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Not All Lavender and Honey

Jo Anne Wilson, Letters From FranceOver the years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve attempted to present life here as it is, outside of the guidebooks and movies. Events of the past couple of months made me realize that I have not touched on some of the less savory aspects of life in Provence.

Car thefts, break-ins of houses, and other forms of robbery and theft are not that uncommon, particularly during the summer months. Tourists make easy targets for purse snatching. Cars loaded with purchases from the market are easy pickings. ATM machines are very prevalent here and one is always advised to use extra caution when using them.

This past fall there was a rash of breaking-and-entering robberies in the village of Saignon.  There were other villages that were hit, but our little village seemed to have been particularly targeted. Oddly, it was not just those summer homes, closed for the winter, but also several houses where people are in residence. Sadly, the purpose seemed to be vandalism in addition to theft.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the authorities were able to catch the ringleader. According to unofficial reports, it was an older man, former business owner who had fallen on hard times … (mostly through his over consumption of hard booze).  He proceeded to involve several others in and around the village to either conduct the robberies, or at least to act as spies to let him know when houses would be unoccupied for a time … even if it were while they went grocery shopping.

Many houses in this area have alarm systems. I have always chalked that up to provençal paranoia (my term), but I’ve come to realize that it makes sense to have that extra precaution. A couple of weeks ago, friends of mine, permanent residents, were away on vacation. They had someone staying in the house and taking care of their dog. One morning, the caretaker left for a few hours, and the house was broken into. The owners have lived in this fairly isolated spot for almost twenty years with no problem. I should add, that they have no alarm system.

Sadly, it seems to be a sign of the times. The economy here is no better than in the States.  People who have hit rock bottom and have low scruples (or none), are becoming even more desperate. Not long ago, one of the high-speed trains, the TGV, was stopped due to damage on the lines. Thieves had pulled out wiring and other electrical equipment in search of copper, to sell on the black market.

Often, the problems of crime and theft in this region get chalked up to our proximity to Marseille.  Marseille has long had a reputation as a crime-ridden port of call.  Some of that reputation is earned.  Lately, the city has taken giant steps to turn around and is currently engaged in a number of endeavors as the City of Culture.

When I speak of the economy, the job situation here is no better than in the States. The youngest son of my French family, is 23, still living at home and trying to find work.  He is hoping to become a gendarme, but the competition for the few existing positions is fierce.

Tucked away in a small village in France, there is no escaping the reality of today’s worldwide challenges, but things are not all gloom and doom.  Maybe the colder, gray days of winter seem to magnify episodes of less than good news.  Maybe the joys of scenery, markets, museums, and good food, are better appreciated when they are juxtaposed to the seamier side of reality.

When I’m tempted to slide into a gloomy frame of mind, I look around at the walls of the buildings and streets. These have survived centuries. Surely, we will, as they, survive.

(photo credit Gene Turner)

  • CathyStripeLester

    Surely, one of the joys of living in two places is that you get the broader picture. Everyplace has its good and bad points, including here at home. It’s heartening to be reminded that just as people here endure, people in other places are facing similar problems. And they endure too.

  • Jo Anne

    Thank you, Cathy. It would be so easy to see only the scenic and the superb, but challenges of daily life exist, no matter where we go.

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