Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
160Trip End Oct 25, 2010
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There are many of such events in rural France, as the villages have little or no theatres, cinemas, discos, music halls and what have you. So these gatherings are a major opportunity for socializing, seeing and being seen. These dos are very popular and the locals show up in large numbers to get together in the most cheerless places, not an ounce of atmosphere, to enjoy an often inferior communal meal followed by some substandard entertainment. Dancing, if you are lucky.
So of course, I should know better by now, but hadn't the heart to refuse when Jacques enthusiastically invited us to join him for a good old 'moules frites' night in Thenon (tourist information office, remember?).
Anyway, since he's a free man again, Jacques is leaving no stone unturned. And if he needs some support doing it, we are there for him. Were, I should say, as Peter has made it clear last night was the proverbial last straw.
No more moules frites, choucrout, paŽlla or couscous soirťes for him.
Yes, well, I suppose you have cottoned on to the fact the evening was not an overall success.
Let me put you in the picture.
We drove up to Thenon and parked the car (with some difficulty, the village was definitely not up to accommodating so many). Not sure where the party was, we followed a steady trickle of people to the edge of the parish. A concrete path took us steeply downhill, leading us to what must be the ugliest building I've ever seen. Something you'd expect to find in Bulgaria or Romania, and you'd still shake your head in amazement.
A long line of interesting looking folk - high spirited, loud, shoving, spitting, queue-jumping, private parts-scratching , but none-the-less good humored and friendly - shuffled towards the entrance.
Finally at the door I took a peek inside and my heart sank.
No. No, I couldn't possibly spend the next god knows how many hours in this dump. I wasn't even sure what it was until Jacques informed me it was a sports hall turned party center.
You could have fooled me! A vast concrete space, four walls and a very high roof. Enough neon light to illuminate a small city.
Shabby tables pushed together forming long rows, covered in white paper. Folding chairs. That's about it - oh, and an improvised stage , so small I mistook it for some questionable attempt at floral decoration.
Ok, I could do this. Deep breath and I crossed the room to the designated seats, thinking, this is not real - I'll wake up soon.
Sitting down, I found in front of me a small disposable plate, a 'glass' and an orange paper napkin.
Dear me, not even finished setting the table?
But, no, big, steaming, stainless steel pans were plonked down and my table companions, without much ado, started ladling heaps of mussels onto their plates, and tucking in.
No cutlery. Fingers, teeth and shells seem to do the job just as well, judging by the fast growing mounds of black shells, casually cast aside on the tables. The moisture from the shell-fish dripping all over the place.
At the risk of sounding snooty I asked the gentleman to my left where I might find a fork, a bowl for the waste, and another napkin would be most welcome too.
Carefully picking his teeth with the edge of a shell, he gave me a puzzled look, shrugged and asked if I've seen any chips yet.
Ah, the chips, les frites, yes, I was wondering about those too. Like, where were you supposed to put them once they arrived? Surely not on the wet, clam-y plates?
Not to worry, by the time they came they were cold and soggy - problem solved .
So the meal was a bit of a disappointment, but hey, the entertainment was bound to make up for it.
What was it, by the way?
The gentleman to my right, who had just playfully pinched my waist, to indicate I shouldn't have mayonnaise with my fries (a disgusting Dutch habit, I know), told me: un humorist. A humorist? A comedian? What the heck was I supposed to do with a French comedian?
Yep, local patois, he boasted.
Forget it, I can barely understand the queen's French, never mind the dialect.
Seemed as good an excuse as any to leave - and I couldn't stand the sight of another mussel, so let's get out of here.
So as the crowd started turning expectantly towards the stage, gleefully rubbing their grubby hands together in anticipation of the grand artist, we made our way across the hall to the exit.
We were the only ones leaving and it felt really uncomfortable, trying to be inconspicuous with hundreds of disapproving eyes on you.
For this was not on. You don't snub the local hero.
And I could almost hear them thinking:
Tant pis! Foreigners, they come here, buy our houses, eat our food, drink our wine, and think they know it all.
But they know nothing until they can sit down and devour a pile of mussels without crying for a fork, until they can join us in laughing at our much loved humorist,
and if they listen carefully, they might just find out
that they are the butt of our jokes!