Saturday, 16 June 2007
A shy womans quiet night out...
Last night I was dragged sulking and bad tempered to partake of le Pot by way of celebrating the theatre group’s latest success in their recent production of A star in the countryside, as described by un peu Loufoque in her night at the theatre what seems like a life time ago . Strange how the worlds of fact and fiction collide!
I am an excruciatingly shy being. I throw my angst like some overblown toddler tantrum. Frankly I ought to give myself a good slap or at the very least a stern talking to but since I am usually far too occupied with being vexed and vexatious about what to wear, whether anyone will speak to me and what I will find to say if they do, add to that the fact that I must do it all in French and you can begin to see that my idea of how I wanted to spend last night did not include being the only non native speaker amongst 35 Bretons and tons of couscous in a confined space. I know husband is not really a native speaker either, but they all love him dearly and he can chatter in colloquial French with the best of them so that just leaves me. Glued to his side with gritted teeth whist trying to look interesting and interested in anything and everyone and wishing I was in Nova Scotia or Skegness. You can see now why I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper can’t you?
Anyway off we trolled, me behaving very much like Madame Grognonne on a bad day and perversely complaining that we were going to be late. First stop was at someone’s for aperitifs. After drive through forgotten Brittany down miles of tranquility over tracks through pine forests, past rivers and rocks over hills and finally into a farmyard, at which stage I decide that I would rather like to go home now thank you. Before I can we are spotted and solemnly kissed by assorted children who stop their football game to come and do so.
We enter the largest kitchen I have seen outside Brighton Pavilion, to face a long table around which are seated 25 people some of whom I know vaguely and about 3 of whom I can name, on a good day. This group is not the same lot we usually meet socially and none of my usual French friends were there to hold my hand. We do the tour of the table and bisou each and every one of them and say salut , ca va until we arrive back to the beginning at which stage we sit down and have a drink. I cannot help thinking that if we had arrived earlier we only would have needed to kiss about 10 and could have got to the drinking bit quicker. Over the next hour the stragglers arrive and each has to do the whole kissing routine , so by the time everyone is there I have air kissed or cheek pecked about 35 people on two cheeks and bearing in mind some of them went for three kisses and that is not including the babies toddlers and children that is a lot of kissing for a shy woman!
At 9.45 someone suggests we go and eat, not a bad idea I feel as we are booked at the restaurant at 9 pm. So we all have another drink for the road. Glasses emptied…well plastic cups actually; no pretensions here then, all shoot off in different directions as everyone knows a short cut. We go the way we came because after two hours of drinking white frothy wine (me)and le jaune (pernod, him) neither of us is game to get lost in those now dark forests en route.
We arrive at the village square at the same time as everyone else, short cuts not so short then obviously, and all disembark towards the restaurant where two long tables are laid beautifully on one side of the room and a large space has been left on the other. Please God do not let them make me dance.
We then have to all bisou the owner’s wife who is also, of course, our youngest’s teacher’s sister in-law and probably everyone else’s cousin, except ours. Teacher asks how youngest knee is and I learn that he has spent the day hobbling. Wonderful, now I shall get home to find his leg has dropped off. Bad bad mother!
Half the party attempt to stand out side on the very small pavement for a smoke, a pavement which incidentally was not designed for 17 odd Bretons to stand on simultaneously so they are forced to huddle together, the rest of us loiter inside chatting, or in my case tossing up between a) trying to prevent husband from gong outside for a smoke or b) taking up the wicked weed myself in order to avoid being marooned in a sea of foreigners!
Eventually after about 30 minutes someone yells Á table and everyone shifts towards the tables obviously all trying to avoid having to sit with the mad English woman in case she speaks tries to speak french.We sit at the end of one table and Claude and Sylvie luck out and sit opposite us. To be fair they are our nearest neighbors, albeit 15 minutes away from us across country on foot and their daughter is in Middle’s class and she and he vie for top place in each and every test they have at school so I suppose it is probably their duty to fraternize with the foreigners.
Claude is very charming, despite starting the conversation by asking me did I really speak no French at all, funny I thought had been speaking it all evening so far, but never mind.
We have yet more aperitifs and nibbles, which incidentally are called gateau so next time the vicar comes to drinkies you can offer him une gateau as you pass him the crisps and have immense fun watching his face run the gamut of confusion before your very eyes. This is to tide us over whilst the children, who have taken over the far end of the other table can be served their own meal of ham and fried potatoes washed down with Witt, which is an acid green drink of some sort, that thankfully since ours are safely at home with Eldest watching Wallace and Grommit in French, I will not be expected to try. Youngest does like to educate my palate. The label on the bottle say Witt depuis (since)1905 , I find this amusing and ask what they did for humour before 1905… which I regret as I have to repeat it twice as no one seems able to understand, oh you know wit as in humour? Husband repeats it and we discover that actually in French it is not funny at all.
Thankfully, the couscous arrives, followed by a vast bowl of chicken pieces, then another, of vegetables in spicy sauce followed by a dish of lamb and small bowls of very hot and spicy sauce and of course water, wine and baskets of bread. It is like a self assembly meal on a production line as the dishes work their way along the tables.
Chief Patissier is declared to be very Breton as he butters his bread. I however do not nor do I like salted butter it is discovered so am very much the foreigner .I decide now would not be a good time to tell that where I come from it is defiantly not the done thing to butter ones bread and that husband is in fact an uncouth colonial.
We discuss films, having just seen a new film about the African soldiers who fought for France in the Second World War. The general opinion t our end of the table is that they were paid to do it so what is the problem, after all Bretons died in their thousands doing the same thing. Whilst I point out that sending Arab boys to fight in snow wearing nothing but cotton shifts and open toes sandals is not on especially when they did not even speak the lingo. I then remember that Bretons did not speak it either. I add topic to my list of things not to discuss in society, along with salted butter and the question of why the Bretons hold their forks in their right hand.
Excellent Peach Melbas for dessert and over coffee and cigarettes I am declared to be tres bourgeoisies as I recall my mother having sobrani cocktail cigarettes the same colour as her evening dresses. I realize too late that no ones mother here ever had evening dresses let alone smoked cocktail cigarettes and feel like a wicked imperialist. Add evening dress and coloured cigarettes to growing list of unmentionable topics.
We are treated to Claude doing his impromptu singing this time in French which is a real joy as he is a beautiful singer and I can understand the French which is more than I can do if he sings n Breton. He sings a love song, with which every one joins in although no one by this stage can remember what happens in verse 2 so they keep going back to the beginning to give it another go just in case someone remembers.
Happily the clear space turns out to a combined football pitch and disco for the children ,who climb up and down on everyone’s knees and are generally accepted as being small humans with the right to speak and be spoken to. No one shouts, or complains about them and there is not one grumpy faced adult even when they turn up the music so loud everyone turns around and tells them to turn it down or when we get engaged in a paper ball flicking fight across the room. Honestly I did not start it. Well alright I may have done.
It was a wonderful evening, no ceremony, no vapid social chit chat just talk and the chance to practice my French amongst people who didn’t fall off their chairs laughing at my efforts. I was even promised an interview in the local paper to show of my ceramics.
I came home feeling a happy if somewhat inebriated bunny.
Now if I can only train myself to go through evenings like that without the 3 days of fear and loathing before hand and if my poor liver can learn to stand it and I remember not to mention butter, evening dresses and cutlery then I may be on to a winner!
The picture is an old postcard of ancient Bretons, as opposed to ancient Britons, having a quick drink and a smoke chez Eux. I really ought to say generally speaking they do not dress like this now, except on special occasion.. or if there is a full moon..or its raining of course..