08 January 2007

Une soirée chez les voisins

Yesterday our neighbors "les G", who live at the end of the paved road, invited us over for a 4:30 p.m. event. They said they had also invited "les J", who live between them and us. In transmitting the invitation, they asked us if we were on good terms with these other neighbors before inviting all to spend a few hours together. "Les G", by the way, are about my age (close to 60 — it seems weird to say that about myself...).

We are on good terms with "les J". We just don't know them. "Les J" are three women who are grandmother, daughter, and grand-daughter. The grandmother is easily old enough to be my mother, the daughter is my age, and the grand-daughter is in her early 20s. Some of our other neighbors (including "les G" in fact) don't have particularly friendly relations with "les J". I myself had a little run-in with the youngest of these three women, but I'm letting bygones be bygones.

Click on this aerial photo to see it full-size. We are good friends with
"les M" and have good neighborly relations with "les G".
Nobody seems to be on very friendly terms with "les J".
The photo shows the entirety of La Renaudière, with its nine houses.

Be all that as it may, W. and I walked over to the neighbors' house at 4:30 and "les J" were already there. The occasion was the New Year. We greeted Mme G with the traditional cheek kisses, and then it seemed chintzy not to do the same with "les J" so we did, even though we don't know them well at all. Yesterday was only the second time I had ever seen the grandmother, and I don't know if Walt had ever seen her before. We do see the daughter (who's my age) from time to time at the Saturday farmers' market in Saint-Aignan.

The evening lasted about three hours. Mme G served not one but two galettes des rois, the filled puff pastry cakes Walt has recently described on his blog.

Thought I'd slip in a photo of a recent Renaudière sunset — 05 Jan. 2007

In fact, the cakes were delivered fresh after we had arrived for the party. A 40-something woman named Caroline roared up to the front of the house on a motorcycle. She came in and Mme G introduced her to everybody (I think we were the only ones who didn't know her). I thought she was another guest. Mme G disappeared with her into the kitchen. Then, looking out the window, I saw Caroline get back on her motorcycle and roar out of the driveway. I was confused but then realized she was just delivering the galettes fresh from a local bakery.

One galette was filled with the traditional frangipane (almond paste). The other was filled with applesauce and strawberry jam. Both were really good, I thought. Mme G also served some cannelés bordelais that she said she had made. Here's a recipe that includes a photo. They are little cakes that are a specialty in Bordeaux (hence the name).

And a close-up shot of the same sunset, a few minutes later

Mr. G opened a bottle of champagne, and when we finished that (when seven people are drinking it doesn't take long) he opened a bottle of Crémant d'Alsace, which is also a sparkling white wine.

A lot of the conversation turned on a minor crime wave that seems to have hit the Saint-Aignan area over the New Year's holiday. We learned that several houses in Saint-Romain, a village about 5 miles up the road where we often buy wine, were burglarized on New Year's Eve while people were out celebrating.

A woman in the village of Thésée, just across the river from us, was raped by an intruder in her own house. Police are looking for the rapist around Saint-Aignan. He is a 40ish man with very long hair, according to Mme G, who thinks she has seen him in the area.

Over in the village of Meusnes, about 7 miles east of Saint-Aignan, the townspeople set up their New Year's Eve feast — fancy food, champagne, other wines, and all — in the village hall early on New Year's Eve, and then they went home to get dressed in their finest for the evening's festivities. When they returned, somebody had come in and stolen everything!

From there the talk turned, unfortunately, to the gypsies who live in the area. They are the source of most of the crime, or at least that seemed to be the consensus. We learned a new word, manouche, which is slang for gypsy (gitan in French).

This is a shot of our back gate and hedge as seen from
the other side of the little pond out back.

There was also talk about the sad state of the local economy. A lot of the local merchants are struggling to survive. The 50-year-old woman who owned the bookstore in Saint-Aignan was killed by a hit-and-run driver in November as she walked down the road in her village with her husband on a Saturday night. Nobody knows what will become of her shop.

We learned another word, canon, which means a glass of red wine in what the dictionary calls "rural slang." According to the youngest member of the J clan, the main bar/café in Saint-Aignan is a dreadful place in the eyes of the young crowd because it's full of old men smoking foul cigarettes and downing canon après canon.

It was a nice evening and one that made me realize that we live very sheltered lives here. We don't often hear such local gossip. The news that the bread lady brings every morning with the baguette quotidienne is infinitely more upbeat.


  1. I wonder how the Gs and the Js would react if they lived anywhere in the area of a big city! ;)
    L'insécurité is such a hot topic in France! Brings a little excitement.
    Hope the galettes were good!

  2. Your map is cool- when I double clicked on it I could see where these neighbors live. I love frangipane, so I'm sure that would be my first pick. I wish Domino's would deliver galettes on motorcycles.

    I'm glad this outing wasn't your first introduction into your new surroundings- you heard a lot of bad things.

    I guess people are the same everywhere. We have some friends that love to talk about all the bad stuff going on and there's always some of that. Sometimes their facts aren't right since the story gets embellished along the way.

    Still, it's fun to know one's neighbors and you seem to have good variety of personalities in your neighborhood and they seem to like you and Walt.

  3. What an interesting evening, "interesting" being a word fraught with multiple meanings.

    Our neighborhood is a very gossipy one. There's always something to think about.

  4. Security isn't only a hot topic in France. Our local paper (San Francisco Chronicle) ran an article over the weekend about local neighborhood groups that have sprung up in cyberspace. Their goal is to provide information on local events and alert neighbors to break-ins and suspicious looking people in the area.

    As Chris says, there's always something to think about in our neighborhood, too.

  5. Bonjour Ken !

    Sympa, ton récit et la photo pour localiser vos voisins ! On se serait cru dans Agatha Christie, mais, heureusement, pas de meurtres chez vos voisins, lol !

    Alors, comme ça, tu découvres encore des nouveaux mots :-) ! Tu sais à présent ce que veut dire "descendre un canon" !!! Dire que tu les "descendais" sans le savoir, lol, comme Monsieur Jourdain faisant de la prose... Et les manouches, et bien, énormément de Français leur collent tout sur le dos... Bon, y a du vrai dans leurs rapines, mais attention à ne pas virer vers Le Pen...

    Alors, à présent, vous voyez-vous... "réciproquer" (là, tu peux entrevoir mon sang belge :-) !) et inviter tous ces Jr, heu, je veux dire, tous ces "M", "J" et "G" cheu vous, hein ? C'est ce qui se fait, comme tu le sais, "normalement"... J'aimerais bien être p'tite souris et assister à cet événement qui figurera sans doute dans la gazette du coin, non :-) ??? Allez, je redeviens sérieuse ! Bises. Marie qui avait envie de te taquiner ;-)

  6. Marie, the good thing about living here is that we learn new words and expressions every day. Sometimes the words are already in our heads, in deep background, but suddenly the focus is on them and they become very clear. "Canon" is one of those. I know I had heard it before but I never really thought about it until Walt asked for details about its meaning.

    As for "manouche", I'm not sure I knew the term.

    We will reciprocate, I think. But we can't invite the Ms and the Js at the same time; they don't get along. We will wait for warmer weather so that we can have these neighbors sit around a table out on the deck ("terrasse") and enjoy the nice weather.

    Evelyn, yes, people are the same all over, aren't they? We don't like to focus on the negative, so it's just as well we don't hear too much of this kind of gossip. I really enjoyed watching our neighbors interact with each other. We were mostly observers in our situation.

    Claude, the "galettes" were very good. After having lived in Paris, Washington, and San Francisco, W. and I are interested to get a glimpse of our Saint-Aignan neighbors' view of the world.

    Susan and Chris, yes, there are security issues here, but they seem very minor compared to what goes on in parts of the Bay Area. We were in Tours today and again were struck by the realization that we really do live way out in the country.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?