We found a little note in the letter box last week; the commune is starting renovation work at various sites in the village and needs the help of any willing volunteers on a series of Saturday mornings, beginning last Saturday.
It was a foul day, cold and wet; we wrapped up well in wellies and cagoules and headed to the Mairie for an 8 o’clock start. This being the Gers, that means breakfast; ventreche, fried eggs, cheese and bagueutte, prepared on a plancher by Patrick, the mayor, and washed down with coffee and red wine. Being mayor here is very different from in England; no fancy clothes and big chains to wear, the mayor is expected to muck in with everything that goes on in the village, including turning up on a wet Saturday morning, in wellies and combats, to man the chain saw.
Not many people turned up, but the French don’t tend to go out in bad weather; we split into two groups, our group cleaning up the porch of a little chapel before joining the rest of them at one of the lavoirs. A lavoir is a wash house, where the women used to go to wash clothes, a sort of miniscule swimming pool with a roof and sometimes walls; this one was in quite a bad way as several of the roof timbers had rotted, leaving the roof in serious danger of total collapse.
We slipped and slid on the soaking wet mud and grass as we made human chains to pass down the roof tiles, most of which were reusable, so someone brushed off the worst of the moss before we stacked them around the lavoir. The broken ones were taken by a farmer to use as hard core as we removed most of the big beams, I think they’ll probably be turned into firewood. One of the men cleared enough of the mud around the lavoir basin to unearth the tap and allow it to drain.
We left before midday, having done as much as we could, and went back to the Mairie for aperos. On the fourth Saturday we get lunch too, as a thanks for helping.