Croissants, le Christ, et une crèche.

We’ve done so much over the holidays that I feel compelled to tidy events into trios. This is the first.

New specs & fresh petite croissants.

My mother, aunt, and husband arrived on the afternoon of the 23rd December, and we started their visit with a lovely dinner at a local (THE local) restaurant, Les Esclapieres. My mother tried foie gras and loved it, I accidentally ordered two bottles of wine rather than two carafes, a translation error resulted in Dani ordering kidneys (which he enjoyed,) and we confirmed that though portion sizes might be smaller in Europe, the overwhelming use of cream in French cooking leaves one feeling very, very full.

The following day we continued in the gastronomic vein by enjoying fresh pastries from the boulangerie before heading out to a drive along the coast of Nice, a walk along the rocky shore, and a very late lunch in Antibes, near the Picasso Museum.

The markets that had been bustling when I went with Caitlin, Emma, and Valerie, were almost nonexistent, answering my question about whether the markets are busy on Christmas eve and day. I guess that’s a no, then.

However, an unexpected highlight was a rather noisy drive-through rally of Vespas! The local Vespa Club had gathered, dressed in Santa hats, and was driving around Antibes, beeping their horns and handing out candy. It was adorable. I must look up London-based Vespa groups.

Aunt Robin & me in Antibes. Note waiter in background with Santa hat.

There was a stressful incident where we parked in the port and had to pay our ticket before exiting, but no one seemed to know where to pay (including other people wandering around with unpaid-for tickets)…Attempting to put my bank card into the machine at the exit made the machine swallow our parking ticket, my bank card, and made the actual screen on the machine crash. Fortunately, a ‘help’ button yielded a real person answering (to my shock, so late on Christmas Eve,) and they returned both my bank card & the ticket, and the barrier miraculously opened. Dani hesitated as if we should still figure out how to pay, and I yelled, ‘Go, just GO!’ We went.

Dani, mom & Robin in the church. Let's play 'spot the skeptic...'

It was already Christmas Eve!

Dani humoured us by joining us for the 11pm ‘Messe’ (Mass) and my mom & aunt were able to experience the local church. It was a rather unusual evening: children were dressed up in Nativity outfits, but there was no Nativity play (unless we’d missed it, but it didn’t seem so: the kids just sat in their usual places in the benches to the right of the altar, tugging at their rope-belted robes and scratching at the metallic cloth wrapped in turbans around their heads,) – and I didn’t recognise too many of the attendees, so perhaps ‘the usuals’ go on Sunday at 10am.

Marius & Rene really  had to run the show; Gabrielle, who was filling in for Verity, was on holiday, so there was no one to play piano. All of the music was on CD and people didn’t seem to know when to sing along, or what words to say.

It was definitely a rockier ‘performance’ in all, but I’m still glad we went. The highlight was that one of the ladies (or perhaps the only lady) who sings for weddings there performed two solo, a cappella songs, including the Ave Maria, and that was truly glorious. She has an amazing voice and the acoustics of the domed church make it ring.

The church creche with local santon ('little saint') figures.

The church had a big lovely santon creche set up, too – all the churches have them, as well as many shops, and it’s nice to look at all of the local Provencal characters. They usually have running water features like a mill or stream, and often have little lights, too. We got to say hi to Ilona, who has a charming way of speaking at length in French no matter whether the people she’s speaking to know French or not, so I did my best to translate.

All of this in the two days before Christmas, and so much more to come…

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