When I first bought my house in rural France I didn’t live here. I lived and worked in London for a big US bank.
I suppose part of the reason I fell in love with my village is the tranquillity, the slow pace of life, the way there is time to say hello to strangers and how everyone values traditions and their heritage.
The first summer of owning the house I spent my holidays and weekends clearing the neck high grass and weeds from the acre of land, it didn’t leave much time for anything else. I was in London mode, get on with it, don’t be distracted, goal driven.
When we went to the local shops for food we’d see these fabulous glossy posters everywhere advertising the “Village Illuminés” in a village near by. The posters were colourful, expensive and promised a spectacular night of illuminations. The town hall had a poster up, the tourist offices everywhere had posters up… we thought, it must be something absolutely amazing for this many posters.
We decided on a night off to check out the illuminated village. We left our house on a gorgeous summer’s evening – the sky was a beautiful clear blue.
We drove to the village where the spectacular event was to take place. The sun shone brightly and as it gently tipped down behind the hills of the Seven Valleys where I live, the sky turned pink, orange and red.
A big white marquee was set up in the square, volunteers served beer, wine and cider. Tables filled with people , the place was thronging with anticipation. The little stream which runs through the town to the mill was packed with children happily splashing in the trickling water that was depleted by the long hot summer.
A band played, the murmur of happy, excited people and the smell of moules et frites (mussels and chips) filled the air.
It got darker and darker and darker. No lights. We could hardly see our hands in front of our faces.
The Mayor came out and announced that the “Illuminations” were ready to be switched on. We all ‘ooh-d’ and ’ah-d’, the atmosphere was electric, anticipation was almost palpable – the moment we had all been waiting for…
The lights came on.
Christmas tree lights were hung in some of the trees in the square, a spotlight on the town hall clock, some lanterns along the side of the stream, a few more lights in some front gardens and… the street lights!
Everyone cheered like it was the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day.
We looked at each other utterly bemused and bewildered. Was this it? All those posters, all that excitement? We were I am sorry to say a little disappointed for a while.
But it dawned on me that life in rural France isn’t all about flashiness and flashing lights. It’s about people, ambience, tradition and this rather gentle event offered everything for the perfect night out. We’d chatted to strangers in a village where we had been welcomed as friends and we’d taken part in a festivity which people were proud and happy to share. We’d seen a spectacular light show in the sky.
I’ve been back every year since then and absolutely love it… I look forward to the moment when the illuminations come on and clap and cheer like it’s the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day…
Sometimes it’s not what you look at that counts – it’s what you see.