Le 14 Juillet . . .

Or Bastille Day . . . although I haven’t heard anyone refer to it that way. A national festival that commemorates the French Revolution when the ‘people’ stormed the state prison where the Place de la Bastille, now stands.
In Montpeyroux, the 14th was celebrated yesterday (Saturday, 13th) with a community repas,or meal served up by the mayor and councillors, local wine, fireworks and dancing.

The dinner was supposed to start at 7 and, eager to check things out, I arrived right on the dot, camera at the ready. Lights had been strung overhead, long rows of tables filled the courtyard, chairs were pushed in and the paper table cloths scrawled with names to reserve places.  Other than that, no-one was around. I found the names of some people I knew, wrote my name on the tablecloth next to theirs, then went back to the apartment and drank a pastis with Julie who assured me no-one would be there till 8 or so.  Punctuality is, I’m learning, not highly prized in France.

Around 8:30, I strolled back up–two place settings in my shopping basket– everyone had to bring their own–and found my spot. By then, the tables were full, wine was being poured and the smell of paella cooking in pans the size of truck wheels filled the air. Half an hour or so later, the mayor gave his speech, cut it short because, he said, he’d sampled too much wine and then everyone stood to sing La Marseillaies. I’ve thought, and often written, about the frequent sense I have here of being suddenly dropped into the middle of a film. Last night was no exception. A courtyard in an ancient village, surrounded by vineyards, French voices raised in song as the tricolor fluttered in the evening breeze. If someone had yelled ‘cut’ it wouldn’t have been surprising. Afterwards the crowd applauded. Although everyone seemed to sing with gusto, a few even pumping fists, someone at my table remarked that the Marseillaies was too ‘bloody and violent,’ and said there had been talk over the years of writing new words to it.


Around 9:30 or so–no-one seemed to care what time it was–baskets of bread were passed down the tables and bowls of salad served. We then formed lines–each table in its turn–for paella. I asked why a Spanish dish had been chosen for a French holiday and was given the explanation that France is a multi-cultural country and this is reflected in the cuisine. The butcher, I’ve noticed, always has freshly made tabbouleh.

After dinner, the paper tablecloths were rolled up, the tables put away and the crowd drifted over to a field across the street for fireworks. Amidst the usual oohs and aahs, an overheard comment, translated for me, about tax money going up in smoke. A lone voice of dissent in an otherwise celebratory mood. After the fireworks, the band started, beer flowed and the dancing was still going on when I walked back to the apartment at 1 a.m. Viva la France!

From the past week:
July 10
Something a bit unusual in the village tonight. A French group, the singer is English, playing Irish music. Quite a kick to hear Dirty Ould Town sung with a French accent….a bagpiper made the rounds. The music almost drowned out the buzz of cicadas in the trees overhead. Lovely feeling to it all, late night on a warm summer evening.
Photo: Something a bit unusual in the village tonight. A French group, the singer is English, playing Irish music. Quite a kick to hear Dirty Ould Town sung with a French accent….a bagpiper made the rounds. The music almost drowned out the buzz of cicadas in the trees overhead. Lovely feeling to it all, late night on a warm summer evening.

July 9
My apartment is very small as is the village of Montpeyroux. Lovely and picturesque and all that, but this morning I awoke feeling ever so slightly claustrophobic and (apologies to the book) not up to spending a day with my characters. I could have borrowed the truck and driven into Montpellier for some big city stuff, but I decided to tackle the local transportation. Consulted timetables and found there was a bus leaving at 11:30 for Montpellier. As I was standing at the bus stop, I checked my timetable again. A woman smiled at me. Encouraged, I asked, “Montpellier?” She nodded. The bus arrived and I jumped on. Only 1 euro, air conditioned and (didn’t find this out till later, wifi equipped.) Nice ride through the countryside, into Gignac, a village I know from the Saturday market and then on to Montpellier.

But wait. OK, when you’ve seen one ancient French village, you’ve seen them . . . suddenly things began to seem a bit too familiar. I was sitting behind the bus driver, so I tapped his shoulder. “Montpellier?” I asked. He did that inimitable Gallic shrug, then sort of chuckled. “Non, non, Montpellier.” We were back in Montpeyroux again! Silly moi.

I tried to explain that this wasn’t quite what I wanted and, praise the Lord, he spoke a few words of English. He would take me to Clermont Herault, he said (I was proud of myself for just understanding the name of the village) and from there I could catch another bus to Montpellier. About half an hour later, he dropped me off on a main thoroughfare, pointed across the road to a bus shelter and said the bus to Montpellier would be by in about 45 minutes. It was hot, I was hungry, I didn’t feel like waiting at the bus stop for 45 minutes so I started walking, following signs that said centre ville–center of town.

About half an hour later, I was having a lovely glass of rosé at a sidewalk cafe in the middle of Clermont Herault. Too late for food, but what the hey? I’d given up on the idea of Montpellier, was quite happy to check out Clermont Herault, but had no idea about what time the next bus (or if there was a next bus) went back to Montpeyroux. I found a bus station. The guy shrugged–the Gallic shrug. I found the tourist office, ditto. I saw a large orange bus like the one I rode in on parked outside the Cafe du Gare–funny there were no buses in sight outside the actual bus station. I went inside and asked the woman behind the bar if, perhaps, she spoke a little English (I was tired by then and fatigue makes speaking French even more tres difficile) She didn’t speak English, so I blundered on, en Francaise, and learned from her that there was in fact a bus back to Montpeyroux leaving in about an hour. Time in France is written in military fashion so I had to have her write it all down. I needed autobus numero 38 she said.

Et voila, some sixty minutes later along comes autubus numero 38 and I’m headed back to Montpeyroux. Abba (why?) sings Dancing Queen on the bus stereo, the bus driver alternately smokes and talks on his cell phone, I check my e-mail which is when I discovered about the wifi. Nothing urgent.

Not bad for a petit misadventure, but next time I’ll make it to Montepellier.


2 comments on “Le 14 Juillet . . .

  1. hi janice…bon fete!!!…i’m celebrating by having my first bbq on the weber i bought last winter..my friend, mike, is down from paris for the week and we’re entertaining our other friend, farhad, and his sister, gita who are down from paris as well…spent yesterday shopping and making preparations..today has been spent tidying up and finishing things up..last minute will hopefully be averted…i’ve got the shish kebab marinating and the summer pudding in the frig..the pilaf is done and so all i really have left is the apero nibbles which are easy..radishes which are already prepped, olives, almonds and some little cumin-flavoured crackers…bart is out there trying to get the pool cleaned up..it looks worse than the pond, but it will come right here pretty soon..i hope before the winter comes roaring back….i’m glad you are having such a good time in your little village..it would seem that being right in town is just the right thing for you..it should help your french at any rate…i’m off to take a shower and get dressed and then to finish getting everything ready for the bbq

    fondly,   melissa

    Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself.

    ~ Andre Gide


  2. Hi Melissa good to hear from you. Your entertainment plans sound pleasant, I always enjoy preparing food for company. Hope you get your pool done in time to enjoy all the warm weather. It’s slightly overcast today and a tad cooler, 84, but tomorrow and Tuesday are supposed to be in the 90’s and thunderstorms are in the forecast for the middle of the week. Not my favorite kind of weather. My French is improving, but ever so slowly. I start a weekly class in September and am still considering an immersion course in Montpellier, maybe a week or two.
    Have fun, stay in touch.

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