The week following the end of our mémoires wasn't homework-free, but all remaining projects were considerably lighter. As we wrapped up each class, I felt a sense of urgency to be done school that contrasted sharply with my need for more time. I just wanted endless days that I could spend giving all my love to every corner of this sand-coloured city. That said, I would miss the majority of my classes at CIDEF. I had learned so much from them, and the teachers were so good to us. I felt no grief at seeing the back end of our Le Point magazine subscription (weekly current events journal that we were made to read articles from every class), but otherwise was sad to close that chapter of my education.
For the weekend of May 20-22, Matt and I had been invited to our friend Élise's house in La Vendée, the department where I had given a presentation about Canada. Élise's parents live deep into the countryside in a small community called Belleville-sur-Vie. Matt had been to stay once before and had had a blast, so I was excited to get away for some weekend adventures. Élise's cousin Marjo came with us and we met up with Élise's brother Julien at the house. The poor thing had lost half a front tooth in a mock historical battle the day before his family birthday party. The five of us sat down to a delicious meal and a movie before collapsing, exhausted, into bed.
The following morning, Élise's parents greeted us with smiles and the softest, fluffiest brioche, a sweet French breakfast bread that's light as air. We only had one item on the agenda for the day: the beach. Belleville is about a 30 minute drive from Les Sables d'Olonne, a popular spot with summertime vacationers and year-round retirees. It being off-season, the beach was busy but not overcrowded. The sun was hot and lying on the sand was rather more comfortable than going for a swim in the ocean. I splashed around for a while but didn't have the guts to go in farther than waist deep. The boys had brought a couple of skimboards and took to the vigourous surf. By late evening we were all sun-drunk and sandy, so we packed up our things and headed home. Shortly after our arrival we sat down to a marvellous meal prepared by Élise's parents. We had to se coucher (go to bed) early that night as we would be up at daybreak to go on a hike/scavenger hunt.
Apparently, many of these randonnées are organised across the country. A team pays a certain fee to participate, and they must follow a course through fields and woods to stations placed throughout them. At each station the team has the chance to answer a question on their question sheet. The teams to get the most answers correct, win. Élise, Matt, Marjo, several other cousins, and I signed up first thing in the morning and set off into the forest. I can only imagine how far we must have walked. Thank goodness for one of the cousins who lent me her sneakers. I had not packed for the occasion. Neither had poor Matt, who was suffering through with runners a couple sizes too small, until someone realised they had a spare pair. But gosh, what a hike. It felt like we were exploring the entire department as we pushed through tall grasses and strolled down country lanes and forest paths for three and a half hours. The questions were mostly agriculture-related, so I wasn't of much help in answering. I was able to sight read some notes, however, to help people figure out a traditional farming song. In the end, our team came in 16th place (only the top 15 teams got prizes). It had been quite the little adventure.
We went back to Élise's, cleaned ourselves up, and got ready for Julien's 20th birthday party. All the family was coming over, Matt and I being the only privileged friends attending. And what a party. You could have happily died eating just the hors-d'oeuvres. We ate and drank for hours revelling in the family camaraderie. Perhaps it's just a cliché, but it does seem that the French know how to do family get-togethers well. Everyone was very sweet to us. After lunch, the "kids" all went over to the grandparents' pool where we soaked up some more water and rays for the afternoon. Eventually, it was time to hit the road back to Angers. Back we drove, Matt, Élise and I, through the belle campagne (beautiful countryside) of La Vendée and Angers' department Maine et Loire. We sang to the hits on the radio and chatted about life and the future til we were home safe and sound. Another great weekend in the welcoming home of one of our friends.