Peasant Autonomy
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Story 134

French Alps – 1975

From another world

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Brigitte Djajasasmita)

French Alps.

Marcel is sitting in his cell with his hands over each other. He has been sentenced to two years in prison. It is hard to understand how it has happened. The apple harvest was splendid this year. They had gotten about fifty bags of apples, enough for three thousand litres of cider. On that November day, Marcel had put twelve bags of marc, heavy fermented draff, on the cart, and he had brought it to the village.

It was snowing. Just like every year, the mobile distillery was standing in front of the church to make gnôle, apple brandy from the marc. Everyone was excited! The other peasants also had a nice harvest: plentiful apples, cider, marc and now very much gnôle. They agreed that Marcel would get more than one hundred litres for sure.

Out of the blue, two tax inspectors had turned up. Mostly, the village was phoned in time by a neighbouring village that they had spotted the inspectors’ car. Everyone kept an eye on it. But just that day the telephone had not worked properly, and there was no time to quickly hide some bottles of gnôle.
'You know what that means,' the chief inspector had said to Marcel, ‘when you have more than twenty litres apple brandy, you have to pay excise tax for the rest.’ Marcel knew it quite well. Tonelessly he said: 'That means that I have to pay for what I produced myself.' He had to pay more than two hundred thousand francs, about half the price of a good workhorse.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Philippe Stanus)

French Alps.

When he was driving back home, he could no longer think carefully, but he knew exactly what to do. He would teach the inspectors a lesson that they would never forget.
At the farm, he put on warm boots, a long overcoat, and a cap. He took his shotgun out of the cupboard and put it under his coat. Along the side of the road, he waited for the inspectors. When he saw their car approaching, he went to the middle of the road and waved his arms. The car stopped; the chief inspector turned down his window and asked what was happening. He looked into the barrels of the shotgun.

For two days Marcel had locked up the inspectors in a grenier, a small grain barn at a remote, abandoned farm. Then, he had released them. They had been deadly afraid. He had tried to explain to them what was upsetting him: the injustice. But they had not understood his anger. Nothing! They came from another world.


The book Pig Earth (1979) of the English writer John Berger contains a series of short stories about the peasant life in the small French mountain village where Berger has lived since the middle of the seventies.

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= the next page: A flock of sheep in the capital - Anatolia and Ankara, Turkey – 1978, story 135.
= the Table of contents, story 134.