O h W e l l
IN TRANQUIL PROVENCE, WITH A STING
Southern France is as lovely as you've heard and read,
BUT FOR THE PRESENCE OF SCORPIONS
NOBODYtold us about the scorpions.
We'd read the brochures. We'd read the articles.
We'd read Peter Mayle,
who wrote about the heat, the cold and the workmen.
He wrote about the mistral
(the wind that blows from the north for days on end).
He wrote about truffles.
But not once did he mention scorpions
(well, actually, he may have --
it's been a while since I've read him --
but if he did write about scorpions
he didn't make a big deal about them).
I haven't heard anybody mention those little guys
as they espouse the charms and marvels of Provence.
Southern France is idyllic.
Southern France is pastoral.
Southern France looks like a great big Cezanne painting
(it really does).
And southern France has nasty little critters
with stingers coiled up over their backs.
To be fair, I haven't seen much advertising
for Tucson, Sedona or parts of the American Southwest
that mentions healthy scorpion populations.
Giving the benefit of the doubt,
I have to assume that folks get so used to having them around
that they just forget to mention them.
That, or it's a vast conspiracy of silence.
Last spring we had the good fortune to come up with
seven weeks of combined sabbatical and leave time.
Having been to southern France several times on tighter time schedules,
my wife and I thought this would be the perfect time to settle in
and get to know the countryside.
We decided on an extended stay in a Provencal village house
(leaving time for Paris, of course, and additional regional exploration).
The village house we selected was not technically in Provence.
It was to the west of the Rhone River,
the regional dividing line and mistral thoroughfare.
We were just outside of the town of Uzes,
a pretty little town of ancient history, friendly inhabitants
and a wealth of misinformation on scorpions.
On our first day in the house
we perused the visitors' journal that was,
fortunately for me, all in English.
We were the first Americans in this British-owned home.
I came across one, then two, on to three tidy,
very British references to the lovely house,
the rather good Thai restaurant in Uzes (it is),
the warmth of the sun,
and, oh, yes,
the scorpion counts.
We eventually added to these entries:
Lovely house. Thai restaurant. Sun.
Nine scorpions in four weeks.
In the house.
On the stairway.
In the shower.
Fortunately for our neighbors,
the unearthly shriek that was waiting in this discovery
was avoided because of my showering first on that morning.
Not that I didn't quake for just an instant,
it's that spiders
-- and scorpions resemble spiders with a severe attitude problem --
send my wife nearly into convulsions.
(I have the hearing loss to prove it).
On that first day I gently mentioned that,
you might want to shake out your shoes in the morning.
Actually, it wasn't all that bad.
We got used to shaking out our shoes
(never found one in there),
gently picking up the doorway draft pillow
(a big one there),
and generally treating the house
as we would any dry-climate outdoor scree slope:
Keep your eyes open and watch where you place your hands and feet.
We heard everything from,
"They don't sting, they only pinch"
to "Dangereux? Je ne sais pas."
The best advice came from the British overseer:
"Espadrilles work great."
If nobody else tells you, let me:
Southern France has scorpions.
And the countryside?
It looks just like a great big Cezanne painting.
lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon
The Sunday Oregonian
April 9, 2000
Share YOUR Thoughts