The name of the village is Gonfaron. It’s a stop on the local TER rail line. I’ve seen it on the train ride between Vidauban and Toulon — a pile of houses piled atop a hill with a small pink chapel at the top and a sprawling church on the bottom. It’s two train stops from Vidauban (15 minutes). The village spreads out from the hill, fanning out a around the church at the bottom of the hill, melting into vineyards, hills and green, green countryside.
After countless times passing the village and wondering about it, I finally Googled it. The population of Gonfaron is around 4,000. It’s been a village for at least, 1100 years. It’s nestled at the foot of the Maures mountain range (you know, the mountain range where Johnny Depp lives). Its main “industry” is cork (probably not a great business now with wine in boxes and screw tops and technology replacing bulletin boards). It has the world’s only reserve for the endangered Herman Tortoise but also houses other tortoises as well. Its patron saint is St. Quinis, who as far as I can tell didn’t do anything amazing, except he was a really nice guy and took a special interest in children (which these days sounds like grounds for imprisonment rather than Sainthood, but maybe that’s just me.) The pink Chapel at the top of the hill is named after him. But what really makes me want to finally get off the train in Gonfaron and pay the village a visit is the town legend.As lore has it, back in 1645 the community was instructed to clean up their yards for the annual Gonfaron festival to honor St. Quinis, . One lazy, ill-tempered Gonfaronnois refused. Years later, St. Quinis exacted his revenge. The Gonfaronnois of “mauvais caractiere” was out riding his donkey and the donkey (l’ane) stumbled. The donkey “glissant” (slid) down the hill with the errant Gonfaronois tumbling after. That’s it. It seems pretty vague. Did they survive? That’s a pretty long tumble.
It might be my translation, but it sounds like the donkey didn’t fly as much as it fell. And you can read the legend several different ways. Maybe the flying/falling donkey (ass) they’re referring to is the Gonfaronnois who didn’t clean his yard for the festival? Maybe the legend is really “the village where asses fall”? Of course there are two interpretations for that too. It could mean where human asses (I’m thinking Donald Trump here, but chose your own ass) inevitably plunge to a humiliating and painful destruction. Or maybe it’s more literal…it’s a village where my ass will actually fall…sag, drop, whatever (good, now I can blame it on the village). Whatever, I like the flying donkey version, because it’s magical and gives me the feeling that anything is possible.
I get off at the train station and the first thing I see is a cave cooperative — a big old shed where they they sell local wines, preserves, products. I decide not to go in because I’m saving myself for the little shops that will surely be in the village. I walk through the “suburbs” of Gonfaron, towards the village (a two minute walk).
Downtown Gonfaron consists of an astonishingly beautiful square. It’s huge for such a little town, with the Church at one end. The trees make a perfect ceiling over the entire square. It’s blistering hot today, which makes the leafy canopy that much more appealing (and the square that much more difficult to photograph).
There are really no shops to speak of…a bakery that’s closed. A butcher that’s closed. There’s a tiny grocery store that’s closed. A tiny real estate office that’s closed. Sure, there are three cafes, but woman doesn’t live on food alone. I check the train schedule for the next train back to Vidauban. Three and a half hours. How on earth will I pass the time? Dear Lord, I’m trapped in a village with no shops! Maybe if I climb to the top to the hill and bray like a donkey, I can fly home?
I tour the village, which is lovely. I climb to St. Quinis to admire the view, which is also really lovely. Which leaves me another 3 hours and 27 minutes to kill. I’ll definitely have lunch in the square, but that’s good for 2 hours tops, and only if I drink waaaaay too much coffee.
I decide to visit the tortoises and follow the signs that lead me out of the village and into the aforementioned vineyards and green rolling hills. Have I mentioned it’s hot? Or that I don’t have a hat? J’ai besoin de chapeau. Without one, I’ll dehydrate and die. And get a headache! In order to preserve my health, I turn back to the village, wishing desperately a little shop will have opened in the village where I can buy a hat. And some macarons. And maybe a nice pair of shoes.No such luck. But I do manage to kill a half hour trying to decide between the three cafes. One looks a little sandwichy. One has a curry special, which doesn’t seem very french or cafe-like. So I pick the other one and spend another half hour anguishing over what to order. I decide on the grilled entrecote (pas trop rouge s’il vous plait) fries and a salad. It’s pretty damn good.
I linger over a cafe creme and watch the people having lunch here. I’m the only English speaking person here, so I make up what they’re saying and little stories about their relationships. A very young French couple have brought their dog, who is clearly a substitute for the baby they’re unable to conceive. He eats a bowl of kibble by their table while they dine. She practically burps him when he’s finished (the dog, not her significant other). A German family is trying to reconnect, but the teenaged daughter is having none of it. A pack of bike riders all decked out in spandex and helmets, thankfully decide to lunch elsewhere. I spend a good 15 minutes hating them from across the square.
As I’m paying the bill and noting I have another hour until the train arrives, I hear the clattering of steel shutter doors.. It’s the tiny grocery store opening!!!! I practically skip across the square. I spend the next 45 minutes really studying the different kind of cookies that are available in France. Even in a tiny grocery store like this, you get a good representative sample. I’ll save my conclusions for another blog.
All in all, I’ve had a lovely afternoon even without the benefit of one shop (tiny grocery stores don’t count and I didn’t even buy the Bon Maman Citron Tartes I wanted). There were no miraculous donkey flights, nothing amazing happened.
When I get to the train station at the correct time and the little monitor tells me “train retarde 20 minutes” I don’t even get mad. Not even when it’s retarde another 15 minutes after that. While you may not consider that a miracle on the order of a donkey taking flight, I’d say it’s pretty darn close.
Filed under: culture, Deep thoughts, france on a budget, french culture, Provence, tourism, trains, transportation, travel, travel humor, Var, Vidauban, village ass, village ass, donkey Tagged: | Flying Donkey, Gonfaron, Legend of flying donkey, Provence, Tortoise shelter, Var, Village