'Twas the Week Before Christmas...

...and all through the day (Sunday, Dec. 17), people were going to Christmas markets, putting up decorations (traditionally not done much before week before Christmas), and attending musical concerts.  I did two out of three.  And, as usual, each day here brings its special gift of life in rural France.

First stop was a village about 20 minutes south of me, called Magnac Laval.  The sign is on the side of an old building, and I took the picture just to set the location; it's not indicative of what the town looks like, which is your basic French country charming.  :)  Every commune, village, town and city has its own "Marché de Noël"; I've been to two.

Not surprisingly, my favorite parts were learning about local customs, and engaging with the people. Thus, the picture below with the woman standing behind the jars, shows popular dessert made with rice or semolina, milk, sugar and flavoring (e.g., cocoa, vanilla, raisin, etc.).  I bought one with semolina and cocoa, and now just need the dishes in which to serve it.  (Mine, of course, are packed and stored in Frederick, MD; Maximum -- the brocante just around the bend -- here I come!)

I also debated endlessly with the mother and two sisters pictured below, about which table/mantle decoration I wanted.  I settled upon the one with lots of pine cones, in front of the sister with the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.  They were only charging €5; I gave them €7.

Then there was this 9-year old girl who totally impressed me with all the napkin holders she'd made (pictured lower left of photo), so I bought the (no surprise here) purple and green one, farthest/lower left.  Only €3.  I would have given her more, too, but I'd run out of Euro coins (they're 2, 1, 50 centimes, 20, 10, 5 and 1 -- and you ALWAYS have either too many, or not enough coins on you!).

It apparently is traditional at Xmas markets to have a horse and carriage ride for the children. Some are actually decorated quite festively, though this one remained loyal to its rustic origins.

Later in the afternoon I went back "north" (about 20 minutes, just south of Châteauroux) to my new favorite town, Argenton-sur-Creuse (folks, that's the target of my "in love again" comment!).  Families were enjoying the winter activities set up for children in the main square -- a carousel, love them! -- but I was there  for an afternoon Christmas choir concert at Eglise St. Sauveur, presented by La Voie Mélodieuse.

Just 15 voices (though I only counted 13), who were superb in their rendition of international Christmas songs (see the link above for the program). I'd have to say that the most spectacular one, for me, was "Cantique de Noël", which in English ("O Holy Night") has always been my favorite.  I was hearing it for the first time in French, sitting in a 13th-15thC church IN France, and tears came to my eyes.  When it came time to applaud, I called out "Bravo!".  The old folks in front of me turned with a look of...well, "ça ne se fait pas" (that just isn't done).  My tears, though, were soon replaced by a need to gulp down an outburst of laughter when, during the choir's beautiful but admittedly rather sedate rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," British Caroline leaned into me and whispered, "I would have thought they'd have sung that a bit more jolly."  I will NEVER again hear that song without remembering her comment, and laughing!

We also had a giggle (mean-spirited, admittedly) about the woman sitting to my right -- a blonde, maybe in her 50s, wearing a blonde mink coat, black stockings, high black suede boots, and a short-skirted black cocktail dress with see-through sleeves.  We gasped when she took off her coat.  What in the world?  we whispered to each other. Dressed like THAT, HERE? But WORSE THAN THAT, she was wearing a WHITE bra, because you could see through the sleeves the strap that had fallen off  her shoulder~  Quel horreur!!  LOL

After the concert, Caroline, Alison, their friend Jo, and I decided to hang around outside and wait for some "vin chaud" (hot wine, or what we'd call "mulled wine").  It was too cold, though, to remain outdoors, so I went inside the bar to drink mine, and to enjoy a lovely and lively time with Géraldine (the attractive blonde pictured standing) , her "ami" (b.f.) Phillipe, a local restaurateur , a furniture builder and his wife, and the "barman" Michael.  (And me.  Am I really that short??)  They seemed captivated by me; ha hah -- pretty sure it was because they'd never met an American who spoke French without an English/American accent!  Turns out, as fate would have it, Géraldine recently came to Argenton from Paris and is originally from Montmorillon, so was well qualified to give me her opinion re my choice of future home:  Argenton!!  They all agreed: move here!  :)

I drove home (despite being compromised by the dark, my bad eye, and the mulled wine), only to find my place FREEZING, and I couldn't get the fire lit.  So I wrapped myself up, pulled the duvet (which I am now able to change with ease) over  my head, and slept, while "visions of sugar plums danced in (my) head."

A la prochaine --

ADDENDUM:  Caroline told me today that Alison had wondered last night where I'd gone, and when I was pointed out engaging with the bar group pictured above, commented, "I wish I had HER vigor!"  :)
Ha, hah -- imagine, in a church AND a bar on a Sunday.  I, who am seldom in either!

Expat in France


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