‘Did you want to come to
I was startled by this directness. We were very often the only Irish they had ever met and quite a few of them, regardless of where they were from in the
‘Criminals?’ I asked, amazed, wondering if there were any at the party.
‘Good Lord, no!’ she boomed. ‘Not real criminals. Money troubles! You know the sort of thing. For the younger crowd it's usually running from the big three. Taxes. Debts. Bankruptcy. For the older crowd it's the same big three, plus children in their thirties still fleecing them. And often ageing parents hanging around ‘till they reach a hundred. Utter Hell! People cave in, you know. And then they find this place.’
The Ariège Pyrénées. Re-named officially only a few years ago because the joke was that the French themselves did not really know where it was.
‘But why would people come here, especially?' I asked.
‘Why the Ariège? Because it’s cheap!’ she bellowed at me. ‘You can still get a barn in the hills for a few pounds. Oh, they all used to run to the Dordorgne, but that’s over; it’s full up there now’ she rattled on in a voice of authority. ‘As for the
‘Have you met many of them?’
‘Oh, well, no. No. Of course not. I mean not really, but one sees them around, you know. In the village, at the market on Saturdays, sitting for two hours nursing a tiny coffee or a small beer. And one hears things. We have been here a long time, you know’ she said, tapping the side of her nose with a stubby, and indeed grubby, finger.
‘Thing is though’ she continued, ‘they won’t last here. It’s only a matter of time before whoever it is they are running from, finds them. Ha! Those two old reliables, Death and Taxes, they catch up with us all! But, even if they are not found by whoever is chasing them,’ she finished, ‘they’ll clear out in a few years, this place is far too quiet, too laid back. They won’t feel important enough here you see; not enough bling-bling. That’s the new word for flash, isn’t it?’
Lack of bling. Yes, she had a point, that woman. This area is certainly not to everyone's taste.
The scenery in this part of
But, in spite of all this, I fully understand and appreciate that this is not enough for everyone. I have had friends visit me and, looking out over the hills ask, ‘is this it then?’
That is perfectly fine. We live in one of the most under-populated places in France and we who love it are very glad it‘s not for everyone.
Before I found this place, I would not have been able to pinpoint the Ariège Pyrénées on a map. Surely then, I cannot be alone in having stumbled on this great wilderness, and felt myself quite happy to leave everything behind to come and live here? It truly is that kind of place.
So, if here, in my adopted area, the ‘hills are alive’ with folks on the run from people trying to take away their money, I must congratulate them; they have made an impressive choice of hideaway.