Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Insect People

Where I live, the residents are known as Sauvains. Next door, in Quissac, live the Quissacois, a bit Native-American sounding, but not without logic. It’s when we head in the other direction, to St-Hippolyte-du-Fort, that it starts to get strange. OK, it’s not so easy to name the residents of such a place, but like something from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ they are known as Les Cigalois - the Cicada People.  

It must be a disappointment going there for the first time and finding that it has an agreeable summer market with lots of sunny café terraces. The only slightly untoward thing there is the abundance of cicada-shaped tourist tat: brooches, ‘ornaments’ and a ceramic insect with a sensor, which chirrups when you walk past it. How did we manage......?

Legend has it that the people of St Hippo, as it’s normally known, acquired their name after  a bet made centuries ago by the Sauvains, who thought their neighbours were, let’s say, a bit slow, to the point where they were incapable of catching even a cigale. The medieval sense of humour can  sometimes be impenetrable and the rather thin joke loses even more in translation. Suffice to say, the people of Sauve sent their neighbours on a wild goose chase, catching the insects, and the name cigalois(e) stuck.

Not that the Sauvains are much better. I recently heard a story of a Sauve resident of thirty years ago who used to eat cicadas. Apparently, he was what the French sometimes call spéciale, although my friend preferred idiot du village. He used to sit by the church in Sauve with the elderly residents, and often had a bag of live cicadas with him, which he ate like peanuts. He would pull the wings off before popping these plump delicacies into his mouth. You could always tell when he had been around because of the discarded wings scattered around the bench.

Even at home, on our terrace in summer, you sometimes have to speak up as le chant des cigales can be deafening. I recorded it, incongruously enough using ‘Garage Band’ on my Mac, but the general effect of thousands of quite large insects singing in unison doesn’t really come across. I tried to include a sample, thinking that there might be some New-Ager out there who might find it a useful protection against macrame or veganism, but alas I was prevented from doing so by my computer illiteracy. Google it and you’ll get the idea.

The insects themselves are particularly unattractive. Large bugs, slightly bigger than your thumb, they live their brief lives in trees and are very rarely seen, just as well really, as they often reduce town-dwellers to gibbering hysteria. What a friend calls ‘wasp around the Coca-cola syndrome.’

1 comment:

  1. St Hyppolyte is, of course, the same saint as St Ippolyts (your spelling may vary), near Hitchin. No cicadas in St Ippolyts, AFAIK. The Greeks have a saying, that as soon as you mention how loud the cicadas are, they stop chirruping.