At long last, the time has come to get our France on!
Katherine’s just finished getting patched up at the dentist — the dentist was a very competent guy in his forties, incongruously dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, running the whole place by himself, answering the phone and calling people in from the waiting room. The waiting room had humorous old drawings depicting a variety of dental nightmares scattered around the walls:
Before we (he called me in too, as well as Katherine!) were called in, we could hear giggling children behind the door — something couldn’t have been right, there! He didn’t use gloves or anaesthesia, which was unusual, but Katherine said there was no pain, and he got the filling right the first time, something which took the last dentists several goes to get right.
He expressed surprise at the system in Australia, where we don’t have widespread public dental health-care — apparently here in Belgium, everyone pays a little each month, and this covers almost the entire cost of all visits to the dentist.
We’ve found a “Camping a la ferme” site — what we hope will be a replacement for the wonderful Certificated Locations in the UK — called “Il était un foie”, just over the French border, and that’s where we’re headed.
We breathe a sigh of relief as we leave the highly industrial part of Belgium, and find ourselves amidst trees and mountains again, following a little winding road called “Rue de France”. The silos and factories have given way to fields of corn, punctuated by red-roofed barns, which remind us strongly of the idea we have of the midwest America we’ve seen on TV.
It’s looking decidedly French by the time we cross the border, and I’ve already had my first taste of speaking French getting fuel along the way — it’s nice to be able to give the local tongue a go, rather than just blundering around speaking English.
We pass through lovely little French villages, festooned with flower boxes, and the countryside (sorry, the paysage) reminds me strongly of England.
We turn off the main road, following a narrow lane that leads into the proto-village that is our destination, Artaise-le-Vivier, just a couple of farm buildings and a little pointy-roofed church.
Our French is really put to the test (which, of course, it fails pitifully) when we’re greeted by a lovely older woman who gets us settled in the little paved area amidst the barns and house. We can’t find any WiFi spots, and it’s clear that it’s not going to work for us as a home for the few weeks we plan to stick around, so we decide to move on the next day.
Before that, though, we meet Séverine and Fabien, who own the farm. They’re lovely, and their young son takes us around the corner into the milking room, and we stand around awkwardly until Fabien appears and fills up a bottle of fresh milk for us from the gleaming stainless-steel tank.
Fabien gives us a tour, kindly speaking English for us — they make foie gras, a kind of pâté made from (followup Wikipedia-ing:) the liver of a duck or goose that’s been fattened by force-feeding them corn. Yep. I was revolted too, when I read that.
Needless to say, we both have pretty big misgivings about it once we realised what was going on. Actually, at this point, we didn’t know anything about the force-feeding — that would’ve tipped the balance had we known. At the time, though, we’re both too polite to actually show our distaste.
The heatlamp-warmed pens of chicks isn’t too bad…
…But when we see the darkened, stinking room full of trapped ducks, we just want to get out of there, and drive off back into the clean countryside, maybe after letting them out.
Already I feel bad about not making my ill feelings clear, but it’s too late, and I’m too chicken to make a fuss. It does make me feel glad to be vegetarian, though.
Update: One of our friends pointed us to this totally brilliant and inspiring article about a foie gras producer who treats his geese well; “My life’s work is the give the geese what they want”. Very, very cool.
We jump on our bikes and go explore the countryside nearby — there’s another village, a single street of tumbledown houses, butting up against each other. Some are festooned with flowers, and despite the run-down buildings, it’s quite charming.