Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago,
The département of Les Landes in south-western France is a surreal, other-worldly place. Formerly nicknamed the French Sahara, Les Landes has been settled by friendly French people who take the fun part of living very seriously. Much of this ‘other world’ centres on the ever-present forest.
For a long time, well into the second half of the twentieth century, much of Les Landes, including the world of the forest, was poor.
Now, today’s Les Landes has come into the modern world, developing a vibrant, mixed economy - from timber and timber products to its role as a major holiday destination, with empty countryside and extensive beaches, surf and seaside towns.
Thérèse Desqueyroux, a novel written by Francois Mauriac and published in 1927, is set in the depths of the Landais forest and heathland in the early 20th century. Although the story is rather emotional and dark, even depressive, the descriptions of the forest and heath landscapes, forest fires, and life relating to life in an industrial forest, provide useful and interesting glimpses into the world of the Landes forest that was so different to that in which most other town and rural French people lived.
This difference continues, with the tranquillity, the emptiness, the stark beauty. What has changed, however, is that Les Landes is much wealthier than the society of which François Mauriac wrote.
Here we present various excerpts that give the feel of the quiet, of the whispering trees, the emptiness and isolation, the strong weather. Note that Mauriac was writing to provide gloomy atmosphere to a rather gloomy book. We at abelard.org have added some up-to-date additional commentary. The excerpts are taken from the translation by Gerard Hopkins ( the page numbers refer to the edition listed in end note 1).
The summers in the forest can be baking hot, ever more so as global warming clocks in, but the tall pines provide a welcome, dappled shade. As for flies, well now they are no problem here in Les Landes. The two insects that have annoyed at times have been mosquitoes and ticks.
Mosquitoes are effectively dissuaded with a mosquito repellent. Ticks come from the many roe deer (Bambi) living in and near the forest. These often have ticks, that transfer from deer to undergrowth to people walking in the forest (this not usually a problem in towns and on the beach). Ticks are a carrier of Lyme’s disease, related to and similar to syphilis. If you go in the forest or nearby during the summer, take sensible precautions: do not have bare legs.
p.22 - 23 Even at dusk, when the sun had come so near its setting that only the very lowest sections of the pine trunks were reddened with its light, and a belated cicada was still scraping away for dear life almost at ground-level, there was still an airless heat beneath the oaks.
When September came they could venture out after luncheon and wander through the parched land. No tiniest stream of water flowed at Argelouse. Only by walking a long way over the sandy heath could they hope to reach the head-waters of the rivulet which went by the name of La Hure. It carved a myriad courses through low-lying meadows laced with alder-roots. Their feet turned numb in the ice-cold current, and then, no sooner dry, were burning hot again. They would seek the shelter of one of the huts set up in October for the guns who went out after duck. It served them as the shuttered drawing-room had done earlier in the year.
There may have been no running water at Argelouse, but Les Landes has many rivers - large like the Adour, medium like the Midouze, and many smaller rivers and streams. Because the department has a low population, the forest, its paths, the river and stream-sides, and the roads are mostly empty. There is no-one to be seen and almost no cars, so you can often have a picnic by a roadside, or a little way off, as comfortably as going down by a river bank. And people when you do come across them are friendly, “B’jour, m’sieur-dame”, and “Bon appetit!” if you are sitting with your picnic as they pass by.
p.26 BUSINESS, FIRE
p.36 UNSALUBRIOUSNESS OF LES LANDES
Of course, with the widespread draining of the marshes, disease and fevers are now thankfully something from history, and this was so even in Mauriac’s time .
Roe deer [le chevreuil] have become very numerous in Les Landes (over 14,000 animals in 2001-2), so much of hunting here concentrates on reducing the deer population. In the forest during the summer, roe deer have a liking for eating tree leaves; in winter they eat ivy, brambles , heather and tree seeds. The hunting season is generally from September to January. You may go down a quiet forest road and have deer leap across the road. Be careful, a baby Bambi may come scampering after its beautiful mother.
LOVE OF PINES/ FIRE
Bernard lived in constant terror of fire. He was suffering from his heart again. More than a thousand acres had been burned over at Louchats. "If the wind had been from the north I should have lost my Balisac pines." Thérèse was in a state of waiting for she knew not what to fall from the immutable sky. It would never rain again. One day the whole surrounding forest would crackle into flame, even the town itself would not be spared. Why was it that the heath villages never caught fire? It seemed to her unjust that it should always be the trees that the flames chose, never the human beings. In the family circle there was a never-ending discussion about what caused these disasters. Was it a discarded cigarette, or was it deliberate mischief? Thérèse liked to imagine that one of these nights she would get up, leave the house, reach the most inflammable part of the forest, throw away her cigarette, and watch the great column of smoke stain the dawn sky . . . But she drove the thought from her, for the love of pine-trees was in her blood. It was not them that she hated.
There are strict regulations about fires in the environs of the Landes forest. Roughly, from March through to October, no open fires such as bonfires or camp fires may be lit. At other times, permission has to be obtained from the local Mairie (town hall). Fire is a real danger amongst the resin-rich pines. Visitors and residents alike have to be vigilant against starting a fire in the forest. Even a glowing match-end could start an extensive forest fire during the hot, tinder-dry summer.
TORMENTED TREE TOPS
The rain comes gently, softly, or in torrents, clouding your view through the trees. When the sun shines through the rain haze, the beauty of the atmospherics and colours is breath-taking. And this happens again and again. Despite all the rain, with ground that is essentially sand, even large puddles last at most twenty or thirty minutes before being absorbed.
Often the rain is brought by spectacular shows of son et lumiere - sound and light - given by the enormous thunderstorms that happen every three or four days, especially during summer. The house shakes with the thunder, the lightening comes as jagged spears streaking down the sky, or sheets spreading light in the night darkness, or pulsing glows in the distance. And if you’re staying in the forest depths, there may be a further excitment, of power cuts - but these are usually repaired swiftly, whatever the time of day or night.
97 DEEP MURMUR
The chattering amongt the pines increases as the wind picks up, becoming a rushing roar, as Mauriac says, like the sea but a wild sea of breaking rollers. Afterwards, there are pine needles and branches everywhere, pulled off the pines by the wind and cast about on road, path and field.
If you believe in higher beings, this place must be proof of their existence. If you do not, here is a place to make one wonder how such beauty appeared by chance.
[...] She found it odd to conjure up the picture of that oppressive afternoon with its pall of smoke through which the blue looked dimmed and sooty, to smell again the acrid scent as of torches which comes from burning pines.
115 LOVE OF PLACE / MOANING
For descriptions of work in the Landes forest, look at
these associated pages:
|on first arriving in France - driving||Les Pyrénées, A64|
|motorway aires, introduction||Pech Loubat, A61|
|Mas d’Agenais, A62||Les Bréguières, A8|
|Lozay, A10||Hastingues, A64|
|Catalan village, A61||Port-Lauragais, A61|
|aires on the A75 autoroute from clermont-ferrand to béziers||Tavel, A9|
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