The Stamina of the French
One of the things that has continually amazed us during our time here in the Loire
Valley has been the stamina of our French friends and neighbours when it comes to eating, drinking and partying.We just can’t hack it!!
This first became apparent when Milo, a farming friend, invited us to the catchily named, “25th Anniversary Celebrations of the Cléré sur Layon and District Agricultural Machinery Co-operative” in the village Salle de Fete. That’s going to be a load of fun we thought! And you know what? It really was. It started at 10.30am on the Saturday morning and was still going strong when we finally admitted defeat and crawled off to our beds at 4.00am the following morning! I seem to remember, at that point, that everyone was seated on the floor, between each others legs, forming a long snake and singing the French equivalent of the Eton Boating Song, whilst cheerfully rowing non-existent oars. I can vaguely recall extracting Sheila from the snake just as she was rounding the Cape of Good Hope as her navigation skills were much in demand to get the car from the scene of the celebrations to Chez Nous, all of 2 kms away.
I felt rough for two days afterwards.
Milo, on the other hand, was cheerfully feeding his cows petit dejeuner as normal at 06.30am with no outward sign whatsoever that he had not slept at all. Of course, I merely relate this latter information as I was not an actual witness to it, being still in bed, desperately trying to stop my head exploding.
A few weeks ago we went to the 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebrations of our friends, Robert and Jeanette, who live just opposite. As we have, by now, come to expect, there was the compulsory mammoth period of time spent, “a la table”, in this case five hours, (although even this was easily beaten a few days ago when we spent a buttock-numbing eight hours at our other friends, Jean-Pierre and Clara’s, 10th Wedding Anniversary Celebrations). However, what made this one special was that when we arrived at the Salle de Fete in Le Puy Notre Dame each table had a song sheet on it so that we, literally, had to sing for our supper! Being the first time we had sung in French in front of sixty odd French people was a trifle off-putting, to put it mildly. However our table did a manful job of singing, “L’amour Est un Bouquet de Violettes” and I think we acquitted ourselves quite well. I have copied the first verse below, just in case you fancied a go.
“L’amour est un bouquet de violettes
Quand le bonheur en passant
Vous fait signe et s’arrete
Il faut lui prendre la main
Sans attendre a demain
L’amour est un bouquet de violettes
Ce soir, cueillons, cueillons, ces fleurettes
Car au fond de mon ameIl n’est qu’une femme
C’est toi, qui sera toujours mon seul amour”.
and so on and so forth!
Later in the evening, much later I must admit, I offered to sing a song in English for the amusement and edification of the other guests but, unfortunately, the accordionist did not seem too familiar with Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs”. So we had to pass on that one.
The myriad and assorted sons and daughters of Robert and Jeanette, (much to Sheila’s frustration, I can never quite work out who is married to whom and who is a sibling of the other, a failing that could be, I suppose, quite embarrassing in other circumstances), did a sort of cabaret featuring hysterically funny, satirical sketches of Robert doing such things as:- his morning dissertation on the days weather, (this normally takes so long that one can disappear, take breakfast and walk the dog through the vineyards before he has decided which side of the village each cloud is going to pass on); his weekly speech when he comes home empty handed from La Chasse, “Il n’y’a plus, même les pigeons, il n’y’a plus”, and his other eccentricities, all taken in good stead and done with real affection and humour.
Then, after the evening’s gargantuan meal and accompanying wine, (the latter never being a problem in Le Puy Notre Dame as almost everyone is a winemaker, works on a wine estate or comes from a winemaking family), the dancing started, with music played by a DJ who, somewhat unusually, occasionally broke off to perform feats of magic. These primarily seemed to consist of putting his lady assistant in a series of different boxes and then trying to kill her by inserting various swords into the box or attempting to cut her in half. These attempts were normally accompanied by half the men in the audience taking imaginary pot shots at the box, presumably to show their solidarity with the attempts at ending her life. At one point a huge cheer went up when one of the swords seemed to strike something solid, (it having been noticed that the lady assistant was not, how shall we say, exactly sylph like). But, to certain, audible sighs of disappointment, she emerged OK and then proceeded to grab the microphone and sing along with the music. Not Karaoke, I stress, she just sang along with the Supremes or Abba or whoever, as if she was one of the group – normally the one out of tune! Which prompted one of my neighbours to grumble, that perhaps she was better off being left in the box!
During this period I did force myself to have a few dances but, really, there is only so much violent activity that a man can do after eating five tons of food and drinking a gallon of wine. This period should be a time of reflection and quiet contemplation not a time for whirling around like a demented Dervish. Not that it seemed to worry any one else, especially Sheila, who was enjoying being danced around by other guests intently obeying their instructions on how to do ‘Le Marche’, despite spraining her ankle only a few days before (though she did suffer for her frivolities the next day)!!
Just to be serious for a moment, I cannot tell you how much we really enjoy these evenings. The whole thing is done with a total lack of inhibition, an openness, sincere friendliness and a “joie de vivre”, which is a delight to behold and, if only his truly formidable dancing skills are taken into account, Monsieur le Maire will have no problem whatsoever being re-elected whenever the village next goes to the polls.
à Plus Tout le Monde et Bon Courage