Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Searching for a low stress-life

It's a fact, according to today's newspaper, that if you live in the country you will live on average two years longer than your city counterparts. We already know that drinking wine in moderation is good for you along with eating plenty of fruit and veg.; we can go back to eating eggs now and using olive oil rather than butter, eating plenty of fish and exercising moderately is all good; but the real clincher to living a long and happy life, is to minimise the amount of stress you have. Or in the words of that great 90's songster, Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry be Happy!"
Living in France, definitely gives you a heads up on the healthy bit; lots of wine, easily accessible fresh produce, sunshine and plenty of open spaces to roam. But living a low stress life? I wondered how I might find that.
Last Monday I went to the yearly fete of the Transhumance in St Remy. This is when the sheep are paraded around the town before heading off into the mountains to cooler pastures where they spend the summer months (throughout the year, most things are paraded round the towns in France, bulls, horses, cyclists, brass bands, veteran cars, paintings etc.).
The fete is very picturesque, pastoral even; the shepherds are dressed in Provencal costume, faded printed shirts, waistcoats and old-fashioned button and braces trousers and wearing hats. At the head of the procession are a couple of donkeys which no doubt originally carried provisions for the shepherds during their 6 month sojourn in the hills, (helicopters have now taken their place, apologies for killing the Romance) these are followed by women in Provencal dress carrying baskets (sandwiches for the journey perhaps?) and then behind them come the sheep; a sea of sheep, or rather a river of sheep, snaking its way around the town, I don't think I've ever seen so many sheep in one place before, it is quite a sight to behold. Interspersed amongst the sheep are billy goats with horns and bells around their necks and keeping them all in order are sheep dogs, which look like smaller versions of the Dulux dog.
As they passed by I got to thinking about the life of the shepherd living half the year in the open countryside with little more to worry about than whether a sheep has got a stone in its hoof or been at the clover again (sharp stab to the stomach apparently). They have their basic needs catered for and presumably have few cares about the state of the stock market. They don't have possessions to worry about and have all the time in the World to sit and think or meditate. (For all I know they live in Winnebagos with satellite phones and Internet access and watch the World News every night). Of course you would have to be OK with your own company as you'd be spending half the year on your own and I guess you'd have to like sheep quite a lot. But in terms of living a stress free life, I think it must rank quite far up there.
I wondered what other professions might be good for a stress free life. Before the sheep parade, a couple of municipal police circled the town on motorbikes, and I thought that maybe their job might be a good one. Whenever there is a fete you see them on the street corner, chatting with their mates giving the bises to acquaintances that they no doubt went to school with. Other times they drive round the town in cars, stopping occasionally to pass the time with people they know. I remember once, when we used to drink in a certain bar (before our life of healthy moderation) and we saw a police car pull up outside. We asked the owner of the bar what he had done to deserve a visit from the police, was he being booked for something?
"Not at all," he said, "He's my cousin and was dropping off my brother".
They do have to direct traffic from time to time and give the odd traffic ticket, and they sometimes do spot checks on cars after lunch, but they probably earn reasonably well and get lots of free coffee and don't have to pay for their petrol and they get a free uniform which already takes the stress out of what to wear every morning!
Next, as the street cleaners arrived to clear up the mess left behind by the sheep, I got to thinking about their job.
I am always amazed how quickly and efficiently they clean up the streets after any fete or market. As the last white van pulls away from the Place du Marché, the street cleaners are already hard at work. They work swiftly and as a team. Some chucking the cardboard boxes into a refuse truck, others sweeping the rubbish, bits of rejected fruit and vegetables into the path of the little van, which sucks it all up with its brushes. In about 20 minutes the square is absolutely spick and span with no signs of the bustling market that was there half an hour earlier. Other times they drive round the town in their trucks picking up bits of rubbish. They are always friendly and helpful and seem to be happy in their work. Could this be a contender for most stress free job I wondered?
But then the other day, the Artist and I were having lunch in the pretty town of Mausannne in the Alpilles when I noticed a small truck come by carrying a large water tank. Every now and then, the man driving the truck would stop and get out of his truck, disconnect a hose from the side of the tank and water the plants at the side of the street.
I jumped out of my seat, "That's the best job," I said pointing with excitement.
Imagine spending the day watering plants and being paid for it, receiving six weeks holidays a year, or whatever it is they get, full healthcare, job security and a pension to boot! And if you got too hot at any time, working in the noonday sun, you could always give yourself a quick dousing with the water hose! The Artist agreed with me and it was decided that this was the crème de la crème of stressfree jobs.

Its the Asparagus season right now and I buy them with abandon, but it always upsets me to throw away half the stalk and so I decided to experiment and was excited to find out that they make a delicious soup. Heres what I did.
The discarded stalks from approx. 500 gms of Asparagus
A small onion chopped.
A clove of garlic.
A pat of butter
A small slug of olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 a litre of stock, vegetable or chicken

Melt the butter and add a bit of oil, as this will stop the butter from burning.
Add the onions and garlic and cook gently for about 10 minutes, when they should be soft and translucent. Meanwhile peel the Asparagus stalks (not entirely necessary, but will lessen the amount of woody fibre you have to deal with later) and add them to the onions. Let them soften for a few minutes and then add the hot stock. Stir, then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. Then whiz the soup up with a hand whiz and then push it through a sieve. This will remove the woody outer layer (of which there will be less if you peeled the stalks).
Either serve hot with some lovely crusty baguette, or leave to cool and refrigerate and eat on a hot summers day with some chopped chives sprinkled on top. The soup tastes surprisingly creamy, even though no cream has been added. My sister Sabrina suggested adding the rind of that old piece of Parmesan that has been lurking in the depths of the fridge.
This is my version of making the most of what you've got and the beginning to low stress living!

1 comment:

oona said...

It would seem to me that the most stress free life there is is YOURS, my dear! Thanks for the lovely story though. Makes me want to do the same but in MY village in Spain!