We’ve now been living in France for two months. When I say ‘living in France’ it’s in a loose kind of way, as we spent 10 days of it in England! After 6 weeks of hard graft on the house over the summer break we started back to work for the new term at the beginning of September and for me it was the first year I haven’t had the usual week of stressed start-of-the-new-school-year nightmares preceding the first day back (and that’s after 15 years of being out of the classroom but still working with schools and colleges). Colin and I both had prior work commitments in the UK in the first week of term so we headed back to the ferry port at Caen. It was really weird after so many years of making that journey with a heavy heart to know that we would be back in a few days. I had a lovely week catching up with friends and seeing family (and I have to admit that the break from bathroom renovations was great – my first shower in 5 weeks!) but there was a kind of detachment and we really felt as if we had moved on. It felt good to get on the ferry last weekend and head home.
We had something to look forward to on our return too. Our new friends, Jacques and Marie-Claude, had emailed us just before we left for England to invite us to a concert of French songs that they were holding at their place (as you do), in the middle of September. We had readily accepted the invitation, but then as soon as we got back, started agonising over the detail. The invite said 3pm – did that mean the concert started at 3pm and we were expected to arrive earlier, or did they mean we were to arrive at 3? The email said that we should bring something à grignoter , to nibble after the concert. They would put on an ‘Auberge espagnole’, harvest supper. In other words, everyone brings something to share at the end of the concert. OK, sounds simple enough, but if the concert starts at 3pm it would finish around 5pm? Are we looking at a full evening meal here, a picnic, a few crisps or what? I had asked for advice on the kind of food to bring when I emailed to accept – the answer was enthusiastic but didn’t include any hints as to what we should bring. Having finally decided on an apricot and almond tart as our contribution, we set off on Sunday afternoon to their water mill. The quiet lane down to the mill was packed with parked cars when we arrived and we joined the queue of people waiting to exchange kisses with our hosts at the front door.
The living room had been transformed into a mini concert hall and around forty people were taking their seats ready for the entertainment.
Our friends’ daughter is a musician and the performers were singer-songwriters that she had worked with in various workshops around the country. We had two and a half wonderful hours in the company of Nathalie Lillo accompanied by Erwann Hervé, and Francis Debrieuve.
The original songs with their poetic lyrics really made you appreciate the beauty of the French language, even if we couldn’t understand them all! Some were cheeky and amusing, others poignant and intimate, others again dealing with serious subjects like the Holocaust and the battle waged against the Chilean government by the mothers and wives of the Disappeared during the Pinochet regime.
We were relieved to find that we had made the right call on the food front, as everyone had brought tarts, clafoutis, cakes and biscuits for the post-concert nibbles, which were served up with home-made cider, wine and herbal teas.
After the entertainment there was a few minutes of standing on the edge of things before Marie-Claude rushed over and started introducing us to others. We met our immediate neighbour from the farm across the river, a bubbly, diminutive silver-haired lady, who immediately invited us to drop by, and a lovely couple of ex-teachers turned organic farmers, who had come about an hour’s drive to be there, and chatted away in excellent English. Wasn’t it great to have the chance to speak English again after all these years, they enthused. And there’s me struggling to string a sentence together in French after only a week away! Oh well, I’m going to have to work a lot harder at it.