Funny how a memory,  seemingly unprompted, can suddenly pop into your head. The image of a small incident years ago when we first moved here to the Dordogne, flashed into my head the other day, something must have sparked it but I’ve no idea what.  At the time it briefly clouded our rosy romantic city-dwellers vista of rural France, when we were so fresh to our new life 30 + years ago. 

Already charmed by the difference between town and country life, we were discovering a different culture, language and customs.  Certainly life was slower and less manic for us, who were used to work dominating our lives. It reminded us that life was more than just work, and there was plenty going on, the local villages and communities are generally tightly established, each with their mayors and elected councils, the individuals in the communes mostly involved in the politics of running the schools, clubs and festivals, microcosms of the bigger towns we were used to.

There were still a few peasant farming families making a living on their small unspecialised farms, something all French governments have always been keen to preserve. 

Living in a rented house in the village of St Laurent des Batons, we got to know one lovely family of farmers called Escarmant, who welcomed us to their home and treated us occasionally to local regional French cuisine, even respecting our funny eating habits avoiding meat and fish, and offering us the other alternatives of their own hens’ eggs, homemade cheeses and homegrown vegetables. 

Mme Escarmant still cooked the family meals in a giant cast iron pot hung over the huge open fire, I remember seeing her silhouetted against the flames, stirring the stew slowly, I think it must have been a cassoulet, a regional dish with every imaginable kind of meat that takes three days to prepare and gets added to day by day. She was a lovely intelligent and kind lady as were the rest of the family, I remember them with great warmth and affection. 

After one particularly rustic wholesome meal Philippe Escarmant, with a twinkle in his eye rather wickedly proffered us his home brewed digestif, which he told us to throw back down our throats in one gulp, he chuckled with glee enjoying his little joke of leaving us both gasping with a burning fire in our throats and unable to speak for several minutes!

Anyway to get back to the subject in hand, we were shopping at the busy Saturday market in Vergt, where Graham towered above the local townspeople like Gulliver in Lilliput, when we heard an ear-piercing and bloodcurdling scream; amongst the market stalls we caught sight of a wizened old lady clutching a terrified rabbit by it’s ears. The rabbit screamed and screamed as the old lady moved through the market and continued to shop, it was an awful and terrifying sound, causing the buzz of the whole market to fall silent. Alas there was nothing we pampered young townies could do……

I still feel guilty at my inertia, so many emotions ran through me at the time, it crossed my mind briefly to interfere, but of course fear of embarrassment, and then respect for another culture, another person’s way of life was the strongest sensation of all and so I did nothing, I had to let it be. Needless to say we wended our way home in subdued silence, with those hideous cries reverberating in our ears.

I’ve heard that scream a couple of times since, here at home, mostly taking place as dusk begins to fall, causing me to stop rigid with the noise. The echoing screams roll up from the valley amplified by the natural bowl of the landscape, the fox has caught his rabbit, and the rabbit isn’t going to die quietly, the ghastly sounds are of nature taking it’s course. 

I wish I believed that animals are literally numbed by fear when caught by their predators, and that they feel no pain, but it’s hard to believe they don’t suffer when they scream in such obvious terror. 

The scream

Have you ever heard a rabbit scream?

Bloodcurdling I’d describe.                       

All eyes turn to the old peasant,            

as she grips her screeching prize.

He dangles helpless by his ears,

 her fist won’t let him drop.

He wriggles in vain just knowing

 he’s destined this day for the chop.

She noses around the market stalls,

checking out fruit, veg and bread, 

squeezing at some, sampling more.

His screaming persists with his dread.

To the noise and the horrified glances,

she gives no reaction, nor sign,

as she’s keen to get the ingredients 

for her meal back home in good time.


19 thoughts on “Memories

  1. Dear Liz, I see you are in a nostalgic mood! unfortunately bringing back some not so good memories.  It made me think of our first similar experience at St. Front de Pradoux where we were living in a tent and caravan on the piece of land we had bought to build on. The neighbours had a charming young goat or kid that ran about where it wanted  but slowed up by being attached to a rope and dragging a small tyre! We loved it and it spent most of its time with us. Of course one day it disappeared.  A couple of weeks later the farmer gave us a Bocal with something unidentified in it. For some reason we didn't catch on!    No one wanted to eat it as it looked horrid so I kept it for months and months. Eventually I showed it to a French friend and she said it would be deliscious and to eat it. So Alec and I did. It was truly deliscious! and then we knew it was Goat. Was this the moment when I felt integrated into French local culture? All I can say in our defense is that the kid had a wonderful time playing with our kids when it was alive!  I have other stories but don't want to think of them!!!! The family were so kind to us and invited us to all their family 'Does'  Your rabbit killer looks rather a sweet old lady!        Must have a chat soon!

    • Dear Sue, oh dear how sad! at least you eat meat, and it’s a lesson in how not to judge, hence the sweet old lady who was only doing what she has always done. We certainly came to live in the worst place to be vegetarian, but live and let live is our motto! The only drawback for us is that pre covid we rarely went out to eat, preferring to spend our money on a really good bottle of wine, now of course every one is in the same boat! what the heck……..xxL

  2. Spine chilling! Poor rabbit 🐇

    At one house in England we had a pond. I heard screaming there. A frog was screaming inside the jaws of a large grass snake 🐍. The frog was lucky that day. I heard it and tormented the snake with a broom until the frog managed to get free. I feared that the snake’s backfacing teeth would not allow the escape. But escape the frog did.



  3. Thanks for your story about your settling down in Dordogne ..
    la vie à la campagne a dû vous choquer parfois ..comme la mort du lapin ..
    Hope you are well …both of you in La Crabouille.
    Take care. NIcole

  4. Yo the Sangsters, Delightful story,so well told,I guess you would find that scenario in China,still,but “our” sensitivity has “progressed”

    Heaps to you both David and Vivvy

    • Yo to the Butlers! I think you may still find that scenario here in the backwoods to be honest, they still “ gaver” geese and ducks, luckily the younger generation are opening their eyes to the horrors even here in France! xxL

  5. What a story, you conjure the scene very well with your words and images Liz, I can almost hear the terrible sound . I guess that’s the terrible cry I sometimes when a fox has got something, it’s so piercing . Poor rabbit!

  6. I left a long reply, I thought, but wordpress thought different haha… What a dear story that opens my memory channel to when we first started in the Dordogne. Thank you. x

    • Oh what a shame! I’ll bet it was interesting too! I’d love to hear your story…..I’ve taken to writing in”notes” these days, the copy and pasting, so stuff doesn’t get lost, it’s so infuriating when that happens, especially when you’ve been on a roll….! xxx

      • Yeah, indeed infuriating, anyway here we go:
        I remember our first years in the Dordogne, as adolescents, we roamed around on our mopeds and do what young people do… Once in a while, we had to participate in some adult ideas of fun… and I remember once when Jennifer had a rabbit for dinner, the pour animal (as I think of it now) was completely intact, except that it was dead. An expert came and Jerome and I had to hold the two paws while he too of the coat of the rabbit, I think that moment laid the first stones for becoming a vegetarian. It felt weird and not good, although we people are carnivores, so in a certain sense it was ok, I can’t remember what it tasted like..

        There a many more of those stories, I will keep them in mind for when we meet again, for we will meet again and hug and kiss!

      • That must have been difficult, they do say that if animals look like animals in the supermarket , most people would be vegetarians! That doesn’t apply to Wuhan though………

      • I sent that before I was ready! I was going to add that that must have been , not only difficult, but traumatic. Glad you’re a veggie now! I’d love to hear some more stories of you have them? xx

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