Sociologists should study this phenomenon: the more industrialized farming becomes, the more villages in rural aeras multiply plowing contests. French farmers are so ill at ease with the way the trade is going, they can't go for a year without a couple of them. They just have to make believe nothing has changed, with old fashioned tractors and plowing nostalgia to bear the tough of GMO.
A plowing contest is a highly organized event, yet they are all the same. You have a field requisitioned as a carpark, where your small car squids in the mud. At the gate, you meet a guy you often see waiting in line at the bakery, costumed as a 19th century peasant with a blue long blouse and black ribbons floating on his black hat. He wears Nikes on his feet, though, just like every other day. .
On the way to the festivities you have old vintage cars (tractions, Dauphine, Juvas), shiny and groomed for the occasion. I've seen them in three or four different harvest festivals this summer. The same ones, exactly. Thanks to his old car, the owner has his diary filled for the summer, and can see and go places. Then, the mighty lords: vintage tractors, Magnus Fergusson, John Deere of the Fifties, lovingly waxed, and red, of course. Bunches of pensioners station around. One does not know what those retired farmers endured, at the time, in bank loans and money problems, to own one.
As early as it is, it is already crowded. A ploughing contest always attracts large crowds. You have the retired farmers, and that is already many people. Then, families with children from the county, who come to show real goats and chickens to the little ones . Difficult to see some real ones nowadays in the countryside. They have all emigrated in the industrial breeding farms. And least but not last the steering Committee of the festival, that is, three quarters of the village count. Plus, iddle people from all over the departement, who didn't know what to do on a so and so sunday. It is crammed.
A little way from the tractors, the bar. Fortunately, today, the local dish is nowhere in sight, scraps of ewe tripe, with a tooth picker to eat them. You have to be born in the vicinity to be able to eat that.
« Vineyard juice,1€ », says a post written with a stabilo pen. Maybe they don't have to licence to sell alcohol in the morning? Just beside the bar, a mother and her son weave baskets, with a sulk. One does not understand
Here are the fields where the ploughing contests are held. I thought they meant tractor ploughing. No. One has to plow a furrow with a 19th century hoe, in a given time. Horses and oxes are at disposal. Muscles are needed to get through to the finishing line . From various squares come cries (the horse does not walk straight), applauses (he's done it!). The family and the dog walks beside the contestant.
The pair of oxes attract all visitors. They are beautiful, truly beautiful. But nobody really dares to try their luck behind these two almost prehistoric monsters. Their owner is disguised as a "maquignon" (cattle trader). In fact, he is not a local, he comes from a nearby department. He bought its two oxes for the love of the selected bovine race, for pleasure. They never plowed anything in their life. They are around to recall this grand father the beauty of the countryside in his own grandfather's lifetime, some vague childhood memories. During summer, they are booked by ploughing contest, harvest festivals. No one will know what their fee is.
To plow with them is a strenuous business. The maquignon and his assistant make a demonstration. When the oxes finally obey, organ pipes sounds come from their lungs. And when they make an half-turn at the far end of the field, paralysed by their yoke, three men are needed to oversee the tricky manoeuvre . When they pass close to me, their warn breath is on my feet for a second. The sheer bulk of the oxes is awesome.
Crows fly around, and join us to follow the trace left by the hoe . They too must have childhood memories of country life or mayber their grandfather told them about the way things were a long time ago. Unless one crows-breeder has been hired by the steering comitee to decorate the event. In any case, the scene is striking: the oxes and their master, the crows, a milky blue sky. The photograph for the newspaper will be good.
And the misinformation will go on. Readers will believe that country life is still like that: pure skies, crowing crows, sweating oxes, a rich beige against the backdrop of brown furrows. I avoided having a modern Twingo in the framework of the photograph Twingo, and contemporary families in tracksuits.
A separate square is fenced off with roadworks red tape. Unequal and numbered squares have been painted in white on the ground. Will they use it for children contests with a tamed goat? The master of the oxes explains. "This afternoon, there will a lottery. I will put the oxes in this enclosure, and the winner will be the person who will have guessed the square where they will shit ".
- I beg you pardon?
- Don't look at me like that, it is not my idea. They told me yesterday evening, over the telephone.