Archive for March, 2009

French Funeral

March 20, 2009

My neighbour has had a really bad year so far.

In January her husband went to Reims for a bypass operation but was in Intensive Care until he died on Monday. He was pretty fragile before  he went in but they felt they had to go ahead. He had a second operation to clear his lungs last week but he still couldn’t breathe without the ventilator.

So, it wasn’t surprising when Claudine’s sister came and told me he had pased away early on Monday morning.

“Is it OK to come and see her?” I asked.

“Yes, she’d like to see you.” was the response.

I went next door and gave Claudine a hug.

“Do you want to see him? He’s here.” She said.

Of course, it’s a French custom (though not so frequent nowadays) for the deceased to ‘lie in state’ at home so that family and friends can pay their respects.

Hervé was in the living room (furniture moved aside) looking very peaceful and surrounded by candles and flowers. I didn’t know what to say and just stood in silence with Claudine.

Finally I touched his hand and said “Now he is at peace.”

Funerals take place quickly in France and “les obseques” were arranged for 9 o’clock on Thursday.

Following British tradition Bear and I walked down to the church at ten to nine. One or two people were waiting outside but we went in and sat near the back, surprised that there were only four other mourners in place.

When the coffin came in, we realised that we should have waited outside and followed the long procession. The church was now fairly full.

The service was taken by a layman – at least he wasn’t wearing a dog collar – and, although I couldn’t understand all of it, consisted of a simple resumé of Hervé’s life, some readings, prayers and chants from the choir. He also said something about “four o’clock”  and “you are all invited”.

At the end we were  directed to line up for the ‘asperges’ – blessing the coffin with holy water.

This was a most harrowing time for Claudine as she had to stand there and watch everyone, sobbing her heart out.

Outside, little groups of people huddled together against the cold wind, talking quietly. Claudine’s sister appoached me.

“Did you understand about the cremation?” she said. “He’s going to the crematorium now and then they’ll bring back the ashes at about half past three and Claudine would like you to walk down to the cemetary with us and then come back for a coffee.”

Goodness – that was quick! They certainly don’t hang about do they?

So at three thirty we went out and walked behind the family following the hearse to the cemetary. Other neighbours joined the procession and we arrived at the Columbarium – a pyramid especially built to hold ashes. There was a hole near the top where one of the plaques had been removed.

The undertaker placed the urn on a table and we all gathered round.

He invited us to spend a minute in silence, thinking about Hervé then said a prayer and the family started another ‘asperges’ . Everyone took their turn and even waited for two latecomers to rush forward and do their bit.

Then came the worst part. They put the urn into the hole.

Claudine sobbed.

Then, rather cruelly, we thought, they sealed the (already engraved) plaque into place and the workman proudly polished his handiwork, took up his toolbox and departed.

We stood there in contemplation until Claudine felt able to move, and then walked back down the hill to her house.

She and the family had huge flasks of coffee  and sugar cake ready and waiting and she did seem more composed as she made sure everyone was served.

Bear didn’t want to come in for coffee but I was made to sit down at the table “because of your leg” and everyone chatted about this and that, carefully avoiding anything that might upset Claudine.

I don’t know what her plans are, or whether she has actually decided what she wants to do. Her elder son lives near Toulon and her daughter lives near Belgium. Her younger son is a boarder at a special school so she will be alone most of the time.

She doesn’t drive so, although we will willingly take her shopping and offer lifts as necessary, she may feel rather isolated.

Fortunately her son and sister-in-law are staying on for a week or so and then her sister is coming back to be with her again.

Our thoughts are with her at this sad time.

Too much communication

March 9, 2009

Bear has always complained about my telephone conversations – to the point where (when I was still working) I had my own phone line put in and paid my own bill  to shut him up. But, would you believe it, he still had the cheek to moan!

Things haven’t changed much, even though we now have an inclusive subscription covering unlimited calls to France, England and America for a fixed sum.

Today I called Yvette as she wasn’t too well when I saw her on Friday. She was pleased to talk and we chatted happily about this and that.

When I put the phone down Bear scowled at me.

“Do you know you were on the phone for 37 minutes?”

I looked him in the eye hoping to convey a mixture of disdain, annoyance and humour.

“So. . . . . . .”

“So you won’t need to see each other again this week. You’ve said it all –  probably kept her from doing what she was doing, poor woman. You could have said all that in less than two minutes. There’s too much communication!”


It wasn’t worth talking to him to tell him that Yvette had mentioned the Old Folks’ Easter get together. I hadn’t read the circular properly and had filed it away where I couldn’t find it.

It seems that owing to economic constraints, this year’s meal will be a Tea-Dance instead of the usual 5 course lunch. Actually, I think that’s a good idea. It means people will mix better and probably suffer less from indigestion as getting up to jig about between courses is something my stomach doesn’t take to readily.

It also means that Yvette will be able to come – and bring Jean-Claude in his wheelchair. They can arrive when they like and go home when he’s tired.

It will do her the world of good to come out and socialise.

And we can both have a long session of communication.

Bear can mope by himself or make himself sick on cake if he doesn’t want to talk to people.

Birthday Party

March 6, 2009

As far as I know, libraries in England do not celebrate birthdays, but after the English class on Tuesday, Isabelle, the librarian invited us to come back on Thursday at 5 o’clock to celebrate the opening exactly one year ago.

pouringIt was more a champagne party than a tea party though.

There were seven of us – the volunteers  who help out at the library and Isabelle had provided the champagne and a gorgeous prune and nut cake – served from the paper. gateaux2 Marie-Claude provided the glasses and a ‘cake’ flavoured with bacon, cheese and olives. 

It seems that the term cake is used frequently in French for both sweet and savoury versions but whereas gateau can be used for the sweet ones, the ‘salé’ varieties are always ‘cake’.

Then, of course, we think about the wonderful gateaux produced by patissiers, such as this one, which we bought to celebrate the birthdays of our friends from the next village:


It tasted as good as it looked and was wonderfully light.

The library ‘tea party’ was a charmingly informal gathering and after a couple of bottles of champagne we were all nicely talkative.  By coincidence the new library cards had arrived as a ‘birthday present’. They mark the beginning of plenty of work for Isabelle and her  volunteers as all the books must now be issued with a barcode. She entered the six of us on the computer but if we borrowed a book it was still a case of the old card system

By half past six all the cake had gone and there was only little of the gateau left. We thanked Isabelle and took our leave.

On the way home CC remarked how unusual it was for a library to allow eating, drinking and laughter.