Every year, the French revolution (or, more specifically, the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789) is celebrated in every commune throughout France. Village feasts are organized, games laid on for children, with a firework display providing the icing on the cake. It is the most famous and popular national holiday in France. Unfortunately, this year it fell on a Saturday, so no day off work!
Our particular commune covers the tiny village of Sainte Soline, plus three sleepy hamlets: Asnières, Bonneuil and Verrines. The day traditionally begins with the church bells ringing out at 10 a.m. By midday, half of the community has gathered by the plan d’eau (fishing lake and park), in anticipation of a long lunch. The day had begun overcast but, long before the four hour meal had drawn to a close, the skies were azure blue and the temperature was in the mid-thirties.
Conversation is often a little forced or formal early on, as people politely introduce themselves. However, by the time cheese is served and the wine has flowed, most people are animated and the subjects – on our particular table – ranged from village life in the past, global warming and whether Britain is really in Europe or not, to the prospects of the local football team for the forthcoming season and whether Gerard Depardieu is sexy or not. For the record, the lunchtime menu was as follows:
• Charcuterie (Cold Meats)
• Spicy Tomato Chicken with Rice
• Iced Tart
All of the above cost just 9 euros per adult, five euros for children. Unbelievably, many of the lunchtime guests were dining in the same spot later that evening. (Personally, I didn’t need to eat again until the following lunchtime.) As dusk fell, the children had their lanterns lit and sat by the edge of the lake as a spectacular firework display, accompanied by music, completed the day’s entertainment.
As always, I am pleasantly surprised by the large turnout of local people. Normally, as you drive through our village, one gets the impression that the place is uninhabited; it is as if aliens have landed and taken the entire population away with them. Yet, each time there is a village function, hundreds of people materialize. In England, people are often seen pottering about their villages, yet many are apathetic about communal events. In rural France, the villages appear to be deserted, with people hidden behind closed shutters. Give them the excuse to celebrate together, though, and the transformation is remarkable.