‘C’est la realite de la France profonde.’
So said Serge, who was standing next to me in a group of about half a dozen blokes who, as men do, had gathered round to gawp reverently at the cochon farci which had just, to great applause, been carried into the marquee from the barbecue pit.
Last Sunday was the annual village fete here at Tranquility Base. On the second Sunday in August pretty much the entire population of the hameau, together with friends and family, get together for a day of feasting and fun. Drink is also involved.
As the new neighbours, this was our first time en fete. You could tell this because – as per the invitation – we turned up promptly at 11:30. Apart from a couple of people setting up tables there was nobody around. Too early for France and definitely too early for the French countryside.
Our offers to help being politely declined, we sloped off around the corner to admire the pig, which was being attended by three of the village elders, assisted by a few bottles of beer and a clockwork contraption beyond Heath Robinson’s wildest imagination to keep the spit turning. The process had started at five a.m. and the beast had been roasting away since seven.
We went off and tried again, closer to 12:30. Better luck this time: a couple of old-timers had dug themselves in next to a table bearing a bottle of pastis and two large whisky bottles, now labelled ‘Pineau’. Oddly, they weren’t touching either, but instead were steadily refreshing themselves from an adjacent plastic bin that was full to the gunwhales with what I later discovered was Mme Rousseau’s legendary home-made sangria. You could sell it as Limousin Lightning.
Serge insisted that everybody stand up and introduce themselves, which took a little while given that by this stage the assembled multitude numbered about fifty. With three of the eighteen houses in the hameau now owned by Brits (although Sugar Magnolia and I are the only permanent English residents), the rosbif representation was pretty well pro-rata.
We sat at a table with some of the other Brits, a French couple and Didi. As one of the pig overseers from earlier, Didi had exercised some kind of droit de seigneur and carved himself a very large tranche of pork with plenty of crackling. This was fair enough, except it meant that he had to supplement his knife and fork with a pair of old-fashioned pincers in order to remove the bits of chicken wire that been used to keep the farci in the cochon. He looked like a travelling dentist.
The conversation and the laughter flowed at least as smoothly as the wine and that seemingly inexhaustible sangria as we wound our way through four courses, including desserts largely provided by the local ladies. Madame’s summer fruit pudding was particularly well received.
Come five o’clock we were all, as an old stock-jobber would have put it, starting to run into a few sellers. This was a source of some mild concern as we had been warned that Alain, another of the elders and official life and soul of the party, was of the ‘sleep when I’m dead’ school and had a history of insisting on post-prandial petanque on these occasions.
However, we managed to slope off surreptitiously back to Brokedown Palace for a cup of tea and a lie down. We woke up again just after seven, tea untouched on the bedside table, but feeling a bit more with it. It was time to come out for the second half.
We strolled back to the marquee on a perfect sunny summer evening. There were just a few people sitting around playing cards, still working away at the sangria, so we were by no means the only ones who had gone off-line for a while. Others started drifting back, rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and when the party was back close to full strength Alain divided us into teams for a mercifully brief tug-of-war tournament.
After this there was that pig to be finished off. Another four course meal ensued as the night wore on. The wine and sangria eventually ran out but it didn’t matter, because somebody (no names, no pack-drill) produced their home-made apple brandy. It is obviously not for me to speculate on whether the appropriate duties had been paid on this fine brew, but it was delicious and apparently – and quite credibly – 80 proof.
Inevitably, my recollection of the rest of the evening is a little hazy, but I think it’s fair to say that a good time was had by all.
And next year we’ll be sure to arrive fashionably late.