Paratge, amistat e formatge: Sharing heritage on an Occitan sheep farm

[En occitan: çai-sota la traduccion per J. Còsta]

Perched among the hills and plateaus of the Grands Causses outside Sévérac-le-Château, the Ferme Seguin offers a range of cheeses made from the farm’s hundreds of sheep, sweeping views of the surrounding countryside…and weekly guided tours in French, English, and Occitan during July and August. It was this last detail that led me to call Rémi Seguin, who runs the family farm with this brother Benoit. When we first spoke, Rémi shared that the offer of Occitan tours originated in his love for the language, which he had studied in school and still could speak “un petit peu”, as he put it. Occitan words remained in daily use on the farm, where local terms relating to sheep raising, cheese making, and rural life often had to be explained to interns who came from other regions and had never encountered such expressions. In addition to valuing Occitan as such a central dimension of the distinctive local culture and traditional industries, Rémi also recounted how he saw the language as capable of conveying certain ideas that were more difficult to express in French. For him, speaking Occitan with visitors was a way of communicating “lo paratge e l’amistat”: while the latter can be translated as amitié (‘friendship, goodwill’), the former is one of the ideas that Rémi described as having no direct equivalent in French. A term harkening back to the values of medieval Occitania, lo paratge remains a subject of much debate and mythologizing but is often described as encompassing concepts of honour, tolerance, chivalry, courtesy, and nobility. As Rémi explained it, this concept included but extended beyond its French translation as partage ‘sharing’, and connoted an idea of transmitting knowledge and values as well.

Le partage du fromage à la soirée occitane (Photo: Sara Brennan)

This understanding of lo paratge e l’amistat became clear when I visited the farm on the occasion of one of the soirées occitanes that Rémi and Benoit host every summer in addition to the weekly guided tours. Beginning with a tour of the farm, Rémi explained to the 30-40 assembled guests that he and his brother offered such visits because it was important for people to better understand both the work that went into the creation of the products they buy, and the lives of the individuals producing these items. Walking us through the farm, he interlaced explanations of advancements in sheep raising technologies with stories of past generations’ practices and insights into the impact of current changes on his and his family’s lives, bringing into vivid relief the human side of sheep raising and cheese production. After inviting guests to help herd the sheep up the hill to their grazing pastures, Rémi then kicked off the second part of the evening, which centred on a homemade meal of locally sourced products and Occitan music played by a group of local musicians, all taking place under the vaulted ceiling of a centuries-old barn restored by the Seguin family. Beginning his speech by welcoming his guests in Occitan, Rémi explained that “la lenga nòstra” was part of daily life on the farm. In addressing visitors in Occitan and describing the everyday use of the language, he continued, he hoped to share the “patrimoine linguistique” (‘linguistic heritage’) of the farm and of Occitanie with all those gathered there that evening, just as they were sharing “le patrimoine de bâti que vous avez autour de vous” (‘the built heritage all around you’) in the restored barn. He concluded by recalling the familial heritage of the farm, tracing his family’s agricultural endeavours back through the decades and centuries.

 La montée des brebis à la ferme Seguin (Photo: Sara Brennan)

Between this welcoming speech, the guided tour that preceded it, and the family-style dining at long tables that followed, the links between Rémi’s approach both to using Occitan and to hosting guests at his farm became clear. As we feasted on lamb and cheese from his sheep while his visitors got to know each other and the musicians sang Occitan songs, Rémi explained to me how this atmosphere of conviviality and of meeting new people was the essence of a soirée occitanefor him: in such a setting, he said, “on le fait revivre” (‘we make Occitan come alive again’). Reflecting his understanding of Occitan as a language that communicated lo paratge, and thus a sense of sharing that integrated the transmission of values and knowledge, the guided visit and family-style meal illuminated this idea by sharing the work and life of the Seguin family so that guests could better understand the people behind the cheese they buy, and to get to know both local producers and other visitors in a convivial setting. Linguistic, material, and familial heritage intertwined under the barn’s ancient vault, as cheese boards were passed around and conversation flowed in French, English, and bits of Occitan. Rémi Seguin’s embrace of Occitan could thus be seen as furthering his mission in organising guided visits and evening meals at the farm, as all these elements centre on a desire to promote sharing, understanding, conviviality, and the transmission of local heritage.


La traduccion occitana de Jaume

Paratge, amistat e formatge: Compartir lo patrimòni dins la bòria

Quilhat au mitan dei colas e dei plans dau Grand Causse, just fora de Severac dau Castèu, la Granja Seguin porgís, en mai d’una vista fantastica e d’un molon de formatges fachs a partir dau lach dei centenats de fedas, long dei mes de julhet e d’avost, de visitas en francés, anglés e occitan. Es aquò que me menèt a mandar una telefonada a Romieg Seguin, que s’ocupa de la granja amb son fraire Beneset. Quand parleriam premier, me diguèt Romièg qu’èra son amor per la lenga d’òc que lo faguèt prepasar de visitas en lenga nòstra. La lenga, l’aviá apresa a l’escòla e la parlava encara un pauc, çò diguèt.

De mòts occitans, ligats ai fedas o au formatge en particular, èran encara en usatge dins la bòria, e aviá de leis explicar ais emplegats d’autrei regions. En mai de la valor patrimoniala de la lenga, per Romièg l’occitan permetiá d’exprimir d’idèas que passavan mau en francés. Per eu, parla l’occitan èra un biais de comunicar lo ‘paratge e l’amistat’. Sa comprension dau paratge de l’amistat fuguèt lèu òbvia quand visitèri la bòria a l’ocasion d’una dei seradas occitanas que Romièg e Beneset organizan cada estiu en mai dei visitas per lei toristas. En mai de la visita, Romièg expliquèt ai 30-40 convidats qu’eu e son fraire prepausavan tot aquò per que lo mond comprenguèsson mielhs lo trabalh qu’entra dins la fabricacion dei produchs e tanbèn la vida d’aquelei que lei fan. Nos contèt a l’encòp lei tecnicas de produccions e la vida dins la bòria amb lei fedas. La seconda part de la serada fuguèt un moment de fèsta, amb balèti e sopar fach amb de produchs locaus — fuguèt tanbèn l’ocasion d’explicar ai convidats l’importància de la lenga nòstra, de faire ausir la lenga, e d’insistir sus l’importància dau patrimòni lingüistic de la granja e mai d’Occitània.

Lo paratge a la granja (Fotò: Sara Brennan)

Entre lo sieu discors, la visita e lo sopar, venguèron clars lei liames que fai Romièg entre l’usatge de l’occitan e son biais d’aculhir lo mond. Mentre que se congostaviam amb l’adòba e lo formatge locau, aprengueriam a se conóisser entre nautrei au son de la musica occitana. Aquò èra, per Romièg, l’esséncia d’una serada occitana, una serada de convivéncia.


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