Friday, October 4, 2013


A bell tower in Provence

If someone asked you to name the sound that immediately makes you think of France, what would you choose? Some people would choose the loud churring of Provencal cicadas or the reverberating klaxons of Parisian ambulances. Others would hear music of the can-can or Edith Piaf's trilling R's as she sings "Non, je ne regrette rein."  But to me, the sound that is quintessentially France is the tolling of church bells.

Saujac in the snow
Here at the Little Train House I can hear bells from two different villages...Saujac, across the river and Montbrun, a few kilometers upstream. First, Saujac chimes, then Montbrun, then Saujac again. (the hour is chimed twice in case you miss hearing it the first time.) I've lived here long enough that most of the time I really don't notice the bells. But at least once a day, even with the windows and shutters closed, I hear them.It's usually in the quiet of dawn as I sip my first cup of coffee. At 7 am and 7 pm, they toll not only the hour, but also the angelus...several rings to tell the village 'your day has started...come to Mass' and 'the day is done...come out of the fields to the shelter of home and hearth.' At those times, I love to let my imagination run wild and envision the villagers of old hurrying to the church for morning devotions or the men  turning their teams of oxen homeward for the slow walk to supper and the warmth of the kitchen fire.
Fall color behind the Cadrieu church

In my little village, the church bells only toll on the fourth Saturday of the month at 6 pm. This is when Mass is celebrated here by the priest from Cajarc. Unfortunately, I can't hear the bells from my own village church. I think this is because the Little Train House sits below the church which is up the hill from me. The sound must travel above me. The only other time this bell tolls (and all the other bells around me as well) is when someone dies. After the funeral service, the bell solemnly tolls, long and slow, as mourners walk behind the cortege to the cemetery for the burial.

In joy and sorrow, the bells mark the rhythm of life here for me. It's a sound that will always make me smile in remembrance of France no matter where I am in the world.

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