Friday, 2 August 2013

This French Life...

The last three weeks have not been just about visitors! Nor have they been just about doing stuff around the house and garden.  We made the mistake last year of not getting out as much as we could have done so this year we are trying to do so. An ideal way of seeing new villages (new to us, I mean!) and to get to know the area better is to go to "vide greniers". I may have explained these before but essentially, they are like the English car boot or American garage sales.   The phrase 'vide greniers' is literally translated as 'empty attics'.  It seems that each village that has a 'vide greniers' does so on a particular day each year, so it might be the third Sunday in July for example.  There are various websites that give you details. Click here for an example.

They are very organised and well laid out events, often taking up all of the central roads in a village.  I am particularly impressed by the condition of articles being sold as they are usually very clean and nicely displayed.  I did some boot sales in the UK and have to admit, the stuff I was selling usually went straight from the loft, into the car and onto an old pasting table at the boot sale.  Another thing that impresses me is the prices because more often than not, people are only asking a very small amount for their goods.

Of course, nothing gets in the way of eating in France and it's not at all uncommon to find the sellers cluttered round tables behind their 'selling tables', with various family members/friends, tucking into their lunch, a bottle of wine or two to accompany it!

Those of you who know rural France know that you can drive for hours around these villages and not see a soul!  Shutters are often closed, there are no bars or restaurants open and the villages have an air of emptiness about them.  Not on the day of 'vide greniers' they're not! (Nor on a market day, come to that!).  At one 'vide greniers' we went to recently in the village of Saint-Pompain we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice little bar open.... here's Danny at that very bar!

Another 'vide greniers' we went to recently was in Bressuire, a small town near us and one with which we are familiar.  But they held a new 'vide greniers' at the foot of the chateau there and although it was very small compared to most of the ones we go to, the setting was particularly picturesque...

Last weekend we experienced something totally different.  It was a "Marché flottant" or floating market.  It is held in the village of Le Vanneau on the last Saturday of July each year.  This village is in an area known as the "Marais Poitevan" or Green Venice.  Please take a moment to read all about the area here as it is a particularly beautiful part of our region of Poitou-Charentes.  As you will read, merchants used the waterways before there were roads and the floating market recreates this each year.  Unfortunately, we got there later than we should, not realising that the market didn't go on all day but it didn't spoil our enjoyment... nor did it save me from spending a small fortune on cheese!!  Here are some photos I took that day...

Now, the last thing I want to share with you in this post, was our invitation to and our experience of the recent "Pique-nique village" - or 'Village Picnic'.  Let me first explain that we live in a small hamlet comprising maybe a dozen houses in all.  One day, some weeks ago, one of our 'neighbours' called round to invite us to the annual 'pique-nique village'; he explained that the event starts around 12.30pm and lasts pretty much all afternoon and evening.  It was being held at his house and he said that you take a picnic lunch and then in the evening they light barbecues on which you cook whatever meat you've brought along.   We were very pleased to have been invited but I confess, equally pleased that, because it was on the day that Danny's son Joe would be arriving for his visit, we would not be able to stay for the whole day.  It's hard to explain, but there's a limit to the number of hours you can spend struggling with the language!!
Anyway, I packed us a pretty meagre picnic especially by my usual standards - some shop-bought quiche (well, sorry!  but I had been so busy getting ready for Joe's visit that I didn't get round to making a quiche myself!), some salad and some (yes, home-made) potato salad.  I guessed that we might need to take our own plates and cutlery so I packed those too, along with some soft drinks as we would both be driving to the airport later.  The first hiccup was when we got there and spotted someone else unpacking their picnic chairs from the car!  So when we were greeted by our host, my first question was did we need to bring chairs.  The answer was a resounding 'yes' so we had to come back home and get a couple of our folding chairs!!  And then go back and start again!!
Our host and his wife - François et Marie-Line - had very kindly provided us with a printout from Google Maps showing all the houses in the hamlet and had added all the names of the people who live here.  So the first thing was a massive introduction job - everyone was introduced to us and almost without exception, it involved the usual double cheek kisses for all!  Even the young children came up and kissed us.  Finally we sat down around maybe three tables that had been set out in a long line in the shade of some trees in François and Marie-Line's garden.  The tables were covered with plastic cloths and on them were various dishes of "nibbles".  François went around pouring glasses of apéritifs including the favourite here of Pastis (which is an aniseed flavoured liqueur typically containing 45% alcohol!!) and somewhat surprisingly, Port.  As I said, we were both due to drive later so we refrained from this rather tempting start and we sat there chastely sipping orange juice instead!!
This apéritif-drinking and nibbles-eating went on for a good hour or so!  I noticed that most of them started out with neat Pastis, moving to adding water, by the second or third glass.  It was clearly going to be a long hard day of drinking for most of them!  Then, Marie-Line cleared all this away and invited people to start their picnic lunch.  For one ghastly moment I thought it was going to be a kind of 'bring and share' arrangement but thankfully everyone stuck to their own.  I mean it's one thing bringing a meagre meal for yourself but quite another, offering it to your new-found friends! 
I know that traditionally lunch is the main meal of the day in France but I hadn't bargained for the lavish meals that they all produced at the village picnic that day!  To a man, they all had starters; some tucked into half a melon - yes half a melon each! The couple opposite us were eating boiled eggs with some sort of salad. Then various salads were eaten; all beautifully presented on their plates.  Baguettes were enjoyed along with bottles of wine.  A main course followed and I noted most people were eating chicken (I assume cold) with maybe crisps or in some cases, just by itself.  Then some people had cheese (which, incidentally here, is a course eaten before dessert) and finally, people tucked into their desserts.  But picture this...... the whole time this meal was being eaten, Danny and I had our one little plate each of shop-bought quiche, salad and potato salad!  I can't tell you how embarrassed I was!  I still chuckle to think of it as I wonder what our neighbours made of it all!!  At one point, when we refused some wine, someone even asked us if we didn't like alcohol!!!
It wasn't long after the meal was finished, that we decided to make our exit.  Aside from the embarrassment of our meal, it had been a good experience and we are both really glad we made the effort to go.  It wasn't easy language-wise but I managed and a couple of them did speak a little bit of English.  When I was asked what jobs we did in the UK and I told them I was a Tax Inspector, it caused very much merriment!  Always an ice-breaker that one!!! We found out that the picnic is held every year, usually on the second Sunday in July, and each year a different family in the hamlet hosts it.  Hopefully we'll be invited next year and if so, our intention is to stay for the whole day so we get an idea of what goes on for the whole event.  Then, the year after that, we'd like to host it ourselves.
At least next time we should be able to have a few drinks (so the language problem won't be so noticeable?) and I'll pack us a bigger meal!  You live and learn don't you! And I'm sure we must have provided some amusement for our neighbours!
I hope you've enjoyed reading about how we're settling into this French life and I look forward to writing more soon.
A bientôt.

1 comment:

  1. I have so enjoyed reading your blog this morning. It brought back a lot of happy memories of our life in France. Although we have settled very well back in the UK I still miss a lot of the things you have mentioned, especially the vide greniers and the French hospitality. We made a lot of the same mistakes in our first couple of years in France, but it will get easier when you become more familiar with their customs and way of life. Good luck and continue to enjoy your French adventure. Sylvia Bunting (ex L'Oliverie, Fenioux)