A Goatly Encounter

The goat turned its head and looked at me. It was small for a goat, black, with dainty little hoofs. Its eyes, however, were like all goats’ eyes – yellow and evil. It was perched on a small wooden trolley in the middle of the busy marketplace, tethered to a pin with a length of chain.

Intrigued, I stopped. Around me, fruits and vegetables of every kind imaginable spread out in a vast patchwork skirt of colours. Meat was displayed in all its forms: escalopes, filets and gigots; paupiettes, fritons and terrines; andouillettes, fricandeaux and boudins. Fish lay on beds of crushed ice; bees had contributed honey, royal jelly, propolis and pollen to the feast; the sultry odour of spices hung in the air. To one side of me, a tray of upturned lettuces shook out their frilly petticoats and a row of Kilner jars crammed with thick yellow “graisse de canard” responded with boozy winks. Above me, buttons marched determinedly down the front of no-nonsense print overalls.

The goat was the only example of livestock to be seen in the marketplace that Saturday morning, and I wondered why. Was it for sale, to be butchered and made into goat côtelettes, rillettes or saucissons? I hoped not. In spite of the evil yellow eyes it was a dear little thing. Was it a walking promotion for the sale of goat’s milk and cheese? The trolley held nothing apart from the goat with its chain and a bowl of bright green leaves, which it was chewing enthusiastically. And a large quantity of goat droppings, whose production was closely observed by two wide-eyed small boys.

The man standing next to the goat was no doubt the owner. I would ask him about it. He looked just as out of place as the goat, being decidedly overdressed for a hot day in the south of France in early September. His heavy chocolate-brown woollen cardigan was zipped up to the neck and his denim-clad legs ended in a pair of sturdy boots. I approached him and asked, in my halting French, if the goat was for sale. No, it wasn’t. It was a female of the dwarf variety and lived in the rescue centre he ran for abandoned and ill-treated animals, along with two other goats and sundry cats, dogs and rabbits. The goats had once been the property of an elderly lady who was no longer able to care for them. If I would like to buy (here he opened a cupboard underneath the trolley and produced his wares) a packet or tin of sweets (contents: sugar, glucose, honey and balsamic pine flavouring), this would help cover the costs of food and veterinary treatment for the animals. He could do me a special deal if I bought both the packet and the tin. And the goat was called Brigitte.

It was impossible to say no. I looked at the happily munching Brigitte, who obviously had a large appetite, then back at the perspiring Frenchman gazing at me with the soulful eyes of a modern-day St Francis, and handed over my euros. The sweets held no appeal for me but the tin was unusual and would look good among the others lined up on my kitchen shelves at home.

Next stop was a bakery stall, where I bought a “Jésuite” – a flaky-pastry confection filled with almond-flavoured crème pâtissière. I found a sunny bench and got down to the serious business of eating. Mmm! Four euros, but worth every cent.

Four euros . . . Something clicked in my head. How much had I given the goat man? A quick calculation and I realised the dreadful truth – it was easily enough to keep Brigitte and her pals in Bacardi and coke and fuchsia pink nail polish for the next month.

How could I have been so naïve? He must have sussed me out the minute he saw me. A lone female tourist – and an Englishwoman at that, guaranteed to be as soppy about small furry animals as the rest of her race – would be a walkover. No doubt Brigitte had gone without breakfast that morning so that she would appear all the more endearingly hungry by the time I saw her. As for the two small boys so interested in her bowel movements, they were probably St Francis’s sons, being trained for a life of crime. Come to think of it, they had the same hypnotic brown eyes . . .

M Histed

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