Today I am going round in circles! One train of thought has led to another and then another, but stick with me because it does make sense – sort of! Today is the 14th July; today is La Fête National, the French National holiday, more commonly known as Le quatorze Juillet, the fourteenth of July.
It is a day that commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789. The French recognize Bastille Day as the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the modern republic that France has become. Celebrations are held throughout France, and the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
As it’s a holiday throughout France, it instantly becomes one of my favourite days of the summer! In the larger towns there are huge festivals and parties and even most small villages hold celebrations and let off some fireworks. In our’s we have plenty going on. At 10pm this evening we will all meet outside the Mairie; it will be twilight, that wonderful evening light when we can still see where we are walking but when the encroaching dimness gives everything a magical quality. We will all be given lanterns, so that as it gets darker we will have the light of the candles inside the pretty paper shades to guide us on our march. (The photo below is from last year and I’m so sad Millie won’t be with us tonight, I’ll explain more in a minute!)
Then we will walk through the old streets, and leading the way will be the Mayor of the village followed by as many as 200 people. Slowly we will snake our torchlit way down the narrow road where the hollyhocks grow. I’ve walked this route so many times and just for a few short seconds I hope you can now walk it with me.
By now it will be quite dark. We will pass the church which has been standing since the 1100’s, six hundred years before the revolution, it’s almost impossible to imagine.
We will walk down cobbled lanes and between old stone walls,
and past doors with stone frames which are probably as old as the church itself
We will end our half hour tour by the local chateau. Everyone will crowd around, and soon the fireworks will start illuminating the ancient building and lighting up the sky; this part is not good news for Hetty who hates loud noises and it’s even worse news for Bentley at home as he cannot stand fireworks. But the display doesn’t last more than fifteen or twenty minutes, for this is a very small village and our budget is also small. Then it’s time to dance, at the Salle des fêtes where there is a party for all ages, old and young; 9 year-olds dance with 90 year-olds, teenagers mix willingly and happily with their parents, their siblings and their relations. Grandparents more used to a gentile tea dance at 5pm now happily join in under the temporary strobe lighting. The party goes on into the small hours of the morning, miraculously the children will all still be awake!
Most people celebrate with friends and family as it’s a national holiday after all. We have invited friends to dinner before we all head off to collect our lanterns and our neighbour said, “We’ll bring champagne.”
Ah, champagne; typically thought of the world over as a drink saved for celebrations and reserved for special occasions, I love the fact that in France it is also drunk far more casually where any ‘get together’ becomes a celebration of nothing in particular and is instead an instance of pure friendship, where bubbles seal the relationship. It’s affordable here too; the big names still charge big prices, but the smaller champagne houses, the unknown vineyards, sell theirs for as little as ten euros a bottle and it’s very drinkable.
I miss not having family close by, I miss not having my parents watch the children growing up, the importance of a hug and sharing so much. Talking of family, we passed these storks yesterday, quite obviously Mother, Father and two nearly full grown chicks, I would imagine it gets quite crowded in their nest at night!
Which brings me on to godparents, who are normally chosen because they are very good friends; they can play a huge role in our children’s lives and right now our’s are playing a fairly large part. Which in turn brings me back to Millie; she has been off sailing for two and a half weeks with her godmother, a trip that has taken her from the UK, across the English Channel and all the way down the west coast of France; and she’s still not home yet! Hopefully we will see her at the weekend, when they come into the marina in Rochefort and then they will come home with Millie to stay for a couple of days; it’s going to be a big celebration! Although we have spoken most days, I have followed her trip and her life on the waves via photos.
Our neighbour’s daughter has just flown off to the UK as well; she is staying for two weeks with Gigi’s godmother, a trip I arranged for her so she could improve her English and learn more about the British lifestyle. Yet again a godmother playing an important role.
You see, in between tennis and children and guests and work and school holidays, there’s not a lot of time. Today was always going to be a busy day. So I decided that we had to cut and arrange some flowers from the garden and cook as much as we could the day before.
Gigi and Hetty and even Jack leapt at the chance to do some baking, they’ve become quite accomplished and of course as with all good jobs there are a certain perks!
However, just to prove that things aren’t always as perfect as they seem; you know that saying, too many cooks spoil the broth? Well here it was definitely a case of too many cooks spoil the eggs, as all three children argued as to who was going to crack them and I got in the way trying to take photos of them cooking, the bowl got knocked over and three eggs hit the floor.
The only positive thing being I was actually in the middle of taking photos anyway so I snapped away, the children not quite sure whether to panic or just burst out laughing!
The cake they baked didn’t make it past afternoon goûter; that’s the problem with having a large family and also some of the kid’s friends who just happened to be here at teatime. Cakes take an hour to make and then ten minutes later there is only the merest hint that they ever existed apart from a few crumbs and some satisfied smiles. So in between writing this and hitting “publish” I am back to cooking. The French are terribly good at serving aperitifs and canapés. It’s the one thing I have noticed time and time again, I know we have to make a bit of an effort tonight! Roddy has made a tart with some of our yellow courgettes from the garden on a bed of spinach and cheese sauce; we have a real glut of the yellow ones as we always do at this time of year.
I made a batch of chocolate meringues this morning, and this evening I shall whip up some cream and add a bowl of fresh local strawberries; simple but delicious. If I can keep the kitchen pixies away from them!
We’re also going to have a selection of salads and freshly dug new potatoes simply boiled with plenty of mint all from the garden. Along with some barbecued chicken and some grilled langoustines. The list goes on, simple food where the pleasure comes from the taste and the pure enjoyment of sharing it with friends. I could go on and on but then we’d never eat this evening because nothing would be ready, there is only so much I can ask the children and Roddy to do!
As you can see my mind is all over the place today, but I hope you’ve enjoyed going round in circles with me!