January 04, 2015

Deuxieme Noel in the French Countryside

On Boxing Day, we loaded three vehicles with people and gifts and drove inland, further into the French countryside, passing through tiny villages with narrow streets and high stone walls - and hardly a soul in sight. We thought that the term "second Christmas" was simply a phrase the family used with affection to refer to a gathering of extended family. But, no! It was a Second Christmas - complete with a full round of gift gifting and a huge, festive meal. A repeat of the day before. Mon Dieu!

After driving beside what seemed like a mile of walled garden, we drove through the entrance of the property. This sketch (which served as one of the place markers at the incredibly long dining room table inside) had been made of the building years ago when the tall tree was still standing. The courtyard inside the stone walls was formed with the house on one side and an L shape of attached stone structures on the other side that probably housed stables, etc. in decades gone by.

We wound our way through passageways to the salon and petite salon, where the only sources of heat were electric space heaters and the fire that eagerly licked the logs in the large fireplace of the petite salon. This grand old French home was built long before central heating.

The high ceilings, magnificent woodwork, incredibly high stairwell, and family portraits on the walls left us awe struck. I felt as though I walked into the setting of an old romantic novel.
A closer look at the fireplace in the larger salon revealed a company of ancient marionettes!
Before the meal, everyone sat in a circle and gifts were brought in and piled at the feet of each person. After many exclamations and expressions of gratitude, the company proceeded to the dining room.
The dining room cabinet climbed up the tall wall toward the twelve foot ceiling.
There were twenty sitting down for supper - four little girl cousins at the children's table in the corner and sixteen adults around the dining room table. The dishes were from generations ago and the table was resplendent with glass flower holders, crystal, and as large a variety of courses, with champagne and wine, as on the day before.
We drove home in the darkness of night, through the same seemingly deserted villages and roads,  not sure if we had really experienced the evening or had been part of a collective dream set in a Margaret Kennedy or Molly Keane novel...

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