Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas at Montjoyeux

There's a very small shopping center at front of a set of low-income residential apartment buildings not far from where I live, in an area on the edge of Parc Grandmont called Montjoyeux. That's where the nearest post office is, plus a bakery, a pharmacy, a newspaper and magazine shop, a hair salon, and a grocery store. There used to be a bar and a deli, but they were burned down two years ago by an arsonist, and haven't been rebuilt yet. The Monjoyeux neighborhood association put on a Christmas fair yesterday, and I went over to check it out.

About half the tables were loaded with Fimo jewelry and glitter-painted fake flowers and plastic jewelry and the like, and there were a couple with cheap toys, and the small room used by some local painters as a mini-studio was open as the artists were hoping to sell their works. I considered one close-up of a marguerite, and another that I think was a snowy landscape with a stand of pines but really resembled a toothbrush on a bathroom counter (but which I still found attractive), but at 50 euros decided they were too much for me.

On the food side, there was a vendor selling jars of foie gras and confit, and when I told him I wasn't going to be around for Christmas he said I should buy them and save them for when I get back. I mentioned that they were awfully rich and not consistent with a New Year's diet plan, and he replied, "But it's the good fat! Look at me, I'm thin!" and indeed he was. But I didn't buy any. I did taste and purchase a small ostrich-meat salami, because how could I not? I mean, ostrich! And raised in France to boot! And I bought a bottle of almond-flavored red wine from a nice youngish man named Laurent Manzanarès, who is starting his own business near the town of Naintré, south-southwest of here, producing flavored and fortified wines. He was friendly but intense, and kept trying to talk to me in German, until I had to tell him I don't speak that language. Apparently that's what my French accent was yesterday. He's very creative, he says, an inventor always working on multiple projects, including one (and he looked at me seriously here) that will change the world, pour de vrai. But for now he's focused on ramping up his flavored-wine business with standard and non-standard and customer-requested varieties. He had a salted-caramel-infused brandy that smelled wonderful, and a red wine with quinine added to be used as a remedy for colds. I tasted that one, and if you can imagine red wine that tastes like tonic water - well, don't try. It was strange. But I liked the almond version, and will take the bottle to Saumur with me to share with Seb's family.

There was music playing over a loudspeaker, as there has been in all the shopping areas of town and in the bus stop shelters. I've heard "Mon Beau Sapin" and "Vive le Vent" and even "Les 12 Jours de Noël" during which one receives twelve toilet plungers, eleven pumice stones, ten hair curlers, nine new hats, eight umbrellas, seven sets of tweezers, six poems, five fat young chickens, four dandelions, three little chickens, two caramels, and a partridge in a pear tree, at least according to the lyrics I found. A choir arrived at the fair shortly after I did, but I didn't recognize any of the songs they sang, although people around me were singing along so they must have been traditional French carols. I still don't really feel very Christmas-y, and perhaps that's because there is much less in the way of decoration around the neighborhoods. The stores all have something up, whether it's window decorations or tinsel-decorated trees, but I don't go into stores much. What I don't see are many Christmas decorations on houses. The occasional strand of lights, a small inflatable Santa dangling from a rope out of the window (guess the chimneys aren't as practical in apartment buildings), and there's even a fairly elaborate plastic snowman and crèche arrangement in the front yard of a house not far from here, but for the most part the exteriors of buildings are not festively adorned in any way. And there's nothing even approaching Peacock Lane, at least not that I've seen. But I'm still merry and bright, even in this daylight-deficient time of year, and looking forward to Christmas in Saumur and New Year's in Scotland.

Vive le vent, vive le vent,
Vive le vent d'hiver,
Qui s'en va sifflant, soufflant
Dans les grands sapins verts, oh !
Vive le temps, vive le temps,
Vive le temps d'hiver,
Boules de neige et Jour de l'An
Et Bonne Année grand-mère !

(sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells")

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