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This impression was written in 2017, edited 2020

Up until about thirty years ago, villages in France each had their ‘alimentation*’, ‘boulangerie’, boucherie and one or more cafes. In larger villages – as in cities – there was also the ‘quincaillerie’.

Elder men sat on benches smoking pipe while looking at others playing ‘petanque’.

Alimentation in Les Plantiers, (Departement Gard,) about 1980, postcard

As prehistory tells, the earliest humanoid presence in France dates from > 1.5 million years. Up untill 5.000 years ago pockets of human inhabitation consisted of small settlements. In the neolithic period (circa 4500-1700 bc) agriculture was adopted, with parallel development of appropriate tools to work the land and store produced foods. As such, potteries became established. Settlements increased in size.

The following era’s were defined – in archeological terms – by the metal that dominated in tools (and ornaments), with iron, copper, followed by bronze. A major change occurred with the colonization of France (‘Gaul’) by the Roman Empire, of which period many remains are still scattered across the country.

With industrialization in the 19th century the rate increased at which urbanization occurred – with people departing from agricutural regions, a process that continues up to today. Examples of ‘villages abandonnées’ are found all over France’s rural areas. In some regions erosion added to the abandonment of villages.

Abandonned village in The Provence, ca 1980, photo DM

In addition, there occurred the devastating effect of “La grande Guerre” (WW-I), in particular in the north of France. Whole villages were destroyed to the ground, never to be rebuild. In the area above Verdun several of these destroyed villages (‘villages detruits’) can be found. In villages that survived – which ever the size – memorials were raised incised with long lists of victims.

Mort pour la France (Grancey le Chateau, Dep. Côte d’Or) photo DM 2017

However, despite the fact that grenates and bodies were being dug up for decades after the war, life gradually resumed it’s normal course.

Farmer ploughing, Haute-Marne, photo DM 2017

Society in these areas for most of the 20th century still can be defined as people with their connection to their family, work, village, the church, the school, and trade at markets and shops. For travel – if not by car – many railways served to link villages and cities.

Gare de Veynes-Devoluy, (Dep. Hautes-Alpes), photo DM 1997.

Now in 2017

Many villages no longer have their ‘alimentation’ or even ‘boulangerie’. People must go to large shopping centers on the outskirts of larger cities.

Abandonned bakery (‘boulangerie’, in Langres, Dep. Haute-Marne), photo DM 2017.

In small cities like Langres, the same pressure closing smaller stores exists, but the population plus tourists serve to maintain the economy of others.

Boulangerie Maison Gallien, Langres, photo DM 2017

Yet, even in Langres this nice bakery, “Boulangerie Maison Gallien” is threatened with closure, since neighbours – unlike in previous times – now complain about the noise of the bakery at 4 o’clock in the morning. (sign on door: “Nuisances Sonores – une boulangerie en difficulté”, or “Noise Disturbences – a bakery in problems”, post from Le Journal de la Haute-Marne). Likely, ‘modern city people’ working from 8.30 till 17 hours, tolerate less than earlier inhabitants.

Many railroads have ceased to exist. Schools have closed or are threatened with closure. The ‘cementos’ of society crumbles. Foreigners (mostly dutch) buying houses for use during holidays stop decay of abandoned houses to some extent, but leave emptiness during many months in the year.

Grancey le Chateau-Neuvilles, Le Pavillon (Dep. Côte d’Or) . Abandonned railway station and former track. photo DM 2017

Perspective

The sometimes exorbitant prices of houses / appartments and of living in large cities such as Paris, plus the unhealthy environment (pollution) and the increased number of retired people are all factors that lead to a move out of these cities towards the country. The existence of rapid trains supports this option. For retailers of small shops, however, future remains uncertain.

The presence of places of interest, like former Abbey of Auberive, now also Museum of Contemporary Art (focus on ‘independent art’) helps to maintain enterprises such as Boulangerie – Alimentation & Café de l’Abbatiale in Auberive. (Departement de Haute-Marne)

Boulangerie – Alimentation & Café de l’Abbatiale in Auberive, photo DM 2017

Note, added June 1st 2020

The COVID19 Corona-virus pandemie, that also struck France heavily, and led to a lock-down (including inability to move freely for > 1 km from home) for more than 2 months, might stimulate a move from the city to the country.

*translation of terms

alimentation: food shop

boulangerie: bakery

quincaillerie: hardware shop

© Drager Meurtant, 2017, 2020