Ce week-end nous étions une trentaine de personnes à table, lors de notre cousinade à Fuveau
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...
by Kristi Espinasse
On our way to our family reunion (which, I just learned, the French call charmingly enough une cousinade, Jean-Marc added a total of 5--five-- delivery and pick-ups to our journey--in keeping with his efficient nature! This meant that instead of a direct route to Fuveau, and a later departure, we were now going to stop in La Ciotat and then weave in and out of the impossibly narrow streets of Marseilles in order to deliver wine (and pick up another family member. This last part doesn't count in my grumblings. Neither does the fifth stop (to the cimetière in Fuveau, where, in front of his father's 32 year-old grave, we held hands with our hitchhikers (my belle-mère and ma belle-soeur) as well Jean-Marc's brother, Jacques, and his adopted family. Reaching for the back of Jean-Marc's shirt to stem my tears, I forgot about early morning alarm and all the rushing around, and could only think how lucky I was to be a part of this close-knit family who remained incredibly stoic during the impromptu tribute.
Last stop: Geneviève's (Jean-Marc's father's sister), where memories were about to come flooding back to the day Jean-Marc first brought me here to a previous cousinade (assembly of cousins?) 24 years ago. The house and the property are the same, but Jean-Marc and I kept remarking how exceptionally beautiful is all was. Perhaps after trying to keep up our own home and garden we can now appreciate the yard work, and le soin it takes to keep an old mas in good shape.
Aunt Michou (read quenelles story), left, Michèle-France (read "bodyguard"), and Jacques, who taught me to make the famous French Yogurt Cake
We arrived 30 minutes early, thanks to our efficient livreur, and found plenty of shade beneath the trees and coolness atop the soft mossy grass. Early-birds, we had the chance to watch all the family walk through the front gate...
Cousins from Aix-en-Provence, cousins from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, cousins from Paris, more cousins from Fuveau... The elders looked youthful and the youths now looked like adults....
The kids still call it the "kids table" (la table des enfants) whether or not it's still true! Our son Max, left, cousins, cousins, and Jackie second to the right. Farther back, the adults.
Five folding picnic tables were set side by side to accommodate over 30 family members in comfort and style (Uncle Jean-Claude of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, who is featured as one of France's Top 50 Winemakers) added the finishing touches by placing tree leaves beside the Gerber Daisies. Magnums of Jean-Marc's Mas des Brun Rosé and bottles of Jean-Claude's Domaine du Banneret were added, bien sûr!
We soon congregated around the covered patio, parallel to the main house, to sample the delicious line-up of appetizers. Deep-fried zucchini, samosas, hummus, and pizza tided us over before the couscous arrived (and a choice of agneau with pois chiches or poulet with green olives and lemon).
After lunch we found many ways to cool off in la canicule: dive-bombing into the pool or chasing each other around the yard with squirt-guns (this began with the youngest, two-year-old Baptiste, who chortled with laughter while dousing everyone. But, in the end, you had to keep all eyes on the elders, who really got into the game. Everything went to pot when old and young began grabbing for buckets, which were the best revenge!).
As I sat at the table or walked around Genevieve's house and garden (among so many drenched family members), familiar objects brought back memories--from the coconut ice-bucket that appeared each year on the table (brought, each time, by cousins Pierre and Muriel who originally received the exotic bucket as part of a flower arrangement--only to discover it made the perfect ice box!) , to the hidden loft inside the house (how Jean-Marc wanted to show me that all those years ago...) , to the missing swing set (recently replaced by two veggie beds, to the great disappointment of my brother-in-law, Jacques. The second youngest cousin, back then, he flew high into the air thanks to the bigger cousins, who gladly swung him).
Our son Max, Jean-Marc, Cousin François, and Jacques, in front of le puits, where at each get-together a lot of scheming goes on about how to retrieve that decades-old, well-chilled bottle of champagne at the bottom of the well. It was Jean-Marc's father, Gérard, who came closest one year. Only, when reaching water level he could not (or would not!) contort himself within the narrow well so as to go head down into the water. His grandson, Max, on hearing of his grandfather's near-win, was game to try. Thankfully, at 22, Max still sometimes asks his mom for permission. (My answer: NO!!)
Cécile, Geneviève, and cousin Sabine.
Thank you, Geneviève, for getting us all together. Les cousinades at your home--and at your sisters and nephews and sometimes chez nous--will always be some of the happiest times of our lives. And the souvenirs we made, Saturday, are treasures to be enjoyed over and over again in our minds.
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To leave a comment, look for the link at the end of this post. Talk about the importance of family reunions and share your stories.
USEFUL FRENCH VOCABULARY
une cousinade = family reunion
la belle-mère = mother-in-law (also can mean "step-mother")
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
le soin = care
le mas = old French country-house/farmhouse
le livreur = delivery man
un agneau = lamb
le pois chiche = chickpea or garbanzo bean
le poulet = chicken
la canicule = heatwave
The bench Cécile made for us, in our dining room.
Good news for my sister-in-law, furniture-maker Cécile Espinasse. She will be permanently showing her designs (furniture) at a boutique in Aix-en-Provence. If you find yourself in Aix, please stop in to see her (call ahead, to make sure she'll be there).
More family stories in the book Blossoming in Provence. Your purchases help support this French word journal. Mille mercis.
FOLDING PICNIC TABLES WITH BENCHES
FRENCH KNIT REUSABLE ECO SHOPPING BAG - made and knit in France!
DOORMATS BIENVENUE/A BIENTOT - see a selection here
BEAUTIFUL FRANCE PUZZLES - this one with 2CV
La ROCHE-POSAY sunscreen is rated top by Consumer Reports
THE FRENCH LOVE THESE BEACH TOWELS - quick drying, good-looking
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi