A is for the Association des commerçants, the village shopkeepers' association. Every New Year's Eve they lay on a dinner/dance for anyone prepared to fork out about €30 ($30, £20). It's possibly the sma
A is for the Association des commerçants, the village shopkeepers' association. Every New Year's Eve they lay on a dinner/dance for anyone prepared to fork out about €30 ($30, £20). It's possibly the smartest social occasion in the village social year. Wow. We made up a foursome and went along. Even at our age dressing up to go out late on a winter's night is still an adventure.
B is for Blanquette de Limoux, a sort of fizzy white wine which they serve as an apéritif. A false friend if ever there was one. Last year I sadly misjudged things and peaked so early that if the New Year arrived on time, it passed me by. Never again.
C is for Carte. Yum yum. Or to put it in French, nyam nyam. Paté de foie gras. Daube de chevreuil. Trou cévenol. Fromage. Dessert. Café et ses mignardises. Some of these may need a little explaining? Foie gras is the entire goose or duck liver. Paté de foie gras is made up of compressed pieces. Daube de chevreuil is venison stew. The trou cévenol, the hole from the Cévennes - I've no idea why - is a small sorbet with marc, a rough brandy, poured over it. It's supposed to promote digestion. H'm. Cheese, dessert - in that order - and finally coffee with something sweet, a piece of chocolate or tiny patisserie. Wines throughout, of course. Magically, as soon as one bottle is finished, another takes its place. You might think that a menu like this would floor everyone long before midnight struck, but in fact there's a cunning French custom that ensures no ill effects . . .
D is for la Danse. No sooner have the paté de foie gras plates been cleared than the disco chips in with a couple of fast, sharp-edged waltzes, those particularly French ones with whirling accordion riffs, followed by a pair of tangos. 30 minutes of this, then it's eyes down for the main course, and somehow you're ready for it. After the main course . . . but you get the picture. It all helps to shake the food down, I suppose, making room for more.
E is for Energie. Can we last the pace?
F is for Fatigue. Enough said. Phew. It's good to sit down and chat. However . . .
G is for Galimatias, a load of cobblers, which
H is for Hector, an expat Scot and our neighbour, has to put up with from
I is for une Inconnue, an unknown woman at the next table, not in her first
J is for Jeunesse (youth), who is clearly fascinated by Hector's
K is for Kilt (kilt). She says she normally lives on
M is for Mars, but she's chosen to leave her Martian castle for a few days over the Festive Season because she's got some pictures she wants to sell. Also, the Chief Jedi would like to catch up on what the earthlings in the village are getting up to. Would Hector like to see some of her pictures? As chat-up lines Hector has known better, so he replies
N is for Non. In any case
O is for l'Odeur, the scent of rich venison stew wafting out of the servery. We set to. Normally a little goes a long way, but the dancing has sharpened appetites and we end up eating much more than we would normally. No sooner have we wiped our all-course cutlery on the bread that serves as wiper-up, mopper-up of sauce and filler-up of still empty corners than the disco starts again with a fast
P is for Paso Doble. There are strong Spanish threads running through life's tapestry down here. It all adds to the colour and vitality, but
Q is for Question: How do you actually dance the paso doble? We've no idea. We get up and shuffle about energetically in a dark corner. Nobody pays any attention. They're too busy looking at a middle-aged woman wearing a little-girl print skirt, the sort of gravity-defying thing you might imagine Lolita enjoying a twirl in. Anything goes for dress down here, even kilts. The swing of Hector's emboldens the Martian lady, boringly predictably, to ask what is worn beneath the kilt.
R is for Regrettablement, regrettably, Hector's stock answer, 'nothing is worn beneath the kilt, madam: everything is in perfect working order' doesn't really translate into French. There's another answer calculated to stun the over-pert questioner into amazed silence: 'Well, if you really want to know, there's a little wood.'
'A little wood?'
'Yes, a little wood. Just four trees. Il y a un petit être (There's a little creature . . . but hêtre, pronounced the same, means beech) -
Qui est plein de charme. (Which is full of charm . . . but charme also means hemlock) -
Quand il a fait son boulot (When he's done his work . . . but bouleau, pronounced the same, means birch) -
Il est un peu plié. (He's a bit limp . . . but peuplier, pronounced the same, means poplar.)
Time to move on.
S is for Sarbacane, pea-shooter. I barely have the words to describe this phenomenon. Between the cheese and the dessert we are all issued with plastic bags containing a coloured cardboard tube and about 20 papier-maché balls. Fire is general and indiscriminate. There's a never-ending supply of ammunition as stray balls land about you and are reloaded. It's possible to load your sarbacane with several: the broadside effect. Truce is only called when your sarbacane becomes so soggy that it won't work any more. Hector is particularly proud of a direct hit on the Martian's partner. Maybe he's the Chief Jedi. Darth Vader, even. Quite a scalp, really.
We're quite relieved when the disco strikes up a
T is for Tango. Will we ever master it? We've downloaded step-by-step diagrams, but we never progress. Lack of assiduity, of course. So it remains
U is for Utopie, an unattainable ideal. The majority of
V is for les Villageois, the villagers, put us to shame with their easy mastery of the tango, although we're proud of our association with
W is for William, another fellow-expat, who puts Fred Astaire in the shade and has made himself very popular in the village not only with his dancing shoes but through his complete readiness to join in local activities, scotching any tendency to
X is for Xénophobie, fear of foreigners, that lurks in us all in varying degrees. But you wouldn't know such a word existed when midnight strikes and the entire company swirls about the floor exchanging good wishes, handshakes and la bise, the kiss on both cheeks, the light of pure bonhomie shining in
Y is for les Yeux, the eyes of all present, French, Brit or Martian.
Zzzz is for what we can't put off any longer. It has been a long night. Home and Happy New Year.