P1080296What a weekend! Three days of happy events. July 13, a night of communal dinners and local fireworks–the villages know they can’t compete with the giant Bastille Day display above the Carcassonne citadel. Then July 14, the big deal. Plus it was a Saturday. The produce market unrecognizable–more tourists than tomatoes. Every café terrace packed. The party starts early and goes late.

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La Cité…it’s impressive any time but at night you can really imagine the 1200s.

P1080299Leaving the market, I was relieved to find my car still in its quasi-legal parking spot (much of the regular parking had been declared off-limits in preparation for the fireworks crowds that would start showing up). An older woman in a cheerful red dress with white polka dots approached, lugging a clearly heavy tote bag. “Is Avenue Antoine Marty far?” she asked. I pointed to it, a couple of blocks away. She peered into the distance.

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The lights in the foreground are people’s phones.

I told her to hop in, I would take her. She was thrilled. It quickly became evident that she knew very well where Avenue Antoine Marty was; the question seemed to be to determine whether I was fit to ask for a ride. I was glad to have passed the test. The municipal electric minibus that usually took her close to her home wasn’t running because the centre ville streets had been closed to traffic in view of the influx of visitors for the day’s events. I suspect she was trudging home, saw me, a not-young woman pulling a shopping caddy, getting into a car with local 11 license plates and she decided to take a chance. By 11 a.m. it already was hot and she didn’t exactly live nearby.

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Do you see la Cité glowing?

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Then engulfed in smoke.

She informed me she was 90. She was in fine form!! She had hefted her bag into the car before I had a chance to get out and do it. She wore a string of pearls and earrings and, I noticed, her sandals exposed her toes, twisted and deformed and undoubtedly very painful for walking long distances.IMG_5334She said 90 was no fun. She was born in Carcassonne and had lived there her whole life and always had lots of friends. But now, they were dying off, her coffee posse dwindling from 15-strong to five. “What are they thinking, dying like that?” she demanded, not rhetorically but in a clearly irritated way, like “why did you leave the lights on?”IMG_5476As she gave me directions, she told me about her life. Her daughter died of cancer a few years ago. “I died, too,” she said. “I am still here, but I stopped living when I lost her. It is not right to lose a child. What was she thinking, dying like that?”

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The “embrasement” or burning of la Cité. It never happened in real life, at least not here, but you can imagine the horror back in the day when fortified cities came under attack.

P1080302I dropped her off in front of her house and told her we had to have coffee the next time we crossed paths at the market. I don’t doubt I’ll see her again. I thought of something I’d recently read by the poet Donald Hall, who recently died at age 89: “However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae. They can be pleasant, they can be annoying — in the supermarket, these old ladies won’t get out of my way — but most important they are permanently other. When we turn eighty, we understand that we are extraterrestrial. If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.” I certainly hope my new friend in the red dress felt like the self who still lives inside.

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An ancien combattant let me photograph his medals. The horrors he must have witnessed to have so many. 

Later, our family joined the celebratory throngs in town, having dinner en terrasse at the central square (classic steak tartare, Thai steak tartare and a salade César at l’Artichaut). In the afternoon, a very good singer was belting out Aretha Franklin covers; at dinner time it was traditional bal musette, with people dancing around the fountain of Neptune as others ate at the many cafés.

As the sun set, we headed toward the river to watch the fireworks. I am constantly amazed by how polite the crowds are here. Even when the fireworks started, people stayed seated. No litter. Just laid-back, enjoying the moment.

 

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Some folks came early, with chairs, tables and food. And wine, Duh. This is a civilized crowd!
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Look at the masses on the bridge. That is too much crowd for me.
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Walking back to the Bastide, good moods all around.

And then, on Sunday, les Bleus delivered another World Cup championship. While my husband and kid watched (at home–no distractions), I puttered around the garden and listened, in stereo, to the collective cries of the villagers on the emotional rollercoaster–with air conditioning unheard-of here, everybody’s windows were open. Mostly cheers, but there were a couple of loud groans. Later, young people gathered on the main road to cheer at passing cars, but there was little traffic. The few cars that came by at least participated with plenty of honking.

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Smileys.

Next up: the Tour de France has an arrival, a rest day and a departure from Carcassonne next weekend.

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All photos (except the blurry ones, which are my fault) by our kid.

38 thoughts on “Joie

  1. What a weekend for France and all Francophiles…thank you for sharing yours with us!! We are very happy and proud that a Frenchman has joined our (American) family and that we have become part of his French family.

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  2. Such a joyous weekend! The old lady will be delighted to see you whenever you fall across one another in the future. I remember my grandmother making the same remark about all her friends dying off, my mother’s turn now and then it will be mine. If I am allowed the double edged sword of ageing at all. For none of us know what is ahead. As the Veteran from the Algerian conflict would surely attest. A lovely, thoughtful post full of such French references and of course, the joy and pride of the 14th followed by the unexpected though breathlessly anticipated victory on Sunday. Thank you for sharing the wonderful pictures of the grand site in full celebratory garb.

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  3. I love meeting people like your old lady. You get them all over these small towns. And your observation about the lack of litter after a crowded public event is spot on. We were at the TdF at Cholet and honestly, I did not see a speck of litter anywhere after it was all over.

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    1. I used to go to a free open-air jazz series in the U.S., and it was litter-free, too. So it can happen anywhere. But the fireworks–it’s really the entire public, plus tons of tourists (more tourists than locals–50K population vs. 700K spectators), and you would expect more litter than with the middle-aged jazz crowd. But it was just as tidy.

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  4. At least your ‘mature age’ friend is trying to hang on to her elegance…even at 90. Sooooo important. My grandmother died at 92…elegant to the end. Light make up, earrings and pearls daily and so well dressed. She was in an aged care home and was not ill…just old…so she made an effort. And she was full of humour about ‘falling off the twig’ at her age.

    Sadly I cannot say the same about my own mother (her daughter) who is now 95, in a skilled nursing home after a recent colostomy and has let herself fall apart completely over the past 10 years. Again, not really ill, just old. She is literally ‘dying’ to die, mostly grumpy and altho they dress her every day she doesn’t care. It’s simply awful for this once very elegant and highly intelligent woman.

    So a reminder to those of us in our early 70’s who are ageing but not ill…..men and women alike………keep your elegance on a daily basis, make that effort, try to move with the times. It’s all about maintenance…personal and property!

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    1. I have to say the lady in the red dress was indisputably elegant, and I would have guessed she was in her 70s had she not told me her age.
      My parents were in assisted living their last year. Both had all their marbles; it was the physical challenge of staying in their home that was the problem. My dad loved assisted living; my mom hated it and got pretty depressed about it. It’s true that facilities lump together such diverse needs–some are physically OK, but mentally they’re gone. Others have physical problems but their minds are fine. Imagine sitting at three meals a day with people who can’t hold a conversation. So I feel for your mother. It can’t be easy. And that makes it hard for you, too. Bon courage, as the French say. To both you and your mom.

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  5. What an exciting weekend, the World Cup win was the icing on the cake.The photos are wonderful. I look forward to your posts every week, it feeds my French addiction.
    My mother dressed up every day, with earring and clothes matching. It was important for her to look nice. The other people at the residence she lived in could not understand why she bothered. They thought she was putting on airs. She always looked elegant. That was the way she kept her dignity.
    Ali x

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    1. It was hard to miss the party! A person would have to have made a big effort to crawl under a rock for a few days. But it was a gentle party, so why not join in?

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  6. Such an exciting weekend, and you have the Tour still to come!
    Your ancien combattant has, indeed, seen much of humankind’s warlike side. I wonder if the Afrique du Nord medals are Algeria or WW2?
    Your hitchhiking lady sounds wonderful, I’d love to meet her.

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    1. Nevermind, I went down the google rabbit hole. The Afrique du Nord medals were established by Jacques Chirac to commemorate service in Algeria and other places in the ’50s and ’60s, something we probably don’t know enough about these days.

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  7. I enjoyed living your weekend vicariously. It was much quieter here in our village – I’m not going out much at the moment anyway, still too tired, so what there was I missed – except the football. The cheers & groans from the bar across the road told the story of the match!

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  8. Thank you for taking us to another time and another place. The old Citadel towers, backlit and highlighted by fireworks, makes me wonder how long this tradition has been going on? So civilized, everyone coming, picking up after themselves. Not at all like most American celebrations where we seem to forget to show respect and acknowledge how privileged we are. What a wonderful experience it must be to live there!

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