In my last post, I talked about what it really means here in France when someone says “bonjour,” and the post was titled “Good day to you.” With a nod to symmetry, I now offer you “Fare thee well.”
I was moving into a different house, and it was my last visit to the old place. This was a trip of random-sized boxes, for emptying out the refrigerator, for garden gloves, for the bathroom items I’d used that morning. And it was a trip for closing up the house. As I was packing my car, the neighbor who shared a driveway with me was headed toward the river carrying a chair. She walked over to ask if this was it. I said yes, it is and it’s a little sad, but she said non. “You will still be here in town, and we will see each other.” We chatted a few minutes about random things, and then she mimed knocking on a door and told me to come over any time. “Tok tok, Michelle ! Je suis la !”
This particular neighbor and her husband have always lived here. Their parents probably lived all their lives in this town, and their grandparents, and further back to a time that no one can name. Their house is really a compound made up of several buildings, including a separate house where their son and his family live. There’s a big garden and some chickens and a hunting dog. Their daughter and her family live in a house on the other side of the back wall.
Across the road from the driveway sits a bench, one of several positioned under the towering plane trees. All of the benches face the river; this particular bench is the closest to the passerelle, the footbridge that connects that newer side of town (early 1800s) with the older side across the river (medieval to 1600s).
When the weather is fine, my neighbors Michelle and Francis go sit on that bench with some friends. It’s always the same: Michelle takes a folding chair and sits perpendicular to the bench to talk to the other wife and Francis. The other husband also brings his own folding chair to sit in, usually with his back to the river and facing Francis. Always the same bench, the same people, the same sitting arrangement, although occasionally other friends come by to join the conversation.
In the summer, this happens every day from about 5:00 until dinner time, around 7:00. When it’s really hot—which was frequent this summer—they might not stay as long, but they return around 10:00 and chat quietly until midnight. They visit with each other, they share stories of their families or what happened that day. They watch people coming and going along the passerelle or along the road, sometimes yelling at cars that speed by too fast. They watch the families and the lovers and the knots of teenagers playing in the river and picnicking on the banks.
I am not part of this circle, but as the warm days marched on, I often stopped to say bonjour when I was on the way to some other place. One week, for several days in a row, we had an ongoing conversation about the time of day when one stops saying bonjour and begins saying bonsoir. (This is still a mystery to me.)
And thus, on that last visit to that house, I finished loading boxes into the car, waved to the group on the bench, and then loaded myself into the car. I backed down the driveway, and into the road, turning the car toward the new house. And in that instant when I was stopped in the middle of the road, preparing to shift into gear, that group of four friends all stood up and waved handkerchiefs to me and blew me kisses.
It was a true expression of “fare thee well,” and one of the sweetest things I have ever experienced.
Farewell to summer
Summer is ending, the kids have made their rentrée back to school, and the local festival season is winding to a close. It has been a dandy time, and I thought I’d take you on a little tour of our town’s festivals—fêtes—along with a few other celebratory events.
Here in Bize, it all begins in early June with the Fête de Boussecos, a wonderful way to kick off the fête season. Around 300 people walk or find rides up to our local Visigothic-medieval sentry post, named Boussecos, for an evening of camaraderie, music, poetry, a lot of food, and plenty of wine. The event is to both celebrate and support our hard-working group of folks, Bize Patrimoine, who toil to preserve sites in the area that are important to the human history of the region.
Paella figures heavily in the fêtes of the region, and our first big paella night was to celebrate Bastille Day, although no one calls it that, saying instead “July fourteenth.” Again, it was a big town party, this time on the promenade along the river in Bize. In French, one pronounces the “ll” of paella, thus “pah-ay-la.” My friend Claude said one evening, “Hola ! La paella est là !” (Hello! The paella is here!)
There was a sardinade, and since I’m not a fan of sardines, I didn’t attend, but it too was well-attended by many in the town, with music going until around 2:00 a.m. The local campground hosted its own fête, where one of the offerings was a summer treat I’d been eagerly anticipating: melon with ham (prosciutto), served with a healthy splash of sweet muscat wine. One Friday, the town hosted an outdoor movie night right in the middle of the village, with a local chef preparing a gorgeous paella for the dinner before we watched a film on a giant portable screen.
One of the big events here in Bize is the annual Fête d’Olivier, a grand celebration of the olive tree, and in particular, the Lucques, a local specialty. This was a day-long event that sprawled through the tiny streets of the town, and included wandering musicians, costumed folks on stilts, market stalls selling regional specialties, and plenty of wine and food. There’s an aïoli contest open to all; I’m sorry to say I missed it, but I’ll be looking for it next year.
One evening, I joined a large group of friends for a fête in a nearby town. There was a big, beautiful paella plus plenty of other delicious food, a delightful musical duo, and a big dance floor that was well-used both before and after dinner.
Can you picture what a wineglass necklace would look like? I couldn’t until I attended the Tastes de Minervois, a peripatetic extravaganza that celebrates the food, wine and music of the Minervois region. This was the second of two years for Bize to play host; next year the event will move to another town.
Upon arrival, you present your ticket to receive a souvenir wineglass on a lanyard with a plastic holder for the glass. Then you go strolling, stopping for a sample at any of the 80 vintners set up in tiny booths lining many of the streets and squares of town.
There were also four highly-regarded chefs, each in a different location, providing attendees with a sample plate of their specialties, plus a whole booth devoted to desserts. The town was dotted with standing tables, plus some sitting areas creatively made of old palettes topped with comfy cushions. Each location had its own style of music. What a wonderful evening!
Next up is a progressive dinner, the Fête de Gastronomie, which is following the tried-and-true recipe of great food, great wine, and great music. What’s different here is that we will walk from one location to the next for each of the four segments, beginning at Boussecos and ending with dessert in town near the river. What a lovely and fitting way to bid farewell to summer!
Apples and oranges
In France, one of the primary companies providing telephone, internet and television connection is Orange. When I first arrived, I got an Orange SIM card to use in my phone, and with my recent move, I’ve set up an Orange account for everything. For hardware, I use Apple products: an iPhone and a Macbook laptop. < pause > Thus it is that I need Orange to use my Apples.
While moving into new digs, I’ve also had a bevy of visitors. (Digression alert! I love the variety of names for groups of birds, like a murder of crows or a wake of buzzards. This has me wondering if there’s a good word for identifying a group of houseguests. A valise of houseguests? A laundry of houseguests? Cargo? Satchel? If you have ideas, please share them in the comments section; maybe we can get a fun dialogue going!)
Anyway, that plurality of houseguests: it has been wonderful to see old friends here in my new stomping grounds; one visitor has been a beloved friend for 34 years! We’ve been eating a lot, tippling the local vintages, and exploring the region together, along with catching up on each others’ lives and relaxing on my terrace. It’s been splendid.