The end of term is proving to be pretty hectic what with concerts, events, other childrens' birthday parties (lots of Rentrée procreation...) and document-gathering.
Last night we had a 40th birthday to attend. Some might say it was a party for big children, but what would they know...? The event took place at a manade which is a cattle farm breeding those black cattle used in bull-fights and which take part in village fêtes running through the streets or being chased by testosterone-primed young men.
This particular one was just outside St Brès - the Manade Colomba. In order to bring in extra cash, these farms offer their barns to those who would like to organise an evening with a little plus. We made our way along country lanes that seemed to lead nowhere except into the deep unknown, and found ourselves at a fork in the road with an arrow leading to one party and another to our party.
Parking the car in the field, we went over to join the throng already gathered. The champagne (one bottle per couple to be brought) was flowing as were pastis and whisky. An elderly couple were over on the right busily preparing the paella (for around 150) and the bulls were quietly grazing as far away from the crowds as possible in the field next door.
Next to the barn was an arène. We would find out what would take place there a bit later. Meanwhile we mingled and congratulated birthday boy.
A little while later we spotted activity in the bull field. Two of the manade workers (probably members of the manade family) started a fire in a rusty old tub. Being naturally nosey, I wanted to know what was going on and went over to chat. There was an aged guy with a younger one who were throwing old vines (sarments) onto the fire. The younger one tried to explain what was going on, but he was obviously not the most articulate member of the family and called, in a vocal-chord broken voice for 'le jeune'.
Le jeune was elsewhere dealing with the birthday organisers, but we gathered from Voiceless Guy In Garish Shirt that they were preparing branding irons. They would brand a bullock in the arène for us for entertainment. I had thought they were preparing a barbeque to go with the paella, but was obviously mistaken there...
When the time came, the guests gathered around the wooden fencing and watched as the bullock was let into the ring and encouraged to run about chasing either the manade workers or those party guests who fancied an adrenelin high. Then the bullock was caught, brought down, and branded. This was work for the manade guys but entertainment for us. No worse than visiting a working farm though except that we were all there with champagne in hand, and wearing party clothes.
Another two bulls were released after the first one, getting bigger each time. There was some good pounding of the earth, head tossing and charging the fleeing men. Then they went back to their cosy field and a peaceful snooze.
By this time, the paella was ready and six strong men brought it over to the rows of tables decorated with disposable plates and cutlery, and bunches of lavender.
Two guys were celebrating their birthdays, both friends with lots of friends in common. The atmosphere was great with these professional types, family members, rugby team players and so on all delighted to be there and knowing the value of true friendship. A series of photos was being displayed on a projecter showing scenes and friends from over the years many of whom were there at the party. One couple came over from the UK, another two guys from Belgium and most locally who were friends from childhood.
The guy opposite me had done his military service with birthday boy although they had opted not to do 12 months of military service as such, but 16 months of engineering work experience. He ended up working for Renault in Madrid after which he stayed on with them for several years. He told us he only drank champagne and water with meals because mixing champagne with wine was lethal and had great fun going through the freezer/fridge of champagne bottles, bringing back the best ones to share among our table.
The evening ended up with a disco of music from the eighties. GarishShirtGuy, in the photo, joined in, edging his way towards a smoking hot dark French woman who danced pointedly ignoring him. We had been told that part of the understood etiquette of hiring a manade is to provide enough pastis for the manade guys to get sloshed. We had one on the dance floor. Perhaps the others, including le jeune were four paws in the air behind the scenes...
We danced until 2am but left with the party still going in full swing rockin' and rollin', smooching and shuffling. I hadn't known many people there but had been impressed by how friendly everyone was, how varied and how merry they were.
I can state that in the south of France, they know how to enjoy themselves do these Frenchies!