Something about the atmosphere of the place. With the off-white cement walls instead of the familiar red bricks from home. The green shutters complimenting the abundance of flowers. The subtle smell of lavender and mint. Just a hint that causes me to jerk my head in search for more. And suddenly I’m distracted by foods drifting out of the front door, onto the tables set neatly in the shade. A plate of hams and turkeys and pâté. Trays of thin-crusted pizzas layered with elemental cheese and olives that have twice the flavor here than in America. Fresh baked baguettes, cut into thick slices to reveal the soft, white bread cooked to the perfect chewy texture. The tables and tables of food. The minutes and minutes of saliva building on my hungry tongue.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
But most importantly—the people. The people and their unfaltering smiles, their merry laughter, their bubbling energy, their warmth and generosity and manners. The way they say “Bonjour les Americains!” in their adorable French accents as they welcome you with a kiss on each cheek. Yes, definitely something to do with the people.
Because it was the 160 French people that greeted me at my grandparent’s 50th anniversary, Les Noces d’Or, that hot July day in Pertuis, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France, just two hours away from the famous beaches of Marseille. Some travelled all the way from Paris, some from Lyon, some from across the street, or—like my siblings and me—all the way from the United States. But those 160 people taught me about real French culture in the south of France. They showed me the food (including the stereotypical cheeses and wines), the family, the music, and the traditions. They showed me France.
My grandparents’ Noces d’Or started at 11 in the morning, or 11h, when I was suddenly swarmed by hundreds of kisses in greetings. Within an hour, my grandparents’ home was littered with tables and chairs and balloons and guests and of course, the little kids running around screaming. The shade was accompanied by the delicate voices of laughter and conversation. No awkward “loners” sitting in the corners, no ear-breaking music disrupting the neighbors. Just a mix of people sprinkled with small doses of delicious food.
Around 4, children and adults suddenly started swarming around my great uncle to play a game. Completely oblivious to what I had gotten myself into, I sat myself in the circle, pestering my cousin with questions in which his only reply was “Tu veras. You’ll see.” Shoes were taken off, the game was explained. And then, they were singing.
“Savez-vous passer ce ri de ri de ra? Savez-vous passer ce ci sans vous tromper? ”
And I was mumbling along, passing the shoes around the circle, trying not to mess up. And then people started throwing in extra shoes, purposefully screwing with the rhythm. Laughter and shrieks of “Tricheur! Cheater!” The circle started to tighten as people were eliminated. At the end, only two were left, pawing furiously at the ground as the tempo increased and their faces revealed nothing but the utmost concentration. And everyone was singing, no matter how untalented, tone-deaf, or unfamiliar they were. All united by one silly, yet beautiful children’s song.
Indeed, it was something about the atmosphere. The grass and dirt sticking to my shorts, my smelly hands, my full stomach, and the song playing on repeat in my head even as we walked up the street Place Mirabeau to L’Eglise (Church)Saint-Nicolas for the special mass my grandfather had organized. Over and over again. The single voice of a hundred French people.
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