Friday, August 25, 2006

Le Repas - A community dinner.

We went to community dinner the other night in Castenet, a nearby village. This one was arranged by the local petanque club. (petanque being also known as boules & being a game much adored by the French.) We as members of the troisiemes were also invited. (The troisiemes are a club for the over 60's. We go on outings, have lunches & enjoy life in general.) Of course, everyone else came along as well so we had a crowd of about 60-70 people ranging in age from a few months to over 90. Not bad for a rural area.

We paid our entry, 16 euros, and got our aperetif outside as the evening was nice. Met up with several good friends & also started chatting with local people we didn't know. This got us into how the relationships worked in the area. It seems that everybody is related to everybody in the area; cousins twice removed or whatever, but it does make for a closly knit community. The nice thing though is how welcoming everyone is to we 'etrangers'; people make a point of being nice to us. A modicum of French & a smile is all you need to be accepted.

Shortly the entertainment arrived. An accordianist & a one drum drummer. We had music from then on out. The 'experts' none of whom were under 60 years old had the fires going for roasting the meat. None of this charcoal stuff, real logs & branches. The ladies were working on the rest of the meal inside. (I have to explain that in France almost every village has a "salle des Fetes" this is a meeting hall with, normally, cooking facilities, a dance floor & various other equipment for having parties. Most of the 'salles' are very nice & have been subsidized by the government. They're sort of the French equivilent of the school gym in small town America.)

We moved inside for the meal. The hall was set up with a number of long tables & everyone sat where they wanted. We sat with friends with French people we knew from the troisiemes on either side. Two proud grandmothers took turns holding the baby as the baby's parents made the rounds of friends. The noise level rose as we all started on our wine & as the children got more more excited. The band moved inside & the children had a great time trying to dance.

The first course was a cheese soup; delicious! It was a chicken stock with garlic & herbs laced with melted local tomme cheese and with lots of country bread soaked in it. I had two big helping & would have had more except that I knew there was lots more to come. Next we had a big slice of locally smoked & cured ham. (I need to point out that bread was on the table as was mineral water & bottles of red wine. All three were continually replentished.) This was followed by fresh coco beans cooked in stock with ham cubes & garlic. The meats came just after this. Roasted Lamb steaks & home made duck sausages; there were seconds & thirds & more available. After this came the cheese; a nice chunk of Mont d'Or. Finally we had a choice of three different ice creams. All of this took about 2 1/2 hours as there was lots of conversation between each course.

About midnight the band started up again & the Eau de Vie started passing around. Having had a disasterous encounter with Eau de Vie in the past I declined. The dancing commenced with everybody getting onto the floor. Some of the dances are 'regular' modern dancing, but several are complicated local dances handed down from generation to generation. That was certainly true that night as our youngest dancers were about 3 years old & the oldest well over 80 years old.

We eventually departed, fully, slightly tipsy and very contented.

We do love France & it's people!

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