It is late afternoon when I finally pull into the village square. Chaos!
Inflated slides, a bull ride, tents with food and drink.
Oh, it’s just today, madame, it’s the school fete.
My hotel sits right on the small village square. I love children, but the inflatable slides are, well, not village-like and so I breathe a sigh of relief.
As would be expected, the school fete is that by name only. The focus isn’t only on kids. It is tres important that the adults get something out of it as well. Kids play, everyone eats and drinks. Good deal.
I look at the food. I am no longer in the Languedoc. I buy a plateful…
Spicy eggs with fish, beer. I am in Pays Basque.
In the lobby of my small inn, I have, for the first time during my entire French travels, WiFi. Here, in the mountain village of Sare, 3 kilometers from the Spanish border, I can finally cut my blogging time by a half.
Sare has a designation – I can’t remember, it’s flowers or prettiness or some such award. As a result, it does have souvenirs and a handful of tourists passing through. But tonight, the locals have reclaimed their own. They dominate the square.
But it is not a private party.
I am sitting in the lobby, posting at a mile a minute and I hear it: boom, boom boom (in the oompah oompah sense)! I look up at monsieur le proprietair.
They are playing our music. They’re dancing too. You should go watch, it’s very nice.
I am reminded of scenes from movies, in your face scenes, where directors want to let you know, through music, the political allegiance of a class of people (Cabaret, for example). Here, in Sare, it is not some traditional costume thing, where older men and women remind themselves of how it was when. This has the energy and participation of the young.
Sometimes the very young.
In case I hadn’t noticed that signs, menus, everything appears in the Basque language, in case I hadn’t seen the Basque flag hanging over the food tent, in case I missed the little note at the bottom of the Inn’s menu (Exte huntako Nagusiak: Esukal Herrian Sortuak -- with the translation, in French: the proprietors of this house were born and raises in the Basque Country), it is as clear as anything to me now that I am not entirely in France. The Pays Basque. And they are proud of it.
For dinner, I plunge, perhaps too forcefully. I am okay at the level of artichokes, cepes and Basque ham...
...but I falter at the second course. I asked for a typical Basque dish, I got it. And though I always say that I will eat anything so long as it is fresh and honest, tonight I have to modify that: sometimes, in small doses only. I cannot finish it. It is delicious, it is finely done, but I can eat at best half. I am a failure. I am, as plain as anything, a stranger in this land, someone who cannot finish her mound of shrimp and sweetbreads.
I wake up on and off, listening to the singing out on the square. I remember the spray paint on the cliff outside the village: the Basque problem: solutions through negotiation! In the mean time, they sing and dance.
[In the morning, I hear a conversation at the table next to mine. The mother asks the daughters: qu'est ce qu'on dit a papa? -- what does one say to dad? They look puzzled for a minute and then the bulb goes off: Ah! Bonne fete, papa! To all dads out there, but especially to one remarkable dad who gives his life and soul to his daughters -- bonne fete, papa!]
around the village, mountains