We have been very fortunate to have developed a friendship with a French family which has lasted some 25 plus years. This has afforded us the opportunity to see and at times be part of French family life not usually accessed as a tourist passing through. Over the years a pattern has emerged and almost every holiday we have had in France has been punctuated by a stopover at their home which is in a village on the banks of the River Seine, south of Paris.
When our children were young this was eagerly anticipated, as being on the river there was lots of swimming, water skiing and generally messing about in boats to be done. For us it was a chance to have a truly French experience and Monsieur and Madame P and their extended family were generous in their hospitality and welcome. The French children stayed with us in England and our children went there. We took them on a visit to Scotland and they invited us to their holiday home in Haute Provence. All of these things have enriched and enhanced the family’s memories and experience of France.
Now that our respective children have grown up we enjoy less lively but equally interesting get togethers. Many of the little hamlets and villages along the Seine are le weekend destination for well heeled, sophisticated and in some cases, famous Parisiennes who spend the week in their apartments in a fashionable arrondissement and their weekends in one of the beautiful mansions that line the River Seine.
Our Monsieur P is the Deputy Mayor for this particular commune and therefore knows everyone. Over the years we have found ourselves rubbing shoulders with artists and sculptors and even sipping Champagne with millionaire industrialists!
On one memorable occasion we arrived at our French hosts to told quite casually that the next day we would be attending a wedding! I had packed for a strictly bathing costume and shorts holiday and there was nothing in my suitcase that I thought would cut it for a wedding. This, according to Madame P, was not a problem and true enough, when we arrived it wasn’t. It was a perfect illustration of the somewhat anarchic attitude of the French towards convention. Some guests were elegantly suited and booted, others in jeans and T-shirts. The ceremony was held in the open air with, of course, the bust of Marianne and portrait of the president at the time on display.
To hold an open air ceremony is apparently very unusual and there were a few dark mutterings that it might not be quite legal. However, it continued without pause. I must admit to not having understood every word but the end of the ceremony was marked by clapping and confetti throwing.
The reception was like no other. It was laid out in the style of a small French market in a circle of stalls with stripy awnings. Each stall held a delicious offering: a tray of plump oysters nestling on ice; large pink prawns ready to be released from their jackets; discs of herb-encrusted saucisson and delicious pâté just begging for a hunk of baguette. In between visits to food stalls, there were introductions, questions, lively conversations and joke telling. Each epicurean circuit was finished by a visit to the Champagne stall to get a top up. It felt like a gourmet version of Strictly Come Dancing. Amazingly my French conversation flowed perfectly that afternoon. Note to self: drink Champagne to improve your French!
Plans are already shaping up for a family holiday to France 2015, the first with our children for many years. I have no doubt we will spend a few days with Monsieur and Madame P and I am already looking forward to whatever they have in store for us. here’s hoping it involves Champagne!