WARNING! THIS BLOG POST HAS IMAGES THAT MAY OFFEND CERTAIN READERS
Right next door to the VCCA artist residency in the village of Auvillar is the local hunting lodge. There, a robust group of about twenty dedicated hunters can be found on any given Sunday between 7:30 am to 6:00 p.m. I know this because they happen to congregate outside my ground floor bedroom window, their deep voices jocular and rich with local patois.
First, the hunt. In the early fog of morning the hunters set out in small groups with their guns and their dogs to flush out young deer or boar. Again, I know this because I was startled by shots ringing out while walking on a quiet country road…
The scenery at that time of the morning is breathtaking.
Next up, the hunters head back to the lodge with sacks of game. How do I know this? Because of the tell tale trail of blood on the sidewalk as I exited the residence!
When I asked one hunter what he had in his sack, he duly reached in and pulled out ‘les bambis‘. I’m not sure that’s quite the way Disney intended us to think of Bambi…
Rather than cringe and act horrified (I myself rarely eat meat), I engaged the hunters in conversation and was surprised by their sophisticated responses. Firstly, they assured me that the farmers and the municipality depended on then to cull the herds. They do not believe in hunting for sport and consume everything they hunt. They also recommended venison for lowering cholesterol and recommended it over fish because of the latter’s high mercury levels. So, what’s next? Skinning and carving, of course!
Strangely, I was totally unfazed by these proceedings. Over the next few hours, the hunters cooked the meat and enjoyed their rewards at a long communal table. My studio was redolent with the smell of grilled meat. The sounds of laughter and camaraderie lured me back down to the hunting lodge, thinking I might take some photographs and maybe even do a few portraits. My motto when on an artist residency – expect the unexpected and go with the flow.
The hunters were most accommodating, each in turn introducing himself with cheek kisses. One game-y smelling fellow said to me “You smell lovely. Nina Ricci?” How hilarious, and how absolutely French! I returned to the studio and completed a portrait of the patron of the hunting lodge in one hour. Back I went to my now familiar friends, with portrait in hand. Oh la la! Bravo!!!! Standing ovations! It was a huge hit!
They intend to hang the painting under the prized boar’s head, and invited me to sit with them and share dessert and red wine. Not just any dessert, mind you. A delicious apple pattiserie baked on site by one the hunters who happened to be a retired baker. Vive la France!