Summer Sundays in France are a fine affair….mostly.
Except for the hordes of visitors, whose lines of traffic stretch back as far as your wing-mirror can reflect (one learns to avoid both of these things) and the occasional drop of rain, you will find almost all of France eating outside on a sunny Sunday.
And whether enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labours at a restaurant, or eating al fresco under some shady tree, France lays bare her gastronomic soul in summer, when potagers are in full bloom, and market stalls reflect the richness of a land blessed with fantastic growing conditions, the output of which is amply reflected in the riots of colour that run along each and every of France’s stone walls.
As a result, it is difficult to thoroughly enjoy a stroll sometimes when the day is calm, for there is no escaping the sound of forks and knives a-clatter behind gates, when a peek over a wall might reveal a family either far down a green garden under a willow or loitering with intent in an old courtyard, with linen a-flow on a table alongside a fire from which the searing smell of char-grilled chicken may be floating. Are those cold slices of watermelon on the table? Or something perhaps even fancier?
Drifting down an alley, one comes across a small door, from which behind one can hear small children giggling, and a steady clink of glasses – almost certainly saluting a bottle of rosé. After morning mass the soul may be replete, but the body surely needs succour.
Life takes on a different pace on a Sunday. This may be a time when people accidentally leave their ancestors’ gates open, allowing a view into a sanctum mostly unseen. Should we go in, perhaps, knock on the door and plead thirst? From behind the house comes a peal of laughter as children play before the call to table.
And then of course, as one’s shoes echo flat on empty streets and the sun beats down determinedly, there are the discoveries – a piece of courtyard, neglected for too long, where a table and chairs must have once served well, and need to do so again. Is there an ‘A Vendre’ sign somewhere, with a telephone number beneath? Where do the stairs go to? Is there time to climb them and see the view?
And then perhaps, if you are lucky, one late afternoon you will really experience it all, when neighbours and friends drag tables out of barns, slice a steel barrel in half for cooking on, and tell you to make something special for a feast.
Venez à 1800 heures, they say, pour les apéros. And so nervously you approach at the appointed hour, clutching a bottle of local red (in our case, that’s a Bordeaux, of course), holding a wicker basket with plates, and cutlery, and glasses, with perhaps a salad and some marinated pork chops for the fire.
You arrive at 6.00, but you don’t go home until after midnight, for this is France and in summer there are friends to be made around tables that typically serve the vendage feast in August. All of your children are still awake, playing tag in the darkness as the bats flitter overhead and as you limp home happily you hum the tune to a song the village has just taught you over one glass of wine too many.
La Vie En Rose? Why yes, in summer it certainly can be….