in check is to expect nothing,in order to be happy with crumbs.
We arrive at the festival and Raegan and I wander off by ourselves. The festival is boring. To buy food, you have to line up to buy tickets. The line for tickets is long.
The lines for food are even longer and disorganized, a mass of people standing in front of a booth.
Despite the boringness of the festival, Raegan made it wonderful by being affectionate with me, accepting a piggyback ride when we arrived, holding my hand, resting her soft neck and beautiful head on my shoulder in a church service we visited, that was crowded with people from the festival, where the choir sang “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”.
Later, when we met up with Gwenole, he gave me a pack of Camel cigarettes that he found. I asked someone to light a cigarette, then Raegan runs up, takes the cig, accepts the light, inhales until it glows orange, says “merci”, then floats away like the butterfly, stray and restless girl she is. It was a good night.
We’ve just eaten breakfast–baguettes with butter, prune jam, homemade cherry jam, bio (organic) granola cereal, fresh mint tea, coffee, and are going to bicycle to a nearby farm to collect 2 bottles of milk. This life is wonderful.
We awoke around 10am, when Mona, the bright, already talking 2 year old daughter of Gwenole and Costina, the young couple who run the farm where we are staying, wandered into our room, then crawled into our bed.
After a breakfast of baguette, with crunchy crust and moist air bubbled inside deliciousness, smeared with butter and prune jam and I had some homemade cherry jam tasty and without too much sugar, we got ready for the day.
I got the milk bottles, washed them out, and placed them carefully in my backpack. At the barn, I pulled out a blue Peugot bicycle. Using a pair of channel locks (a tool that resembles a plier), I loosened the seat, then lowered it for Raegan. (It was too high for her the last time she rode it.)
This will be our second bicycle trip to collect milk.
Bicycling through the countryside is amazing. Fields all around us. The rode rising and descending. The sky is blue and huge and goes on seemingly to forever.
While getting the milk, Claude, the dairy farmer approached us. He’s dressed in work coveralls, similar to the work outfit I had worn when weed whacking at Yannick’s in Loqueffrett.
Raegan and I say hello or bon jour. Claude said something. I was taking pictures of Raegan as she held the bottle to to the mouth of the big steel tank, the creamy milk pouring out slowly, filling it.
I’ve been taking lots of pictures, documenting this experience, the cruise over here, the couchsurfing at Ludmilla’s, and the subsequent wwoof hosts between then and now–Yannick and Marie’s, a cattle farmer in Loqueffret who’s converting his 200-acre farm to organic, Aman and Natalie, a young family of hippies who are living out the “Transition” lifestyle which involves gardening, old tools that do not require petrol or electricity, building with sustainable materials like mud, straw, and recycled bottles, and the current location with Gwenole and Costina, another young maried couple with their bright two year old daughter, Mona, and their Romanian speaking mother-inlaw, Costina’s Mom, Vericka, who also speaks some English and probably some French, too.
After the milk pickup, we bicycled to Gwenole and Costina’s, ate lunch, then bicycled to Maurice’s, a hemp farmer who’s an acquaintance of Gwenole.
The day earlier, Gwenole approached us.
“Tomorrow you will work with Maurice at 1:30 for a few hours, and he will give me hemp.” He said. “If that is okay with you.” He paused. “You don’t have to.”
“It’s okay. That’s cool.” I said.
So, the next day, we bicycle to Maurice’s, parked the bicyles and he offered us coffee. We accepted. He brings out a pot of steaming black coffee, and puts a carton of lait on the table, a glass bowl of sugarcubes and then proceeds to engage us in a conversation, staring at Raegan with a look of affection in his eyes.
It’s a repeat of what happened the day earlier.
After the coffee drinking and the weird stares, he gathers up the cups, and disappears inside. A few minutes later, he returns and we follow him down the hill toward a barn.
The barn is open air and piled high, a mountain of hemp before us.
Beside the mountain of hemp are bales of hemp, wrapped in heavy plastic. He gives me a sharp knife to cut the hemp.
He instructs us to toss the hemp into the harvester. He gives us a few water bottles and we start working. I use the knife to cut open the fresh hemp, then use the pitchfork to toss the hemp into the big yellow harvester.
Raegan stands on the other end, where the machine is spitting out the hemp, sifting out the fluffy hemp from the heavier material. The heavier material would be used for building material, and the fluffier material for insulation.
The stray hemp was flying all around us, a tornado of thin, straw-like fibers. We loaded the hemp into bags. Maurice left to go on an errand. He returned with a chocolate bar and a bottle of Evian. We devoured the chocolate bar and gulped the water. He also returned with heavy paper bags, which we filled with hemp.
It was hard work but it was rewarding work. The smell of hemp, the whirring engine of the harvester, the gail storm of hemp strands flying around. Working on a hemp farm in Svignac, France.
Tomorrow will be our final day at Gwenole and Costina’s place.
Tomorrow, Costina is taking us to Denan, and from there, we hitchhike to Picauville, France, where we’ll be WWOOF’ing at the Chateau-de-Marie, a bed and breakfast. They have private rooms with their own private bathroom. I’m hoping it will be nice.