On a warm Saturday evening recently, our village hosted its annual summer fête. We joined a few hundred of our new neighbors for an open-air evening of food and conversation. Our village has only about 1000 residents.
Instructions were to bring our own couverts, which is flatware, glass and plate. As we were strolling at about 7pm from our house to the center of the village (only about a 5-minute walk), we joined various other groups and families on their way.
We have learned that the center of our village, which is a circle of stone buildings and houses, with a small church and the current town hall, dates from the 13th century. The heart of the village is a simple attractive little square, shaded by a large plane tree. Arriving, we found the square full of long lines of tables, and many clusters of folks chatting, beverages in hand. We noticed that most places at the tables already had plates on them, some with chairs tipped forward for obvious reservation. We found a couple spots at an edge table.
We went in search of some rosé, which we could see in people’s plastic cups. At the crowded beverage table, we found only empty soda bottles and a few peanuts. But under the plane tree was a table with a line of wine boxes, spigots ready for us. Plastic cups in hand, we poured out full cups.
We noticed our neighbors at another table. They exclaimed that they didn’t know that we were coming. They are a retired couple who moved to our village a few years ago after their working life in the Paris region. They have always been kind to us during our first year in the village. We enjoy talking with them, but the husband in particular speaks very quickly and with a bit of a slur, so I struggle to understand what he is saying. He is always jolly, but a bit inscrutable. They were quick to introduce us to a few other expatriate village residents so we could speak some English.
We were interrupted by the announcement of the start of the meal. We headed back to our spot at a distant table. To one side of us was a self-absorbed animated group. To the other, a few couples who were obviously friends. We introduced ourselves as best as we could. We could see the looks on their faces that say, “Oh, great, English speakers.” But as the evening progressed, we were able to exchange small talk — in French. They were lively and pleasant, and fun to talk with. We have learned that (as we did at the Pennautier dining event) we just have to ask for their suggestions of interesting restaurants off the beaten track, and that gets everyone discussing and debating. And we add to our list of places to try.
Even outside, under the village tree, with our own knives, forks and plates, the village presented a three-course dinner. Nothing particularly fancy, but really tasty. Half a melon topped with prosciutto started us off. Then a creamy tender pork stew over rice, with a baguette, of course. Mini-brie packages. Ice cream in the cup with the wooden spoon. And a chocolate éclair. Accompanied by a pitcher of red wine.
Our first village event! It was fascinating to see who else lives here. With our unstructured, non-work life, we see the village quiet and seemingly empty during the day. But the village is full of young families, whose children go off to school everyday and whose adults disperse for work. In everyday life, we are probably as invisible to them as they are to us. It was nice to see the generations and village friendships on this warm summer evening.