January 21, 2015

Lunch, Church, and Politics on Sunday

One of the rules we follow here is to spend time with French people every chance we get. If you think about it, that is a wild departure from our American lives. We never said, "Jeez, I really need to see some Americans today!" when we lived in the Land of the Free.

On Sunday, I found myself in a trifecta of French situations: hunting cabin for lunch, 15th Century church for a concert, small town meeting with the mayor for the annual galette des rois.

This was not my first time in a French hunting situation.

The cabin, where there is one rule: no guns, dogs, or women allowed inside
I had been invited for both the hunt and the lunch, primarily for the latter. As one of my friends here had described this type of deer and wild boar hunting, "You don't talk, you don't move, you don't smoke, you don't fart." As I would be armed with only a camera, this sounded like something I could pass on this time, so I just went for lunch to the cabin.

I had stopped by my friend's house at 11:30 to pick up the lunch. I know what you're thinking: Perhaps a basket of sandwiches and some chocolate chip cookies? Maybe a pot of chili and a few brownies? Surely a dozen men would appreciate a bowl of pasta salad and some snickerdoodles, right?


To accompany apéritif, itself a production of Guadaloupian rum, lime juice, and cane sugar-syrup, we would enjoy some wild boar terrine. These are not small men, so they will of course remain hungry after this protein bomb. Better have a pissaladière, a specialty of Provence. It is a tart made with tomatoes, olives, and anchovies and it was like biting into salty sunshine after a year of Burgundy beef, buttery snails, and briny parsleyed ham. We had Chardonnay and some Bordeaux red for the meal. Throughout, the conversation covered vast ground, from how French communists won the Second World War to the time it takes to drive from Seattle to Missoula to why they stop the hunt when they see a mother boar with her two offspring (the dogs will kill the young ones).

A sanglier in a boar park. No, the hunters don't just shoot through the fence. They go after wild ones.
A vat of paella followed, studded with mussels, chicken, shrimp, and sausage, which the group scraped clean, pronouncing it excellent. An assortment of Roquefort, Comté, Camembert, and Emmental cheeses followed. A galette des rois appeared, which we chased down with freshly brewed coffee. This newbie was then subjected to some digestif spirits that my friend had received on behalf of the local Rotary Club from their twin club in Germany. The ceramic bottle told me that I wanted no part of it, yet there it was in my glass. 

I wavered between courteous guest and honesty, the latter triumphing. 

"Ça, c'est pas bon." 

And it wasn't. I was required to wash it down with a homemade prune liqueur, served from a green wine bottle with a piece of masking tape saying "Prune 1996." Nearly 20 year-old moonshine. Pretty cool.

And like that, the men were off to hunt and I was off to church to join my wife and kids. I had to go, since I had been on the radio as the local events correspondent for Arnay le Duc. (An American in small town Burgundy is "local"? It does boggle the mind.) After speaking with the priest to prepare, I gave the details of a choral concert in the newly restored 15th Century church live on the airwaves the Wednesday before. 

It was a lovely day and the public was au rendez-vous. Arriving, I saw a family I know, eager to hear a daughter sing.

It was billed as a Noel and Epiphany Concert, with "songs everyone knows." I expected that meant "songs every French person knows" but was pleased to hear the holy place filled with the sounds "Joy To the World" and "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" even if they were mostly in French. Call it "Alternate Lyrics Holidays."

As our children began to agitate in the church, it was clearly time to go to the mayor's office in our (smaller) town of Saint Prix les Arnay, where the mayor would give a recap of the year just past and the one to come. We had received a flier in our mailbox inviting us to attend, and there would be a galette des rois, the traditional Epiphany/January pastry in France. And, of course, a vin d'amitié, or a wine of friendship.

They mayor was decked out for the occasion, ready to offer statistics (no fewer than 3 companies had contacted the community about installing wind turbines on town turf) and opinions (what does Je Suis Charlie mean to me?).

He was surrounded by his team of municipal volunteers, and offered an earnest and honest summation of the positives and the challenges facing the community. I confess to a bout of mild goosebumps when he stopped in the middle of his speech to welcome me and my family. It felt like maybe we belong here. 

After he concluded, we enjoyed fruit juice (the boys) and hard cider (the grown-ups) as people mingled and chatted. I didn't have the heart to tell the mayor that I had already eaten some galette on the hunt, but I took a sliver instead of a slice, feeling downright assimilated.

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