Speaking of France...

To the untutored eye, this photograph may look fairly unremarkable - dull, even.  A road runs between some featurelessly pleasant fields.  In the distance there are woods and the merest hint of a farm or perhaps the outskirts of a town or village.  The road is fairly busy and there is a van in the right-hand field; it could be moving or simply parked there.

As I hope you’d expect, however, there’s a lot more to this picture than meets the eye.  In truth, it reveals something which - to me at least - is a surprising and regrettable aspect of French life.

Yes, we’re in France.  We are in Beaujolais, looking north on the old main road between Lyon and Paris.  We are on the edge of the town of Villefranche-sur-Sâone, which lies immediately behind us.  Ahead of us lies St Georges de Reneins (Serge’s home village, which you can see in the distance) and Belleville.

At great personal risk to myself, I pulled the car into the lay-by that you can see and quickly ‘snapped’ the picture.  I did this not because I think the view is memorable or interesting - it isn’t - or because anything dramatic is happening - it’s not.

The object of my attention is the white van in the field.  It is parked in exactly that place all day, every day (as far as I know) and performs a function which is still sadly regarded as essential and normal in France.

To all intents and purposes, the white van is a brothel.

Everyone who drives past knows it’s a brothel because it wears the accepted uniform; it’s white and it’s parked on a farm track facing a busy road from which it’s clearly visible - and with a conveniently placed lay-by.  Hundreds of vans just like this one are parked in very similar locations all over France.

Passing drivers in need of its occupant’s services need only glance at the van’s windscreen.  If it is partly obscured by a Venetian blind, madame is available.  If the blind is fully drawn, madame is busy.

in my photograph, madame must be available.  There are no cars parked in the lay-by or on the farm track.  Interestingly, the feint blue lights of two police cars are just visible on the road ahead of the farm track.  But madame need not worry; they are simply doing speed and safety checks.

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