26 October 2009

Good weather for a bad day

According to weather reports this morning, the weather is going to be bright and sunny in the Loire Valley all this week. If it turns out that way, it means we won't have to trudge to the cemetery from the village church tomorrow afternoon in the rain, under hoods or umbrellas.

After shopping at the market in Noyers yesterday — I bought a slice of pheasant pâté, a slice of duck pâté, some good bintje potatoes, and three nice cheeses — I went to one of the florist shops in Saint-Aignan to buy flowers for Jean-Luc's funeral.

A view of the vineyard and our house from a few days ago,
with storm clouds coming in from the northwest

Walt and I had discussed it and we weren't even sure that the florist's was the right place to go for funeral flowers. Maybe we should go directly to the pompes funèbres, the funeral home for them. I figured the woman at the florist shop, who is an old friend of the woman we bought our house from, would be able to tell me.

No, I wasn't in the wrong place, the young woman who waited on me said. "What kind of flowers to you want to send?" she asked me. I told her I had no idea, that this was my first experience of French funeral. Okay, she said, and led me outside to look at potted chrysanthemums out on the pavement in front of the shop.

"Are these what people buy?" I wanted to know. "Yes," she said, "here's the selection. Decide how much you want to spend and pick out the ones you like." They started at 7 euros and went up to 17. That certainly wasn't going to break the bank, even with the crummy dollar.

"You can also get cut flowers," the woman said, "but they won't last as long at the cemetery. Most people buy potted plants — le plus souvent des chrysanthèmes." I picked out a big planter box full of them, with a profusion of purple flowers. I paid 17 euros, the highest price.

I had told the woman it was for Jean-Luc's funeral, and she just nodded. Back in the shop, she gave me a card to fill out. "Write your message and your name on this side," she said. "And then on the back, where it says name and telephone number, just put.... well, his companion S.'s name, and then Famille M..., Jean-Luc's last name." J-L and S. were well known in Saint-Aignan, obviously. They restored a house on the main square in 2008.

She said the flowers would be delivered to the funeral home, which in turn would deliver them to the church for the service and then to the cemetery for the burial. She told me at least three times that I should go to the church, not the cemetery, at 2:30 Tuesday afternoon — I already knew that.

Look how they cleaned up the banks of the village pond
out behind
our house. Now they need to pull that
invasive aquatic plant out of
it. I hope the fish
survive because they eat mosquito larvae.

Yesterday evening I mentioned to S. that I wasn't sure if everybody or just family actually went to the cemetery for the burial after the church service. She said yes, I want everybody who wants to be there to be there with us. So that settled that. It will all take place tomorrow.

One thing that has become clear is that food doesn't play the same role at a time like this in France as it does in America. S. said it doesn't happen that way in England either. I wonder where we Americans got the custom of taking a covered dish, a casserole, a pie, or a cake to the bereaved family.

Walt and I were the only ones who took food to S., as far as I could tell. Yesterday we went over there for a couple of hours late in the afternoon rather than having them come here. It made more sense, and I'm glad we did it that way because several other friends stopped in while we were there. Jean-Luc's two sisters came over too, from their father's house across the street.

I made a Pounti cake, the Auvergne specialty. Here's the recipe and a description. Everybody said it was really good, and I thought so too. The recipe is a keeper.


  1. Ken, here in our little corner of England people often bring food. I think it's because they just want to do SOMETHING to help and show they care. It is always welcome as the bereaved family often have no inclination to shop or cook. You may have started a new custom, but in any case it shows how much you care. As S is English I'm sure she would not be offended. (I sometimes wonder if the French are much more sticklers for their customs and woe betide anyone who gets it wrong.)

    It's interesting that the florist knew all about it and was keen to make sure you got the time right as well as the flowers. I hope it all goes well. Things always seem better once the funeral is over and you can get on with adjusting to the loss and the rest of your life. The expression "you can choose your friends but not your family" springs to mind. The loss of a friend, however recently acquired, can be much more troubling than that of some relative you no longer have any time for.

  2. I am always touched by anyone's death, no matter who they are because it takes us where we will one day be (le bout du rouleau).
    I will think of Walt and you tomorrow, during this time of "good byes" but one will be forever. Hope S will be OK.

  3. I don't know why we Americans do food for funerals, but it is so helpful for the family- I really appreciated the food that friends brought when my Dad died. Now our church often feeds people after the funeral in our fellowship hall.

    It is good to celebrate a life and to comfort one another with memories. There is such mystery in our birth day and death day...le bout du rouleau (thanks for those words, Nadege)

    I can't believe how different the vineyard looks from when we were there 2months ago!

  4. I agree that the giving of food is very helpful for families who are going through the death of a loved one. Family and friends come from out of town to attend memorial services, the family is exhausted, and the last thing we want to do is go grocery shopping and cook. When my dad died a few years ago, it was very helpful to have meals made for us, and we appreciated it very much. If it's not a normal French custom, it should be :)

    I can say, too, that the flowers and little notes that people send really mean a lot. Some people are cynical and think that it's silly to send flowers that will just die, but I am here to say that it was incredibly comforting to receive them, simply because they showed that our friends were thinking of us, and that we weren't completely alone. It's nice to make that effort. :)


  5. I have no idea about the customs of the French or English when it comes to funerals, but I'm sure your friend appreciated your effort.

  6. Lynn from Oregon said:

    Ken, speaking as a country girl, I agree with Evelyn and Seine Judeet, that prepared meals or dishes are so helpful at such a time. I think this habit developed when travel was harder, people came for the funeral, stayed over because there were no hotels or motels, and they needed to be fed. Lots of families didn't have that much extra food, either. Our church prepares several days of meals for bereaved families, and we step up the amount when they have guests staying.

  7. Hello Lynn from Oregon, I'm sure you are right about the food-giving. It was probably a rural tradition, before there were frozen foods and so many restaurants. It's interesting that Walt knows it from Upstate New York and I know it from coastal North Carolina. So it is widespread in the U.S.


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