Walking to the boulangerie yesterday, and saying hello to Isabel and Bebe, and then chatting with the woman at the market who sells olives, made me feel bittersweetly sad. I’ve had an amazing visit in Les Adrets. It’s the sunniest winter I’ve ever enjoyed. I am very excited to go to Florence, and then to London. I’m glad I’ve had such a lovely time here that I’m sad to leave. I hope to return. It’s a melange of feelings which I just have to ride. Verity is on her way home right now, and I’ve arranged for some of the friends I’ve made here to come tomorrow evening, to welcome Verity home and for me to say adieu.
A few last highlights of my stay here: Another sun-drenched lunch with Valerie and her family. I learned about ‘les feves,‘ tiny, ceramic figurines, even smaller than santons, which are baked into the gallete du rois, the ‘cake of the king,’ which is a special cake made only in January for the 12th-night / Jesus coming back from the dead celebrations. The feves can be anything from local figurines like santons (but still not the same as santons, which are larger,) to animals, cartoon characters, Disney characters, and historical figures. Emma, Valerie’s eldest daughter, has a lovely collection of feves, all lined up in a wooden case. She has SpongeBob and she has the Lion King, she has all breeds of dogs, various birds, and my favourite – Galileo! A tiny man holding a globe. The feves are baked into the cake, and whoever gets it in his or her slice has good luck and makes a wish.
I learned another tradition at lunch, when Valerie, Raymond, and I clinked our glasses and said ‘cheers’. In French, you can say the more formal ‘sante,’ or the more casual ‘chin’. I’ve heard my Bulgarian mother-in-law make the comment that one must look the person in the eye with whom they are clinking glasses, but she has never been able to say why – it’s just what one does.
Well, Raymond said the same thing, in great seriousness, making sure we made eye contact. I asked why it was so important. ’Seven years…’ he said, searching for the words.
‘Bad luck?’ I guessed.
He looked me in the eye.
I burst out laughing. ‘So that’s the French version! Very serious!’
On Saturday night, Raymond was out reporting on a breaking news story, and Valerie invited me to stay for dinner with the children. We made croque monsieur, the delicious French version of a grilled cheese sandwich. I learned why they taste different. You put cream on the bread before you smother it with ham and cheese. Of course.
And you know what, just to add to the magic of France: I’ve lost weight since I’ve been here. I don’t understand it, but I’m not questioning the French diet!
Valerie baked me my first gallete du rois on Saturday evening. The youngest child is banished beneath the table. Valerie cuts the cake. If we see the little feve sticking out of a slice (we did,) she spins the cake around so we lose track of the feve. Then Valerie says, ‘first piece!’ Gaurance, her daughter, calls out the name of a person sitting at the table. ‘Second piece!’ A name, and so on, until everyone is served.
That way, Valerie distributes the slices according to the instructions of her little daughter, who can’t see the slice. And so the feve goes to someone without bias.
I got the feve! I asked Valerie if she’d rigged it but she swore she didn’t. The King (or Queen,) gets a golden paper crown that comes with the cake, and then chooses their King (or Queen). Marceau was the only boy present so he got the other crown.
My feve is a little drummer man.
Now the sun is shining, the house is clean, my suitcase is packed, and I’m wondering when Verity will arrive from the airport…