This weekend was all that I wanted my last weekend in France to be.
My friend Dana has friends who live in a small town an hour from Toulouse, and they invited me to eat, swim, and explore the Midi-Pyrénées with them for two days and a night.
Here’s their backyard:
As Philippe, the father of the family, was driving me toward his house on the first night, we stopped off along the way for some picture-worthy (obviously, since I took some) views:
And, here’s one from our walk in the morning:
In between the arrival and the walk, we ate two big meals on the terrace, made with the barbecue and the plancha, a Spanish appliance made for their method of grilling meat and vegetables. On the dinner menu was an entire jar of foie gras and champagne as an apéro, and then three varieties of saucisses de Toulouse. Although I’ve lived in France twice now and made a valiant effort, I’ve not yet acquired the taste of some of their stinkier cheeses. However, I can now proudly say that I have acquired the heck out of foie gras. It’s amazing. The sausages were also spicy, meaty, and especially tasty with semolina and grilled zucchini. And of course in the unbearable heat, Haagen-Dazs was the only possible dessert! For Sunday lunch we had a Spanish specialty, lomo a la plancha, which is marinated pork (in a special curry-cumin mix) grilled on la plancha. Needless to say I ate sooooo much. The customary coffee or tea after dinner became my only hope, digestion-wise.
Carbonne is, by U.S. standards, a village…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Philippe put it well when he said that you feel like you’re in the countryside, but it’s actually a town which has all of life’s necessities. And it’s on the banks of the river Garonne, which means it sufficiently meets all of the charmingly breathtaking French village criteria.
And, through all that I did and talked about with the family and their friends, I noticed some special kinds of love.
The first and most present was Family Love. Being around this family made me realize what I forgot: there is a special atmosphere of love when I’m at home with my family. The bickering of siblings, the hushed parental conversations about their children’s success, the meals where everyone knows each other’s favorite foods — that taking-care-of-each-other spirit is one of the things I miss most.
I got to experience this new family thanks to another special kind of love — Hospitality. It takes an extended stint far away from home to be truly aware and appreciative of how hospitable people can be. I was invited for this weekend into their home only because I knew someone they knew. They fed me, they gave me a nice cozy bed, they took me to and from their place, and they showed me other parts of the Southwest, and all this, they assured me, was avec plaisir! It makes me want to write them a heartfelt thank-you note, send a lifetime supply of wine (who am I kidding, they have that, they’re in France…) and, when the time comes, to welcome them into my own home and return the favor. We’ll see if they make it to Seattle one day.
And there’s a third kind that I remembered. I think it’s in some places everywhere, but in France I think it’s in nearly every small town which has one church and one family-owned butcher: Community Love. France is truly the land of traditions, and most of these traditions celebrate the intense community of village life. Philippe showed me a series of photos of the yearly Fête de Carbonne, where the whole village gathers over a three-day weekend. There is orchestra music, a marching band, dancing, singing, and a huge meal in the town square. He showed me pictures of the table that he and his neighbors all get together, around which they talk, laugh, eat, and celebrate life until the early hours.
I wish I knew my neighbors. I wish there were a Fête de Redmond during which we all gathered at the Old Schoolhouse Community Center and ate our traditional dish and listened to a marching band until 4 AM with all of our neighbors, friends, and local shopkeepers. Even the scenario sounds absurd.
But if Redmond were just like small-town France, it wouldn’t be so interesting being here, would it?
And while we’re on the subject…confession:
I have a special kind of love for this place, this life, and these experiences. I’ll be back.