Ma Soiree, aout 2016
Having a broken arm for seven weeks had hampered my progress with regard to decorating and furnishing my new home but, as soon as the pins (les broches) were surgically removed I was keen to make up for lost time. My house is quite a focal point on Rue ******* so I set about filling all the window ledges with glorious red, pink and white trailing geraniums; thirteen window boxes in total. My right arm ached dreadfully from all the planting and carrying of boxes but I couldn't wait any longer to make the place look pretty and picturesque.
Next: ' la salle-a-manger et petite cuisine' which were dreary and depressing in grey: grey walls, even darker grey paintwork: it all needed lightening and brightening. I bought cheap white emulsion from Briconautes: after the first coat I became aware of my error: it was like water and took four coats to cover drab decor. I chose terracotta for the paintwork: at last it was beginning to look more cheerful, more homely and welcoming.
I often spoke with my nearest neighbour, Mireille, when she came out to smoke in the Mediaeval passage adjacent to the back of my house: in my clumsy French I assured her that I would invite her and my other neighbours for 'aperitifs' as soon as I had finished the first stage of decorating.
After five months things were beginning to take shape so I plucked up enough courage to keep to my word. I had joined the hebdomodal Saturday meetings at 'Bar Aux Baladins' so asked the advice of Viviane and other French friends as to what I should provide in the way of drinks and snacks: the answer was unanimous......Ricard! I was going to write simple invitations but they assured me that this was not 'de rigueur': all that was required was a verbal invitation.
The date was set for Saturday, 13th August, at 6.30pm, exactly five months since moving in: time to show my gratitude and thanks for the warmth of reception I had received.
Fortunately, my neighbours were often out and about as is the way in France: it is a much more sociable society than I remember in Britain. On my way home from the above mentioned meeting I bumped into Mireille, Ginette and Jean-Luc, all single people occupying apartments above the Rue du Diable, proffered in hesitant French my verbal invitation which they accepted gracefully. I then took a deep breath, rang the bell of the house adjacent to mine: another acceptance from Katie and Patrice. With mounting confidence I invited Philippe and Claude, a lovely couple originally from Picardie who have an apartment further up the road: Philippe had introduced himself to me when I had been sanding down my front door ready for 'lasuring' a few weeks' previously.
That made a total of seven so far; not a single word of English between them and me with my very basic French, able only to order a coffee and a croissant (I exaggerate somewhat). My daughter, Philippa, was staying with me at the time but she had only school French: need I say more about the approach and attitude to languages in the British education system?
I needed assistance which came in the form of my recently acquired friend, Rosemary, from Queensland who has a little holiday house in the Mediaeval quarter. She speaks fluent French after studying it at university in Australia. She accepted, thankfully. I decided to include a good friend, Lynne, who had been very kind from day one: she is English but has a good command of French; more back-up! Off I set to 'Carrefour' and the super-cheap 'Netto'. Ricard, whisky, wine, creme de Cassis and beer were top of the list to which I added various hors d'oevres and snacks.
6.30 sharp I heard the door-bell; not a nasty modern buzz or chime but the lively ring of the 18th century brass bell on the rez-de-chausee: Katie and Patrice presenting me with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers, followed almost immediately by Mireille, Ginette and Jean-Luc, bearing a pot of glorious Dipladonia dripping with deep rose blossoms. Punctuality is important in France, I realised, as the bell continued to ring announcing further guests, all bearing wonderful, thoughtful gifts. I was overwhelmed!
The lovely, large, solid oak table in the salle-a-manger on the first floor was draped in a red cloth upon which Philippa and I had laid out a welcoming feast of food and drink. The party got under way immediately: drinks were poured; I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of spirit all round as they raised glasses to toast me.
There followed much merriment: chatter, laughter, dancing by the vivacious Kikou, raucous renditions of French songs alongside Beatles pop songs: Australian Rosemary and French Patrice rounding off the evening with the Scotland rugby anthem 'Flower of Scotland'!
Entente cordiale at its very best.