Charming Chaos is taken for granted
I am feeling punch drunk this morning (not drunk drunk) after that very French institution, a repas – a meal for about 30 people to celebrate something or nothing. In this case it was a long-deferred get together of the team who created last year’s Carneval float, at the home of D. The repas three years ago was in D’s garage his biggest space, remembered mostly for the smell of diesel from his central heating boiler.
Invited at 7 for 7.30 and not wanting to be among the first, we arrived at 7.25, to be ushered up to the huge back garden where a few of the old faithfuls were tending a generous pile of meat on a barbecue. There followed an agreeable hour chatting and wandering about D’s impressive garden -admiring veggies enough to supply the village market, a magnificent row of dahlias, and a laden orchard, including a healthy young fig tree.
One or two people arrive, and still no sign of nibbles and aperitifs. The meat is taken off the barbecue to rest. … by 8.30 pm more guests trickle in … the last farmer arrives at 9. No-one bats an eyelid: milking takes precedence.
We are proudly ushered up a pile of breeze block steps into D’s not-quite-finished veranda, open to his living room. A kilometre of table stretches into the distance. The guests start unloading glasses, plates, cutlery and bottles. Ouch! M forgot to warn us to bring the necessaries. No matter, D kindly provides all that we need. A group of ladies starts uncorking bubbly, dispensed liberally with crème de cassis or mure as kir royale. At last we can begin.
Huge baskets of bread appear. My neighbour – a frail and slender elderly lady wearing a typical outfit of cardigan (orange) T-shirt (fuschia pink) a floaty frilly violently printed skirt, with denim espadrilles adding the finishing je ne sais quoi – erects a mini mountain of bread beside her plate.
A few bowls of garden radishes, cherry tomatoes, cheesy nibbles, and a tasty fish paté constitute the first entrée. These circulate for some while amid hi-volume chatter. A small boy manages to capture his share, while two blonde potential heart-breakers giggle over an electronic game. A King Charles spaniel enchants everyone with his impeccable table manners.
More entrées appear –melon quarters, a vast bowl of delicious rice, crab and avocado salad circulates. The mounds of bread are replenished several times. Crisp packets , tortillas and other goodies are piled along the table wherever there is a small space between bottles. Another great dish of potato salad makes the rounds.
From time to time M and Y disappear to add more charcoal to the barbecue, the meat meanwhile resting on a tray to one side.
Hi-volume hours pass, and I am grateful for the dying of the battery in my hearing aid. Bowls of garden lettuce appear. A refreshing apple sorbet is served, sprinkled – for those brave enough – with Calvados – the kind Jock likens to engine oil. This course is the traditional trou normande, designed to clean the palate and prepare the inner space (!) for the main event.
More charcoal goes on the fire. Not yet the meat. More conversation, bottles empty at an alarming rate. Yves tells some incomprehensible funny stories, impossible to hear above the hubbub, but we laugh anyway.
11.30 M and Y disappear again, to return first with some gorgeous burnt sausages – not very warm – and when those have been wolfed down, they come back with trays covered with the biggest chops I have ever seen. Jock and I split half of one between us. The farmers take 2. No veg – crisps are passed round and a token lettuce leaf may be added. The meat was very tasty, but barely tepid!
More salad, more bread, to accompany a delicious selection of cheeses and an increasing volume of chatter. The small children and dog continue to circulate, as bright and bouncy as they were at 8pm.
Dessert is served around midnight – traditional apple tart, apricot tart, tiramisu and the enormous but disappointing coffee walnut tray bake cake that I had made. They were polite about it, but I wasn’t fooled. Why is it that I can make that cake perfectly standing on my head, but when wanted for a special occasion the sponge is heavy, the mascarpone and cream topping not sweet enough etc etc? Murphy’s Law.
.As usual, Jock had contented himself with the half glass of bubbly and a taster of the red wine with his meat, but we worried about the alcohol levels of several worthy citizens. Pray that they all arrived home safely . Fortunately no-one had more than a couple of kilometres of quiet country lanes to travel.
Coffee topped off the meal and signalled a gradual shift into clearing-up mode, winding down by 1am when the bisous (kisses) round was repeated and we stumbled through the long grass of the orchard to find the car. I am full of admiration for the stamina of French people, even the children – who can party til dawn without turning a hair. Moi? Je suis crevée.
Sorry for the lack of pictures. I took lots before I discovered I’d left the memory card in the computer!