No one used his real name. He was called André Ferrer but everyone knew him as Pastoret. This, in local patois, means shephard or pastoralist because that is what he had been all his life – tending to his 600 sheep until his mid 70′s. So chuffed was he with his nickname that he had it engraved in stone over his door.
Like many inhabitants in this part of France, his family had left troubled Spain in the early 1900′s (before Franco’s dictatorship, but Spanish unrest had already begun). The hungry families hoped to find work as migrant grape-pickers but found that there were paid jobs all year around, and so they stayed.
They worked hard for their French landlords – pruning the vines and tending livestock in winter, planting vineyards in spring, picking peaches in summer and gathering olives in autumn after the grape harvest.. And with the money they earned they were soon able to buy their own vineyards and houses. You only need to look up the telephone directory to see that most of Mirepeisset inhabitants still sport Spanish names – Campos, Fuentes, Sanchez, Lopez, Calas, Sabater…. – all of them highly respected members of society and well established employers in their own right now.
Pastoret was in his late 70′s by the time I arrived in the village. We were nextdoor neighbours and got on like a house on fire. He was still very active – got on his bike everyday to inspect whatever crops or properties he had scattered about. And depending on the season he still went wild-boar hunting on Wednesdays with his
dogs and his mates. Otherwise he spent his afternoons philosophising (or pontificating!) on the benches in the Placette.
People said that by 6 am he had already had his breakfast. Most probably sardinas (grilled and marinated in olive oil by himself the day before) and served with plenty of raw onions of course. Or perhaps a fried egg with salty mountain ham and a hunk of bread. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention his glass of wine (yes, at dawn – and his only glass of the day).
He was also fond very fond of Migas for breakfast - one of the many hearty Spanish dishes created out of necessity by shepherds and hunters. Migas are stale breadcrumbs soaked in water, olive oil and garlic then fried, and sometimes served with some wild greens.
Pastoret liked to add some chopped ham or a few slices of chorizo. Other classic ‘shepherd’ food includes rabbit and partridge, or grilled calçot (wild leeks) which they may have gathered on their travels. And because these nomads would often not return home for days, they carried shallow pans called cazuelas or gazpacheras to prepare their dinner – hence the many peasant dishes that are traditionally cooked in these vessels.
Immediatley after his breakfast Pastoret started preparing his lunch – which he would eat between 10 and 11am. Perhaps an asadillo (roasted and peeled red peppers cut into quarters and dressed with garlic and oil). I would come into his kitchen and there they would lie all ready and glistening in olive oil with some fresh anchovies delicately draped across..
He didn’t know how to read nor write his name – something I found out only when I took him to the hospital from which he never returned. Embarrassed, he said that he’d forgotten his glasses. Perhaps he had always pretended to read the local news rag, yet he was so very wise and knew so many things – ancient cures and housewives remedies, primordial wisdoms, the mysterious ways of the moon, incredibly accurate weather patterns… One of the last wise things he said to me was that “before television les gens faisaient la fete comme il faut” (people knew how to amuse themselves)… He was also impeccably clean and proper – always smelling of that cheap but deliciously refreshing, splash-on eau de cologne that so many older Spanish men smell of.
His big passion was rugby. He shouted at the French teams, accusing them of being worthless, but he loved, cheered and admired the Irish. I’d often watch a match with him and if the Irish played, I’d bring two small cans of Guinness with me. It was the only alcohol he drank towards the end of his life because he, like the rest of the world, believed that Guinness is good for you. We’d split one can between us for the first half, and downed the second after mi-temps..
His other big love of his life was his dog Hector – obedient, faithful and a great hunting dog. One day he asked me whether I could take a picture of him with his dog. He had all dressed up and installed himself on one of the Placette benches. I took the photo, but he never saw it. Pastoret died 4 days after.