|without even trying, to
recruit a large number of young people for the group. They were,
however, mostly young ladies, which should have alerted me from the outset.
The group shrank to a mere handful of participants after the day I was
seen walking in the street with the lovely daughter of a vacationing family
from Marseille, who were staying at the hotel. This incident removed
any further illusions about my special charisma as a youth leader.
Though Lasalle was located
in an agricultural region, the mountains were not fertile and supplies
were not plentiful. The prime resource of the Cévennes was
its millions (literally) of chestnut trees which covered the mountains.
It was a labor-intensive crop, with not too many uses. Thus, it remained
cheap, making the local economy poor at best. During the war, however,
chestnuts were at a premium in the cities, especially the smoke-dried variety,
which made the chestnut hard like stone, but preserved it for years.
In order to make these dried chestnuts edible, one had to soak them overnight,
preferably in milk, and then cook them for an hour. The end result
was a magnificently tasty fruit which could be prepared with sugar or salt.
I ate my bowlful of these nourishing chestnuts every morning during my
stay at the church, where they were prepared for me by Madame Muret, the
concierge. My supply had arrived on my first day, when a farmer showed
up at the door with a large sack of the nuts, offering them with the disconcerting
words, "Monsieur le Pasteur, here are some chestnuts. The hogs no
longer want them." I accepted them, remembering the story of the
My huge and ill-equipped
manse was located on the second floor of one of the largest buildings of Lasalle, toward the middle of the long, and only, street of the town.
On the ground level the president of the Church Board, Aimé Soulier,
had his office. On the other side, and on the same ground floor,
was the office of the local tax assessor, who led a solitary life.
French taxes of that period were calculated by the exterior signs of riches,
and his indiscreet eye could always increase your tax bill when he found
out that you had acquired a piano or a new piece of furniture. So
no one ever invited the tax man anywhere. Since I had no assets outside
of my suitcase, we were on the best of terms, socially. But not knowing
my political views, and since his apartment was just below mine, the poor
man listened to the BBC under a blanket, so as not to alert me in case
I should happen to be a creature of Pétain. I never cooked
any meals at the manse, not only because I would not have known how, but
also because it was simpler and cheaper to eat at the only hotel, almost
on the other side of town, where I had my little table and my daily-replenished
bottle of red wine.
THE MAQUIS IN LASALLE
Lasalle was Maquis country.
There were no Germans anywhere in sight and in one way or another the mood
was much like that of the region during the early 18th century: The
Cévennes were in revolt and the authorities on the outside were
practically powerless except for occasional incursions, which did not bring