Good afternoon! How nice to see you. Come in: it is cold outside. The sun has finally won over the fog and the mist, but it is almost the end of the afternoon and it becomes chilly again. Let me take your coat. We shall settle in the sitting room. It is untidy and comfortable: both often go together. There. Take a seat and make yourself at ease.
Would you like a cup of coffee with some chocolates? Or do you prefer a cup of tea and a slice of cake? As you are in France, in a French home, I would advise fresh coffee but that may be too strong for you. There is tea, different brands of it, green, black, China, Darjeeling, Russian, Indian, plain or scented: you may choose. I shall being you some gâteau de rois; you will not escape it throughout this month, you know. It comes from the other baker’s and has a very light scent of orange tree flower water. It is Alain’s trademark. Yes, the baker is called Alain. His family has been bakers and confectioners for more than a century. He is now retired but still keeps the shop going, waiting to sell it: neither his son nor his daughter will go on, and his nephew is a university teacher in Britain. This is how old families disappear from The Village. Not only shops, you see, but whole families.
Yes, I shall pour. You want your tea well brewed but not stewed. Sugar? Milk? Lemon? Here is your slice of cake with your fork and your napkin, and a little table to put your tea things.
What was I saying? Oh, yes. Old families disappear from The Village. I realise more and more how rooted I am in this place, even if I have spent most of my life away from it. But ancestors you knew or you were always told about are strong roots, as well as the earth itself. And the sense of time becomes different. For instance, the lady chemist on the main square, in front of the church, has retired and a new young man has bought the shop. I was so surprised. She must have been here for about thirty years, and we still considered her as a newcomer. Alain’s family is not as old as ours but it is an “old family”. We have common memories. Grand-Mother started school in The Village and if the car could come and fetch her for lunch, she went to Alain’s Great-Grand-Mother’s with her brother and her sister. There was no way they could dawdle. They were awaited and time was counted. They had lunch, a little time to play, and were sent back to school with no time to stroll.
When Alain and I speak of them all, they are still alive. But who will remember those who come to The Village, stay even thirty years, then go away? Whole families who had been the life and soul of the community have thus disappeared.
But you have not come to listen to my rant. How was my week? Well, let me pour you some more tea first.
It was an eventful week. We are glad to have the shopping-cum-cleaning lady. She is very kind and resourceful. The Girls are happy to go out with her. I have more reticence about the cleaning part but I do not doubt that with time things will get better. Then, we have started making plans again: we might be able to go back to Paris in June and meet our friends. Even bolder, we dared think about spending next Christmas in Kigali: our friend from Rwanda will be back in his diocese, with a parish of his own. We have been invited.
All this means that we shall have more financial ease and that we shall first make a binge over books and music!
And never be cold again as we have been cold this week. The central heating system broke down; we slowly froze until it was repaired yesterday evening. Just in time for the true turning of the weather to strong frost.
However, you already know all this if you have read my letters to you. As you may have read those two posts from Pakistan that we sent from Karachi where our special guide began touring his country with us. More will come.
I have been reading and re-reading as well, inspite of the cold. I am “close reading” “Little Women” and “Good Wives”. It is part of a project of which we may talk again. For pleasure and curiosity’s sake, I have taken Nancy Mitford’s “Christmas Pudding” from the shelves. Last, the French TV is going to show “Wolf Hall” on one of the State-owned channels; so I have decided to re-read the second part, “Bring up the Bodies”. I must confess that my heart goes to “Little Women”: too much empathy there, with childhood memories.
This is my main budget of news for the week. What about you? How was your week? What did you do? Another cup of tea and slice of gâteau de rois, first? Then, I sit back in my chair and listen to you. Promise: not a word. But, you, tell me… Please…