Today we took the D3 to Bonnieux, a pretty back road that runs through the vineyards, lavender and cherry orchards. It just happens to go along the base of the mountains and there are a few fire trails that intersect it. I didn’t exactly go looking for Peter Mayle’s house, although I read that its driveway comes off the D3 two kilometres from Menerbes.
But that’s not what I want to tell you. As I peered up every driveway and across the fields I saw a man in a high-vis orange vest standing among the newly cut lavender with a rifle. Then another. On the opposite side of the road a man crouched in lavender with his rifle butt against his shoulder, stiff and alert, something in his sights.
We were at the 1.8 kilometres mark from Menerbes. Surely these wouldn’t be snipers to keep potential stalkers away from Peter Mayle’s old house?
Then I remembered the loud cracks we heard every morning, and their echo off the mountain. They would start after the sluggish sun rose about eight o’clock, and continue spasmodically until around midday. Then for two hours the only sounds we heard would be the birds, the wind in the oaks in next door’s yard, and the persistent bees that were as bothersome as Australian flies. Then the shots would start again.
So these were hunters. If I HAD decided to walk down the fire trails to see which farm had a pool at the back, it wouldn’t be a very sensible time to do it.
On the way back from Bonnieux, just after midday, we spotted a whole posse of men in orange high-vis vests. They were sitting in a circle on fold-up chairs in the sun. In the middle was a large pan on a gas burner. As we came closer a hunter opened the back of his little white van, pulled out a hefty black and white hound, wrapped his arms around its stomach and, with its legs squirming, carried the hound safely away from the road.
Even through closed windows we could hear the men’s laughter and booming voices. My guess is they had a successful morning.
By the time I remembered to look for Peter Mayle’s old house we were already driving up the hill into our village.
Waiting for us at home was the left-over rabbit stew we made last night. We’d found a man selling chickens and rabbits at the St-Remy-de-Provence market yesterday. He was a wiry Frenchmen with a long sallow face and white apron.
I’d never cooked rabbit before.
‘Pas de probleme, Madame!’ he cried, and leaned across the glass counter, his forearms supporting his hands as they enacted his words in case I didn’t understand French.
‘Rub the rabbit with mustard’, his hands wrung themselves eagerly.
‘Slice tomatoes’, one hand held the imaginary tomato and the index finger of the other sliced through it.
He poured white wine into a casserole dish on top of the chicken and tomatoes, threw in onions, some parsley. Stirred the pot and put it in the oven for 50 minutes.
He put his fingertips together and kissed them.
Of course we followed his recipe. If you decide to cook it too, and you have a big rabbit, add another 10 minutes to the cooking time at 180 degrees Celsius.
We didn’t have parsley at home but there was some rosemary growing in a pot in the main square in Menerbes. An old lady caught me stealing a few sprigs and half smiled to herself.
We ate the left-over rabbit stew in the sun on the terrace. Somewhere below us the men who could well have caught our rabbit were cooking their lunch by the roadside – probably opposite Peter Mayle’s house.