Just recently, Mirepeisset’s Mayor Andre Ratia, sent an official letter to the Mayor of neighbouring village Ginestas, complaining that a few of their youths (who are courting some of our young girls) had been ‘impolite’ towards some elderly villagers. Not that they had used foul language or thrown stones or been brandishing weapons they shouldn’t have. No, it was that they had not shown enough ‘respect’ to the aged.
Good manners, it seems, are still important here. They are considered part and parcel of a child’s upbringing, even though the general trend is to think of them as out-dated and unnecessary. My own sons thought it hilarious when some French guys in their late teens formally shook hands when they met up in a cafe/pub. The fact that male cousins or best-friends unashamedly kiss each other on the cheeks, had them in stitches. Imagine an Irish pub on a Friday night. A well-placed thump on the shoulder is the usual greeting, accompanied with a “Howya, y’old wanker”. This is considered perfectly friendly and amicable in Dublin – evidence perhaps of the deep-felt fear and suspicion most young Irish men have of intimacy and being too ‘nice’ to each other. Maybe a lack of self-confidence too of course.
Anyway, this respect the many French have for their elders (or could it be that they simply take delight in older people’s well-being?) manifests itself in many small daily tasks and friendly gestures that I witness every day. But there are also special events and services organised in pensioners’ honour. One of these is a yearly Valentine’s meal for the over-65’s, that takes place in many of the small Languedoc villages. Each year they arrive in their droves, dressed up to the nines, to take part in this annual feast.
The all-out six-course menu this year included puff-pastries brimming with scallops and prawns in cream, seabass with champagne sauce, a pallet-cleansing sorbet well-doused with eau-de-vie de poire, duckbreast with wild mushrooms, a cheese course and a beautiful individual chocolate truffle tart. The entire lot was washed down with copious amounts of wine of course and a rose was presented to all the ladies.
But that was not all. The 5-hour-long repas was accompanied by a cabaret that could rival that of Moulin Rouge. Pretty girls in suggestive costumes dance and sing romantic (or naughty) chansons of olden days throughout the meal. What makes it all the more fun, is that the showgirls really seem to be enjoying it too – tickling the men with their feather boas and placing red lips on the bald heads (the resulting marks being proudly carried home as provocative proof of their virility.)
And in between all the eating and the singing and the jokes and the laughter, there is also the dancing to fit in. Not just a bit of limp shuffling around the floor. No sir! We’re talking here about waltzes, paso dobles, tangos, cha-cha-chas and even a spot of line-dancing if you don’t mind! I have to admit that the erotic Argentinian Tango has somewhat been adapted to suit the region and the elderly, but the flirting continues and it is quite evident that these oldies do not feel old.
In a country where the general retirement age is still set at 55 (that is if you work for the State or semi-State bodies – i.e. anything from the army, the police, fire brigade, civil service, railways, gas or electricity companies, medical personnel etc etc) these people keep themselves young by looking after their grand- and great-grand children, helping their children look after their vineyards, walking, socialising (holidaying, travelling and other such pleasant pursuits if their pensions permit it). But there’s one thing they all have in common: they enjoy their troisieme age…
Manolo is a life-loving, virile Spanish-born 80-year-old who up to 3 years ago kept his 3 girlfriends extremely satisfied. Two are no longer part of this world and so now he has promised to be loyal only to Julietta – whom he calls Marrrrrileeen Monrrrroy! Nuf said.
Jacko, also in his late 70’s and a well-known womaniser in his time, still hasn’t given up hope…
And so life continues, here in the small village of Mirepeisset. And nobody ever seems to get a chance to be bored!