* A sunset
After my history exam, I went into Monsieur Melin's office (the director of CIDEF and my translation prof) to say my goodbyes. He's a very dynamic character and so interested in his students (nosy even - he loves digging around to see what juicy information he can find out, but you just have to laugh!). He's practically a part of the walls of this place. Starting out as a student at La Catho, then becoming a moniteur (teacher of oral expression), then a fully-fledged professor, and finally the director, he has given more than 30 years of his life to CIDEF. I can't imagine what the programme would be like without him, but apparently he's a couple years away from retirement. I told him that I'd lived the best year of my life at CIDEF, and even though I'm sure he hears that often, I think he appreciated the comment. We did la bise (cheek kiss) and I went on my way.
Next item on the agenda was to meet up with my group of friends to begin a weekend from heaven in Mayenne, Matthieu's home département (kind of like the French version of a county, but with its own level of government). I grabbed a sandwich from the excellent boulangerie on Rue Bressigny and went back to the school campus to have a picnic with Matthieu, Adrien, Matt, Aurélien, Laura, Hélène, and Lucie. Maëlle couldn't come with us because her thesis was due the following Monday. We had a quick bite under the leafy canopy of the school gardens, said goodbye to some other CIDEFiens who were around, then packed into the cars. One hour of autoroute (highway) brought us to St Saturnin du Limet. Matthieu's house is on a hill overlooking the rooftops of the cosy country village. The countryside was breathtaking. Fields and forests forever. As a city girl, it's easy for me to get excited at the sight of cows and chickens, and there were plenty. Matthieu's farm is so beautiful. All the old buildings are a warm reddish-brown stone capped with the region's signature slate roofs.
I was practically in a swoon over the charm of the whole scene. The company was so génial, the day was so hot (with a forecast of thunderstorms for later!), and the countryside was something from a fairy tale. We set out on a walk to check out Matthieu's favourite spots. I slid on the gravel driveway like an idiot and delayed our journey while Matthieu disinfected my ripped up leg. Beauty. Then off we went, down a wooded path, through cow fields and corn fields, stopped to eat cherries right off a tree, under a bridge with incredible acoustics, up a steep dirt staircase, across an old railway bed, and into the village. We took pictures and videos every stop along the way, wanting to record every moment. In the village we played like small children in the local park. When the heat got too suffocating, we trudged back home to melt in front of a fan.
As we were sitting around the kitchen table, Matt, Lou, and I got a text message. From Maëllie: "HAAAALLLLLIIIIFFFFAAAXXXXX". She had applied for a teaching position with the Alliance française, an organisation that teaches French around the world, and which has an outpost in Halifax. She found out that she was accepted and will therefore be spending all of next year a mere two hours drive from us. I'm not sure if I've already mentioned it, but Adrien and Matthieu are moving to Vancouver in September. They had planned to go before they had even met us, but the fact that they will be in the same country, and that Maëlle will be so close, and that Hélène has met my family... I don't know that I believe in fate but I think this is as close as you can get. If any number of circumstances had happened a year earlier or later, none of us would have come together in the way we have. But due to some incredible spot of luck, this dream year and these friendships we've made will continue miles beyond the borders of France into the true north strong and free.
After that piece of fantastic news, some of us went to the grocery store to get sustenance for the weekend. When we got back home, we ran into Matthieu's aunt who offered to take us to see the milking of the cows. The front room of the farm building was dedicated to the milking. The cows would line up to have their udders connected to a giant pump. The back rooms housed the calves to one side and the adults to the other. The calves were adorable. When you stuck your hand towards their noses to pet them they would suck on your fingers like a baby with a bottle. We watched the adults push and shove each other in an attempt to get a prime spot at the trough. Such entertainment.
Back at home, we prepared ourselves a full meal of a salad and pasta. In between the two courses, Laura and I called everyone's attention. She and I had prepared a duet of a song called "Lie Down" by the group The Good Lovelies. They had performed at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival last summer (a music festival near the cottage in NS) and we had loved their music. It's a fun song, upbeat enough to not make people sad but sweet enough to be moving. At the end, we translated the chorus into French. The look on our friends faces was all we could have hoped for. Here's the music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNVYrmcyN9o
And our version of the chorus:
À côté de moi
Pendant un moment
Enlève tes chaussures
Donne moi un câlin
Tête sur le coussin
Et ferme les yeux
It wasn't a big thing, but it was lovely just to be able to make our friends smile. And to hear people humming the song for the rest of the weekend.
We cleaned up from dinner slowly, acting a bit like bumblebees drifting dazedly in the heat. I took to cleaning the dishes (I always try to clean up after dinner at Matthieu's or at Aurélien's in order to show my appreciation for being hosted, and always they try to chase me away. I guess in France when you host someone chez toi for dinner, you don't expect them to help with the cleaning up. In my attempt to be a helpful houseguest, I try to do the dishes before they come into the kitchen and scold me) and was joined by Matthieu. He called me his ange de la vaisselle (angel of dishwashing) and began to make up a fantastical story to go with the name. It made for a lovely moment, standing in his kitchen with hands full of soap and heads full of daydreams.
Just after dinner wrapped up, it began to rain. It started out softly but within minutes we had a downpour. But the best part was the sky. Behind the farm were the darkest, most menacing clouds. Towards the village the sky was a glorious, surreal fire tone with the sun a vibrant orange. The boys whipped their shirts off and we all tumbled pell-mell towards the field. The view nous a coupé le souffle (took our breath away). Everyone stopped, spread out across the top of the field, each lost in his or her own thoughts. And then -- "Regardez ! Un arc-en-ciel !" We turned to see a rainbow blossom across the storm clouds behind us. I had to laugh. It was too perfect. We stood there, half laughing, half crying, occasionally giving each other hugs and dancing around as we become increasingly drenched by the pouring rain. The sun gleamed off the wet village and off the hay of the field. It was just... well, I don't know that there are any appropriate words.
Then we got the party started. We blasted music from the garage and ran around the property like hooligans. Every once in a while we would stop to watch the sunset again. Aurélien had had the bright idea to bring a skipping rope, something that seemed so fitting for the countryside. We jumped, we danced, we sang. Then came the storm. The sky was suddenly illuminated by enormous éclairs (lightning bolts) and the faintest rumbles of thunder. Everything was electric. The air was thick and heavy and humid as the rain held itself back for theatrical effect. We were all wired as excitement and life and music (and beer) coursed through us.
We eventually settled down to a card game. We switched back and forth between French and English at will, relishing in our capacity to express ourselves any way we wanted and to nonetheless be understood. The dance party continued after the game. At one point, Matthieu called me up to the loft of the garage and we sat pouring our hearts out until everyone came up to cuddle up together. We ran back through the fields to watch the sky. We had a water fight in the river flowing from the eavestrough. I sat down with Adrien and we had a beautiful discussion about the progress of society and how any number of things we might want to have happen will be possible in another ten years time. Then we danced again. The absurdity and the raw emotion that had been our evening caught up with us around 3am, at which point we stumbled through the dark of the house onto the pile of mattresses awaiting us on the floor.