Sometimes, when I’m in a self-pitying mood, I reflect that my circle of French friends (as opposed to aimable acquaintances) is diminishing.
It is true, and no doubt inevitable at my age. Some, like Sylvia, who died last year and whom I still miss a lot, are gone forever. Others have aged and retreated to a less social life. The fact that I no longer (at least, for the time being) play music has dramatically cut back my social calendar. And of course it does not help at all that I am a useless cook and entertainer, given that French life revolves round meals.
At the same time, the flow of friends visiting from England and Scotland seems to have also reduced. Some are caught up with health problems, others with their life as grandparents.
Then suddenly I have two good days, as I have just done, and things look different. Yesterday – a glorious, sunny spring day – I had lunch with my Parisian-Cévenol friends, Francis and Mireille. Left to himself Francis would clearly like to live entirely in his big old family house here in the Cévennes. But Mireille is a Parisienne, who thrives on her cultural and social activities in Paris. So they have a complicated life with much travel between their two homes. Not so easy now that Francis, the driver, is 80.
It was a delightful lunch and as usual conversation was animated and wide-ranging. I think I can safely say that Mireille talks more than I do! My friend and tenant, Odile, joined us after lunch. Here is (some unflattering) evidence that I was not silent.
Obviously everyone was very preoccupied with the presidential election, and very relieved indeed that Macron had made it. All three would have liked somebody who was more on the Left, but there was a general sense of appreciation of the qualities that Macron has shown so far and a strong desire that he will manage to sort out some of the political mess.
They are all three lovers of the French language and I picked up some entertaining additions to my French:
“aller dans un panier à salade” = to be taken in a police van (to the police station)
“aller au violon” = to go to jail (the strings of the violin apparently representing the bars of a police cell
“poser un lapin” = to fail to turn up (for a meeting etc)
“perdre la boule” = become disoriontated, lose the way
mettre du beurre sur les épinards” = lit. put butter on the spinach. Improve things, in particular, financially.
Today lunch again dominated the day. This time Odile and another friend, Marie, came to me, bringing with them various courses of the meal. This really takes the pressure off a non-cook. It is very un-French, but I did appreciate it. I was not totally idle: I roasted an Italian style chicken, with leeks, yellow peppers and olives, and roast potatoes – and produced my favourite white wine, from Villa Dondona, near Montpeyroux.
I’ve known Marie (who is also the mother of my GP) for about 30 years. She is another strong woman with lots to say. Odile is also very good value – I’m so enjoying having her as my neighbour, albeit for a short time while she decides what to do with her life.
The only thing about my French friends is that they have more stamina than me. Marie and Odile left after nearly five hours.
Later Odile took Poppy for a walk – or rather, Poppy (in constant surveillance) spotted Odile setting off and rushed down to join her. Later Odile brought me up a bowl of delicious soup. I may not have many French friends, but I’m very lucky with those I have.