[Dear Readers, yes, I am home now, but still have a few more posts from my trip. Hope you are enjoying them!]
The town filled today for Bastille Day festivities that started with a somewhat solemn ceremony in the lower square. The statue there commemorating the young people lost in the first World War was hung with several French flags. Around 11 a.m., a small group began to gather. There was a band, Legionnaires, townspeople, and the current and former mayors of Monflanquin.
The band played a song I didn’t recognize while the main flag was raised. Then the mayors delivered a giant bouquet of flowers to the base of the statue and the band played “La Marsellaise” (the French national anthem). Here they do not have the custom of placing their hands over their hearts or of singing the words, which surprised me, especially considering what I saw an hour later from the same crowd. The mayor gave a small speech, some of which I caught, about the people who died for France during the War. The crowd was quiet and simply listened. The band played another song. There was never any clapping or expressions of joy. It struck me as not quite somber, but serious.
From that seriousness, we need a shopping break, naturally. Today was the second and final day of the antiques brocantes, the antiques flea market. Around noon, we could hear the band playing in the corner of the square, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It occurred to me that that is probably a French song, though as an American, of course I think of it as a New Orleans song. The band slowly made their way through the square while playing.
The band is called Les Verts a Pieds of Monflanquin (The Green Feet). I’m not sure why they are called this. Their bandleader is a hoot! He plays a drum that he pushes around in a bassinette with a black rubber rat on the top.
We fell in line behind them as they marched into the interior terrace of City Hall.
Once inside, everyone crowded in and the mayor gave another speech, only this time, it was a lot more festive. The mayor bestowed upon a few lucky Monflanquinoise (his word) the official medal of the village, which I assumed was like receiving the key to the city back home. And here’s the best part! One of the recipients’ claim to fame? THE SCRABBLE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!!! I nearly died with joy (velvet booties!) I was so overwhelmed by this brush with verbal/literary genius!
Naturally, a village friend of a village friend knew the Scrabble champ, so we chatted a bit. She explained how the Scrabble championships work. Basically, she is the world champ in French in her age category. And, she completely rocks out! I was very proud of her and I didn’t even know her, probably because I find Scrabble such a very hard game (why it’s called a “game,” I’ll never know. Games are supposed to be fun, right?)
Other medal recipients included the national boxing champ of teenagers, the local soccer team who won their regional championship, and a local fireman who had done a lot of community service (I couldn’t really follow all of this, frankly).
In the evening, we had dinner with F, a grand dame of the village who is completely charming and an incredible hostess. She served us foie gras from an awesome foie gras serving platter decorated with ducks (!!), leg of duck, haricot verts, strawberries and ice cream, and wine with every course. It was quite luxurious por moi. I also got the chance to butcher the French language with several locals and their children throughout the meal. I feel extremely lucky to have been invited to such a dinner with a very authentic family for a holiday meal. I minded my manners by not whipping out my camera and taking a shot of every course.
At one point another guest (a native French speaker) asked us to explain the meaning of “laid back,” which was entertaining. It’s hard to explain things when you don’t have much French to begin with. “Relaxed,” “Californian,” and “surfer,” were the best we could do with “laid back.” They were also quite taken with an American film called “Bagdad Cafe,” which neither of us could remember.
Afterward, we followed the horde over to the edge of the bastide to see the fireworks. I’d say there were about 500 people there. The fireworks were set off over the cemetery, but because the town is on a hill, they seemed to pop right in your face, which was kind of crazy and cool. Then everyone filed back into the square where a band played and people danced. All ages are out enjoying the night while the band plays medleys of Abba, French songs I don’t know, and other songs in English that it’s hard for me to understand. It was a bit like being at a wedding.
Now I’m back at the house and can hear the crowd and the band in the square. GB says this will go on until late tonight. It’s already past midnight, so I’m in for a long one. Pas d’problem! I’ve got my French to study, and I need it.