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Afterwords: Seillons

[What follows comes from the long self-interview that I talk about in the Afterword to the Tepoztlán Jotting. The speakers, as before, are JF/JF.]

A. All right, here’s some bits of a more pondered account of mine of Seillons, published in 1974 as part of an article called “Reflections on the Organic Community,” in which I was trying to define certain patterns of what I saw—and others had seen—as social healthiness.

In 1964 and 1966, my wife and I spent the three summer months in a hill village of about four hundred inhabitants, some twenty-five miles from Aix-en-Provence and forty from Marseilles.

The sides of the hill and the fields in the surrounding valley were planted with grape vines, olive trees, and fruit trees, with space on the top of the hill behind the village for threshing, the grazing of tethered animals, the growing of small crops, and a lovingly tended walled cemetery dominated by several magnificent cypresses.

The fields were unenclosed, and in our landlord’s apartment in Aix a framed map showed his family property scattered around like the holdings in those diagrams of the pre-enclosure English village that I used to draw in school.

There were no priests, no big farmers, no gentry. There was an elected village council and a mayor; the village winery was operated collectively; the village café was owned by a social club called Le Cercle des Ouvriers; and the only paper available in the tobacco shop was the Marseilles, the regional Leftist paper.

There was a well-stocked general store and a small butcher’s, with weekly visits by a fish-merchant and a vegetable-merchant, and periodic visits by sellers of clothing, household utensils, fabrics, and so on, who set up their stalls in the village square.

Housewives who had other needs, or who wanted variety, could take the small bus run by the village entrepreneur and go to the nearby town of about twenty-five hundred inhabitants [Saint-Maximin], which had more shops and in which twice a week there was a substantial market under the plane trees.

During the two summers that we were there, the village was also visited by a couple of circuses, one of them prosperous enough to be able to set up a tent on the hilltop, the other a family affair of father, mother, two acrobatic children, and some performing dogs and goats, who put on their show in the village square [Picasso’s Saltimbanques, you might say]. In the autumn there was a village fête, with dancing, boule competitions, and the like.

There were no obvious signs of poverty in the village, and no displays of wealth; our next-door neighbour, for example, composedly drove a thirty-year-old car, one of the few cars in the village.

Q. So the village was Edenic?

A. Oh no. As I said in the article, “there were no doubt tensions, antagonisms, rivalries, exclusions, and unhappinesses of various kinds.” But it did also seem to me that the place “was probably as near to providing a stable, ordered, decent, interesting, and civilized way of life for the great majority of its inhabitants as it seems reasonable to hope for in any community.”

Q. Which is pretty high praise.

A. Yes, and I’ll quote one more long paragraph, also breaking it up, since though I didn’t talk about the article with Carol while I was writing it, she read it before I sent it off, and I’m sure that if she’d expressed reservations, I’d have done something about them.

What I mean is, the aspects of the village that I myself had come to like were ones, I’m pretty sure, that she herself would have noticed too. So that Seillons was more than just a place where you drew vineyards and olive trees and cypresses and had some nice meals.

Here goes:

Set on its hilltop, the village had its own clear shape and sheltering identity, away from any worry of traffic, but with the kind of overview of its surroundings that enabled people to feel in touch with things several miles away—on one side the market town and national highway, on another the scrub-covered hills in which the wild boars were hunted in winter by the village hunting club, on another the route to the northeast, deeper into the interior among the observed valleys and receding hills. The physical structure of the village was varied, falling into at least three main areas, each with its own character.

For the men, as in Sturt’s postulated [pre-enclosure English village] community, the day’s work, done mostly on land of their own and at their own pace, was in a humanized landscape that was always changing with the seasons and always there to be noted on their journeyings up and down and around the hill, each part of the landscape with its own function and charged with human meanings.

And back in the village there were available to them the various kinds of socializing and co-operation of the winery, the café, the hunting club, and, for some of them, village politics.

For the women, there were the opportunities for informal daily meetings provided by the local stores, the visiting merchants, the bus trips. For adolescents, outside of their school life and the daily bus trip to the secondary school (the primary school was in the village square) there was the square for boule, the cinema in the market town, the television set in the café, and at times, presumably, the amenities of Aix.

In addition the village was linked with the surrounding region. It was not only this village that had its annual fête, for example. The other villages had theirs too, as did the market town (we went to three or four in the area during our first summer), and they were staggered so as to permit attendance from the other communities. And no doubt there were other activities. Our village entrepreneur ran periodic bus excursions to the sea, for instance.

Seillons really mattered to Carol. As did Green Bay. And later, Tepoztlán. And of course the garden in Villeneuve-les-Avignons.


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