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A pig in a poke in Provence

As a woodturning afficionado, American Bill Lancaster was surprised to find out while at the American Association of Woodturners symposium in Atlanta, that there is a wood turning school in Provence…

I had to find out more, so I went to a demonstration led by Yann Marot, an expert turner and teacher at École Escolen in the tiny village of Aiguines in Provence. I called my wife Marty from Atlanta: “Did you know there is a woodturning school in France?”

“No,” she replied, but before I got back to our home in Greenville, SC, she had a guidebook to Provence. That was it. We made our minds up to go to France.

We flew to Nice, and had a wonderful Renault Talisman rental car (which we named Tally). We drove up the “white knuckle” western side of the Gorges du Verdon to Aiguines. I say “white knuckle” because the road is literally carved out of the side of the sheer rock cliff with a thousand feet drop to the river and only a wooden guard rail. Don’t look down.

Rather than staying in Aiguines, we stayed in nearby Moustiers-Sainte-Marie at a farm converted into a small inn. Our “room” was actually one of the farm outbuildings, very small and somewhat overgrown with shrubbery and vines. The room had a large bed, a dresser, a couple of tables with lamps, and a small armoire. The screenless window had wooden shutters. We just hoped no one in the courtyard outside our window was very curious to peer in, because the weather was hot and the windows were open. There was a tiny shower that worked best if you left one leg out.

Our arrangement was that Marty would stay in Moustiers while I took the rental car to my all-day classes in Aiguines. Every day I got up before dawn, walked up the path to the car park, and drove about six miles to Aiguines, each day crossing the bridge over the northern end of the very turquoise Lake Sainte Croix.

I would usually arrive before the other students, including the man assigned to get the ten baguettes for breakfast.

The classes were in French, but Yann Marot would tell me in English if I needed explanation. I learned a few French breakfast words like miel (honey) and confiture (jam).

In the evenings, back in Moustiers, Marty and I would eat out and share the adventures of the day. One evening, we were walking back from the gravel car park to our room on a gravel walkway, when a large animal dashed across our path, almost brushing my legs. At first I thought it was a dog, then I realized it was a pig! “It’s a wild boar,” I said to Marty, and trying to practice my French, added, “A porc sauvage.” But Marty, who speaks excellent French, said, “No. That would be something like a wild pork chop!”

Back in the room, we searched for the right word – cochon, pronounced co-shon (pig), not coussin (cushion). So, we thought we had encountered a cochon sauvage, a wild pig.

At breakfast next morning, after I had left for École Escolen, Marty told Alexia, the proprietor, about our wild pig encounter.

“Oh,” said Alexia, “That’s Maurice.”

Maurice. Not a cochon sauvage, but more like a cochon domestique. A known pig. A visitor from a nearby farm. More like a village personality than a wild boar.

We imagined Maurice parading to the campground next door, nipping up pizza crusts. Or hitting all the restaurants along the main street of the town, up one side of the stream and down the other, receiving handouts from the chefs, “Oh, Maurice. I have a nice plate of cherry clafoutis for you,” they might say.

When we found a little toy pig in a shop, nothing would do but we bought it, named it Maurice, and have it on the table whenever we eat. It even travels with us, or should I say “he” – a happy memory of our time in Moustiers Ste. Marie.

Bill Lancaster is a novelist and former journalist who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, USA.

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