Tales from
the Loir

A Weekly Column

July 10, 2002 - Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

Modern Day Flintstones
By Daemienne Sheehan
Ms. London Magazine
July 8, 2002

Daemienne Sheehan asks whether you could ever contemplate joining people who choose to live in caves. Flintstones, meet the Flintstones.

The troglodytes of Lavardin can be split into three distinctive groups -pensionners fulfilling their retirement dream of a personal drinking den, trendy Parisians in search of weekend getaways and finally - Bill and Aprille Glover. Bill Glover, 55, is a former lawyer from Georgia and a full-time Francophile. He has lived with his stone sculptor wife, Aprille, for two years in a cave that was home to a family of five in the 1940s. Life in a cave, says Bill, is paradise. And it is only 200 American greenbacks a month.

The French are notoriously dismissive of anyone who can’t speak the mother-tongue perfectly. Or are they? Everyone in Lavardin adores this robust American who wears fuschia-coloured shirts and speaks French with a slow Southern accent. Was Bill simply born in the wrong place? In the manner of Baloo the Bear, Bill admits that when he first moved to Lavardin he "just slept".

"There wasn’t any heat or electricity and I got real sick. But it was so dark and cosy I hibernated. It’s real easy to sleep in a cave. Of course I’ve had to change my routine because I established myself as a hard-drinker and I have to write too. Troglodytes are real party-animals. They’re just as friendly as anything."

Bill has written two books on modern-day troglodyte living. The first one is called Cave Life in France: Eat, Drink, Sleep…

Cave life is as simple as that. Lavardin, voted one of the most French of French villages, has only one bakery, run by baker filled with so much self-belief he even sells his burnt baguettes. There are also two restaurants which only open for lunch and supper and were both closed for holidays. The restaurant Le Caveau is run by a lady whom Bill says is a dead ringer for Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke. That’s about it. For the 137 year-round residents, there are no cinemas, theatres or bookshops.

But Lavardin is not for the prudish. French troglodytes live to eat and drink. This is charcuterie country with enough pate and terrine to plaster the Louvre. Every cave has a pressoir (wine-press) and an open fireplace for roasting spits. During harvest-time, the troglodytes and villagers travel the region with a home-made still on wheels, used for making a special wine that must be consumed within a day.

Since their arrival, Bill and Aprille have upgraded their cave with electricity, plumbing and the Internet. In the daytime, the whitewashed dwelling, which faces the sun and opens onto a hillside garden, is filled with light. Neighbours range from a Parisian bridge-builder to a pensioner with 5000 bottles of wine. There is one English couple which Bill couldn’t figure out initially. They’d come for two weeks, work the whole time fixing up their cave, then leave. Last time, we got them to relax a little.

Bill’s wife, Aprille was diagnosed with HIV in her early twenties and lost her infant son to the illness. This was in the early days of HIV and Aprille may have contacted it through her hemophiliac boyfriend. Whether it’s cave-air or a 'live life to the full philosophy', Aprille at 35 could pass for a decade younger. Self-educated, Aprille has the auto-didact habit of perpetually foot-noting. Amongst other things, I now know how to use caustic soda as a patina and that Leonardo Da Vinci did not invent the vanishing point.

One night, after a boozy feast in the local church, teetotaller Aprille decided on a midnight stroll. "I’ll show you the Castle Keep and the caves underneath." "Now?" I say over the rim of my glass. It’s 1 a.m. Aprille finds a torch and we’re out the door in search of troglo-delights. Bill last words are, "Be careful babe."

The caves under the castle lead to Montoire through a series of honeycombs that go on for 4 kilometres. I sincerely hope we’re not going to do the whole nine yards. We crawl into the cave through the roots of a live tree. It’s a cave-woman size hole and, as we wiggle under, clumps of dirt land on our head. A tsunami of bats rises up in an instant.

"Bats have a perfect sense of direction," Professor Aprille assures me. I’m thinking of the law of averages. Surely some bats are clumsy?

The caves are not magnificent stalagmitic constructions. They are more of an Appalachian labyrinth where banjo-players take city-folk for a comeuppance. Ceilings are midget height with tunnels spiralling off in all directions. As I hunch along, I almost fall into an underground spring coated with wafers of calcium deposit. Still it’s pretty extraordinary and thank god one of us is sober. The bats continue to fling themselves at us and I can’t help but notice these honeycomb burrows all have twins.

"Don’t worry", says Aprille, "we follow the arrows." The arrows along the walls point one way and are few and far between. I would be a lot happier with neon exit signs but this is France Profonde, Deep France, where you can live almost the same as 100 years ago. Mobiles, I remember, don’t work in caves. We edge our way along.

"So", I say not wanting to be a damp blanket, "Are we going to the next village tonight?" Aprille looks surprised. "Why no", of course not, "Bill always gets worried when I go in here."

We’re outside again and Aprille wants to hit the chateau. It’s around two a.m. but she knows a secret entrance so we head off in the moonlight. For the first time in my life I break into a nationally designated heritage spot. Instead of camera-toting tourists the chateau is filled with goats and goat droppings. High on the crumbling steps a trio watch us with proprietorial irritation. Aprille is ahead of me, lecturing about Roman invasions, Vikings and Germans. The goats are sniffing the air dangerously. There’s always been cave-dwellers, she says, the German army couldn’t examine them all, there’s too many. The villagers hid an American soldier in one until he recovered. We’re high up above the Loir region. A woolly fog descends until all we are left with is a single light blinking in the mountain-side.

"Do you know what that is", Aprille says in her singsong Southern voice. "Our cave. Bill has left the light on for us." She sounds like a twelve-year old.

Another lesson I learn from Aprille is that the caves are over 3000 years old and were used by Druids. I can’t quite grasp this. "But Druids didn’t keep guest-books", I say. She blithely ignores me. "Or did they?"

"All the caves are shrines to Bacchus", she continues, "You can tell because there’s tiny stone birds with penises in them." But wasn’t Bacchus a chubby chops who hung out with satyrs? Wouldn’t goats with penises make more sense? I give up. She lists 1001 further astounding facts about caves then announces she has to go work in her studio. It’s 3 in the morning.

Bill and Aprille set off for her non-cave Montoire studio, leaving me alone. At first it’s fine but then I begin to miss her lectures. The cave is subtly humming. This goes on for some time before I realize it’s the electricity. After unplugging everything, I am left in the pitchest pitch-black. Around 5, I awake in a sweat, convinced I am sleeping in the same spot as where Druids made sacrifices. It’s a stone ledge, I keep saying. And it’s elevated!!!! I imagine my blood pouring in neat streams down the roughly cut steps into the sunken bit below. It dawns on me that there are no windows. Good Christ, I think, I’m in a damn cave. What the hell have I done?

I spend the night with the picturesque door open onto a plummeting ravine which in my hotwired brain, is filled with serial cave-killers. Around 6, I finally nod off. Aprille, who never sleeps, rings me at 8. I’m thrilled to hear her voice and confess my Druid fear.

"Oh, didn’t I tell you", she says, "our cave is a non-Druid cave. But three caves down has a ghost. A Canadian man who created the Beaux Arts in Montreal. He’s still in the cave, walking around, as a ghost. Ever since they walled it up, he’s been kinda stuck."

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July 3, 2002 - Bugs

June 26, 2002 - Summer

June 19, 2002 - French Property News

June 5, 2002 - Emmanuel de Broglie

April 24, 2002 - Election Day in Saint Rimay

April 17, 2002 -Surprise Review

April 3, 2002 - Spring in Lavardin
March 20, 2002 - Guest Columnist /Furman Magazine/ John Roberts
March 13, 2002 - Tête de Veau
March 6, 2002 - Table Etiquette
February 27, 2002 - A Country Boy Can Survive
February 20, 2002 - Driving in France
February 13, 2002 - The Circus
February 6, 2002 - History of France
January 30, 2002 - THE BEST I EVER HAD
January 23, 2002 - Miranda This
January 16, 2002 - Charlotte Observer Interview
January 9, 2002 - Walnut Wine
January 2, 2002 - Sloe Gin
December 26, 2001 - Winter Solstice
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000



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