Friday 2 January 2015

Bonne Année

Happy New Year Cake. Miam !
The New Year. Who knows what sort of year we will have. Here’s hoping that we will fill it with wonderful moments and lots of family laughter. We stayed up until midnight so that we could let off our legal-in-France fireworks and in equal parts I felt happily juvenile and clandestine sheltering on the balcony whilst my husband went down to the lawn to officiate our proceedings. It was drizzling, not enough to prevent the fuses from igniting but enough to complicate the procedure and add an extra element of danger. He hid under my pearly pink golf umbrella with the lighter and a firework until there was a flame and then bolted backwards, removing the umbrella just in time to stop him emulating Mary Poppin’s graceful umbrella-flying feat.

When we started the quiet was tangible. An occasional car passed in the street and a man was out walking his dog but the majority of shutters were closed and lights appeared to be out. Out of respect for the calmness we attempted to be quiet, but the only fireworks that were compliant were a couple of pretty, gyrating crackers with quickly extinguished bursts of light, the rest were impressively loud, many flying through the wet branches of the tall pine trees and exploding loudly in the sky above. Several ricocheted back down to the ground and others appeared to chase my husband in a manically vengeful dance. He was rediscovering the forbidden pleasures of his youth and my son, having never seen fireworks up close was reversing the adult-child relationship, calling out several times to his father to be careful. After a few too many close calls and with his level of anxiety building my son's tone changed, ‘That’s enough now, Daddy!'  ‘Just one more,’ said several times over, came the busily engrossed parental reply.

With the promise of more fireworks the next night we persuaded my husband inside only to search in vain for what we had felt sure would be spectacular Parisian fireworks on the television.  Cabaret/talk shows were the go. Yearning for something less 'Gallically' serious or at least that we could understand without extensive prior French entertainment history, we hunted down one of our favourite Eddi Izard comedy routines. It gently mocked the simplistic uselessness of the phrases learnt in French class at school and the exaggerated ‘souris est sous la chaise’ and 'singe est sur la branche’ were as puerile as expected and effortlessly succeeded once again in producing out-of-proportion mirth. As always Izzard concluded that the only way he was ever going to be able to fluently drop these memorized, beautifully pronounced schoolboy gems casually into conversation with a gaulois puffing French man was to go to France with a chair, a mouse and a monkey and stroll around heavily wooded areas. Look it up. Be prepared for laughter.

Our last two New Year’s Eves here in France have been slightly more eventful. Last year in the afternoon of the last day of the year we stumbled across a poster advertising a family celebration starting at 6pm in the small ski station of Chinaillon near Le Grand Bornand. The timing was perfect for us as we were hosting dinner with my sister at 8pm. Carefully we drove up the icy roads, expecting to find a few lonely strays in the street but struggled to find a carpark due to the large numbers present and nearly missed the downhill flame descent on skis. The flames snaked their way down the slope opposite the village, shining vividly in the darkness of the evening. Free hot wine was being served in the street and a DJ, perched on a platform above us, exhorted us all to get warm and dance to a selection of pop and French traditional songs. It didn't matter that we didn't recognise half of the tunes, we were swept up anyway into the spontaneously formed human circles, arms linked following as best we could the intricate dance steps performed with complete assurance despite the crowds, icy roads and free-flowing alcohol. The short festival culminated in a spectacular fireworks display on the hill opposite which, in short bursts, lit up the snow covered slope, the spire of the church and the clusters of miniature-looking chalets.

The year before, we were very newly arrived in Annecy and did not expect to know enough people to be invited out. Circumstances lead to us having a perfect evening lakeside around a bonfire and with new friends. Our troubles began when we headed home at three o’clock in the morning and found our house locked, as expected, but bolted internally, preventing us from using our key to get in. Our 16 year-old niece visiting from Australia was ostensibly babysitting. Boy, she must either have been taking revenge for not being out at her own New Year's Eve party or have been in a very deep sleep. No amount of yelling through the keyhole into the downstairs corridor just under her bedroom, throwing rotten quinces up at her window from the ground around the tree in the garden or ringing her mobile number roused her. We kept at it for an hour despite the freezing cold and eventually, out of fear of reprisals from our village neighbours, my husband and I retreated to our car where we fell into a half-prone deep slumber still dressed in our coats, bonnets, gloves and scarves with the engine and car heater on. 

Around 6am my husband tried again with grim determination and the more conventional method of knocking loudly on the front door. This time he got a response but no remorse or sympathy from the well-rested one as we trudged silently through the house straight into the warmth and comfort of bed. I’ve had late celebrations before and not got to bed until later than on that particular morning but never before have I had to sleep in the car in the carport, dreaming of the inaccessible luxury of my bed only a few metres away. Happy New Year indeed!

Those Quinces !

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