Rabit de Florette

Agriculture is totally dependent on a good water supply.  You cannot do very much growing without supplementing the rainfall, particularly in a climate like this with 360 days of sunshine.  The fields around my farmhouse ‘Elca Seriu’ have not been worked for years and the trees drop their crops on the ground to rot: olives, almonds, pomegranates, and lemons all go to waste.  The best I can do at the moment is to use all this for compost in preparation for planting.  But water was the main problem.  A dry and dusty empty cisterna and a concrete water channel leading up into the hills was the evidence of an irrigation system that had once functioned here, and I went in search of the source.

A mile further up the ravine from my daily crossing point when I walk to the village on my way to work, the water channel was blocked and pouring the life-giving precious water into the ravine below.  I took a mattock with me to sort out the problem, but its main use was to keep my footing steady, hooking it over rocks and vegetation as I walked precariously along the narrow concrete channel with a sheer drop below me, and in places nothing much supporting the fragile concrete channel, as the earth below it had been washed away in the erosion of many seasons.

My adventure called to mind the wonderful film Jean de Florette with Gerard Depardieu and Yves Montand, and its equally great sequel Manon des Sources with Emmanuelle Béart as the eponymous Manon.  The entire narrative centres on the importance of water in a small local community in rural France. The quixotic idealism of the Depardieu character leads to his untimely death, but his daughter carries on the struggle and triumphs.  Such imaginings were going through my head as I stood on the narrow ledge pulling out the algae and the rocks that had blocked the source.  If I should fall into the ravine and my donkey project fail before a single donkey had graced the field of ‘Elca Seriu’, maybe my daughter would arrive one day and finish off the work…?

Aching and perspiring from the labour, I hurried back to ‘Elca Seriu’ to celebrate the arrival of the water at the cisterna with a well-earned litre of San Miguel beer. After an hour, I had finished the beer but there was not even a trickle of water…

I was joined by a praying mantis.  This was a good sign.  Whenever you see a praying mantis sitting on a pomegranate it is a sign that water is about to arrive.  (In the absence of any local agricultural community, I can make up my own folk wisdom.)  Two more hours went by as I did a few odd jobs around my donkey field. The water did not arrive…

I went up the ravine again with my mattock and started the search for water all over again.  The blockage I had cleared had simply moved to another point and washed down more algae, several hundredweight of rotting carob beans and olives, and the water was pouring out of the channel in another place.  So the whole channel had to be cleared over a mile of fields and orchards, and finally – as it was getting dark – water arrived at my cisterna and I went immediately to bed exhausted.

This morning I was up at first light, like a child on Christmas morning waking up early to see if Santa had been…  Would the water have carried on all night and filled the cisterna?  Triumph!  The water is still trickling in, the last few inches of dry wall at the top of the tank just filling up.  And I am aching all over.  Thank goodness I have teaching preparation to do all day, so I can’t be tempted to break Brother Ass (as St Francis called his earthly body) any more today while preparing my donkey field.

A job well done.  Rabit de Florette, Lapin des Sources. (Zizz paws in a satisfied manner.)

Note: Manon des Sources a critically acclaimed and commercially successful 1986 French language film. Based upon the 1966 two-part novel by Marcel Pagnol, itself an adaptation of an earlier film of the same title by Pagnol, it is the sequel to Jean de Florette , shot at the same time as Manon des Sources in 1986; and it was at that time the most expensive film ever made in France.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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8 Responses to Rabit de Florette

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bravo! Your hard work has paid off nicely. Is there a way that you can stabilize the eroded hillside to better support the channel? Something like vines or ivy to hold the dirt? [Just not kudzu! ]

    Manon des Sources and Jean de Florette are two of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. I would also recommend La gloire de mon père and Le château de ma mère if you haven’t seen them. [Autobiographical stories by Pagnol.]

  2. Anonymous says:

    When (and how) did I become anonymous? I’m not sure I like that! C’est moi, Caroline!

  3. Frere Rabit says:

    Oooh! I did not know there was more of Pagnol out there. Thanks; I’ll try and find them on DVD. It is only since the exploits on Saturday that I have really appreciated the immense effort required to water the land, and I am so grateful for the water channel. It comes right to my donkey field and I keep imagining my future donkeys drinking from the water channel… It’s so exciting. I come back from my teaching job and just marvel at it.

    Yes, why are you ‘anonymouse’, Caroline? Your usual avatar should show up. Are you using Disqus?

  4. Caroline says:

    I am signed into both Disqus and Google. WordPress does not like me, so I haven’t tried it in ages. Your comment page looks different than it used to. Not sure why, but perhaps that is why I am anonymous? Once upon a time (in a galaxy far, far away) I used the pseudonym Anne Ahnemüss. I was so pleased with myself: absolutely no one got it!

    The donkeys are quite beautiful, especially the Andalucians. Very lovely soft eyes. Will it ever freeze where you are? Are there any predators? I was warned last spring by dog friends that coyotes have become a problem here–that they will even attack children. And I just read about a coyote attacking a horse–the largest one in a group of five! [The coyote lost]. Farmers and ranchers in the state are now apparently buying donkeys to protect their flocks and herds. Who knew? I live in town and have a stout fence, but my Borzoi would take down a coyote I think, if one somehow managed to get in. Even living in town we sometimes have deer roaming the neighborhood.

    The Pagnol stories are charming, although without the impact of the others. They are innocent of that malevolence which both shocks and seduces in the Manon films. Now I will see if I am still bereft of identity….

  5. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, you are, I’m afraid. What’s gone wrong? New post up now… “Gathering the evidence”

  6. Rita says:

    I have just found your site and it’s charming, especially the little donkeys. Are you going to live there forever and keep everyone entertained with life in rural Spain. I do hope so.

  7. Frere Rabit says:

    Hello Rita, I do not know what the future holds. A year ago I was in Rome thinking that I would never want to be anywhere else than at the altar of the Most High, but the most higher in Southwark took a different view… Seriously though, I am digging in for the long-term here. Donkeys are the beneficiaries of what I would have brought to an urban parish somewhere: they will have all the energy I was going to give and they will probably be more appreciative. It doesn’t matter. The idiots threw it all away but the donkeys will love me for it and Jesus rode one into Jerusalem, so I have no guilt in abandoning people to give my life and love to the donkeys.

  8. Brother Burrito says:

    As a fellow benefactee of Providence, I can only concur.

    Concur? Conker? Conquer?

    It is the season here for conkers. Anything like that in your thereabouts?

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