French President Francois Hollande today spent about ten hours visiting the Salon de l’Agriculture – not in any sense a vote collecting exercise. He is apparently not very popular with country people in France, but then he’s not really got a lot of fans in any section of the population.
A few years ago we too visited this exhibition, which demonstrates the wide range of agriculture in France. The weather was very cold and snowy in Paris then as now, so it was quite comforting to spend the day in the warmth. Once you have paid your admission fee, you can actually eat and drink for free from all the samples that are waved in front of you. There were all the different breeds of French cattle and sheep and pigs and also some foreign guests. I had to go to greet the Highland cattle on display. I never knew how many different varieties of goat there are. Visitors are not permitted to feed the animals on display, which may have accounted for the very unpleasant expression on the face of a rather large mule. I’m sure he felt he deserved a carrot for standing there for so long with all these people streaming past him.
Different halls contained the produce of France’s overseas territories, the poultry and rabbits bred in farm yards, hunting dogs, horses and donkeys. The whole exhibition covers a vast area but the cheese, wine, sausage and other samples keep the visitor going, especially the seafood nibbles from the Caribbean. From the Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, the Alps and Pyrenees to the pastures of Normandy and other less well-known regions – I even discovered there is a Berry donkey – it was an impressive display of the wealth and variety of France’s produce.