Leï vendumi means harvest in Provençal. Claude Boyer shares these memories with us. Head for Le Puget sur Argens (Var).

In the 60s, my mother and my grandmother used to do the harvest at Yvonne and Charles Giraud's, perhaps some Passadoc readers knew them. They lived on rue Saint-Jean in Puget-sur-Argens.

We left very early in the blue dumper pulled by Papillon (all the horses were called Papillon or Bijou) but he was my friend. When my mom used to cook artichokes, I wanted to save the heart hay for Papillon.

Charles held Papillon by the bridle, and we went at the pace of that crew as far as Canevère. Rex the dog (all the dogs were called Rex or Marquis) trotted along, tending to his canine preoccupations, with his nose flush with the ground, stopping here and there to sniff out some scent from a previous congener, or uttering a brief yelp which only he could know for whom it was intended.

I thought it was unfair that Rex was forced to walk, so I asked permission, which was always accepted, to walk with Papillon by the bridle myself; so I made it clear to Rex that he wasn't alone, which he couldn't care less about. I was especially proud – even more so when we met a friend – to cross the village giving myself the appearance of mastering this behemoth of muscles that would have sent my ass over my head at the slightest quiver of my nostrils.

Punctuated by the horse's pace, the journey lasted a certain amount of time. Once they arrived, the pickers set to work, brightening up two by two in each row, each on one side of the vine, a straw hat or scarf on their head because the sun still beats down hard in September. While cutting the bunches, they chatted gaily, and peals of laughter could be heard; Sometimes one of them would get up to hold her back for a moment, but not for too long so as not to be left behind by the one opposite. Having done the harvest afterwards, I know how much more exhausting the cutting of the grapes is than carrying the canesteù.

At the time, I was too young to be entrusted with pruning shears, so I collected grass and gave it to Papillon, who waited placidly between the stretchers of the cart in the middle of the vines. When no one was looking in my direction, I picked a small bunch and hurriedly gave it to my boyfriend as I had been taught, with my hand wide open, the offering on my palm. He then delicately grasped the forbidden fruit with the tips of his big lips as if he knew he had to do so so as not to hurt me. I speak of the grape as the forbidden fruit, for if Charles was not a bad fellow, rather placid as his horse, he was a peasant; A penny was a penny and a bunch was a bunch that could have no other destination than the coope.

Annoyed by the horseflies that gave him no respite, Papillon shook his big head or his body quivered with a violent tremor revealing his powerful musculature, his tail, wedged between the stretchers, could not beat its flanks to chase away the annoying insects.

Papillon wasn't my only boyfriend; there was also Jacky, the porter hired by Charles. Jacky was a vagabond who lived in an old caravan. It's hard for me to give him an age because at 7 or 8 years old, it's hard to assess the age of an old man who is in his forties. I remember his chestnut hair, which makes me say now that he was not yet in his fifties. He was one of those battered men of life, without fire or place, who had known a thousand trades, a thousand miseries, a wayfarer who had sprung up from who knows where, or as a result of what fortune of life he had put down his bundle here rather than elsewhere, and who disappeared one day just as discreetly as he had arrived, never to return, leaving only a memory of his passage that faded with time.

Jacky lived for several years in Puget, selling his hands for the harvest, cherries, strawberries... At the time, the market gardening and fruit crops of the Argens plain provided him with work, otherwise he sold himself as a labourer to some mason, cleared a piece of land or cut wood. He wasn't from here, he spoke like the Parisians – to say "canesteù" he said "canestero". From time to time it slipped a little because he didn't just carry the grapes for the harvest, he sometimes appreciated the finished product more than he should have. But he was a good guy, always polite and helpful and no one ever had anything to complain about him. He called my mother "M'dam' Raymond" because my father had sometimes hired him to chop wood for my grandparents. He liked us because, in addition to his salary, my parents invited him to eat and my father was generous with the pastis; Which didn't please my mother so much who thought that the aperitif was a little too long for her taste, but my sister and I were happy, he always had candy or lollipops for us.

He said that he had been a clown in a circus where he practiced his art under the name "Potato". I don't know if that's true, but what I'm sure of is that he made me laugh with his antics. He had one that impressed me a lot. He smoked grey tobacco that he dexterously rolled in JOB paper, he lit his cigarette with a Zippo that smoked like a locomotive because it powered it with car gasoline. Once his cigarette was two-thirds consumed, with a flick of his tongue he managed to turn it over lit in his mouth, drink a shot of rouge, talk for five minutes, and with another movement of his tongue, he would still take it out lit. I tried to imitate him, not with a cigarette of course but with a small piece of wood. All I managed to do was miss swallowing it.

At noon we sat down in the shade of the cypress tree and each one took the meal out of his basket. For us, it was often a cheese omelette in bread, I loved it, or a tomato scramble that we carried in an aluminum military bowl, a vestige of the war that at the time was only about twenty years old.

This aluminium bowl had a little history on it, it was engraved "vergiss meinnicht, Karl" (Don't forget me, Karl). By the very end of the war, the Reich was reduced to enlisting young boys and old men, and Karl was one of those kids. He had landed at Puget completely lost, far from his family, he must have been 16 or 17 years old and needed his mother more than a Mauser. After the Dramont landings, my grandparents took him under their wing before he could return home without any problems. Above all, they were waiting for the RMS (Resistance fighters of the month of September) to calm down, they who discovered a vocation as hunters of the boches once they no longer feared anything, even though they had done their best during the four years of the conflict.
It was during this "captivity", which was not a captivity, that he had engraved this sentence on the bowl. When he was finally able to join his family on the shores of Lake Constance, he had promised to come back and corresponded for some time with my grandparents, but one day, suddenly nothing, they never heard from him again. One fine day, Jacky also tiptoed away. His caravan was found empty, he had filled his bundle with the few meager belongings he possessed, and had resumed his wanderings. What has become of him? We never knew.

When Charles got up and closed his Opinel with a sharp snap, it was the signal to go back to work, but more silently because the fatigue of the morning, plus the digestion and the heat of midday did not encourage discussion.

I still often pass by the property which was then in the middle of the woods and is now surrounded by houses. If the shed and the cypress are still there, the vines have long since disappeared and the view we had of the forest now extends no further than the embankment of the highway built in the early 70s.

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