We were delighted to receive an invitation from the Mayor (Maire) of Fenouillet, Monsieur Jean-Louis Raynaud, to attend a ‘Greeting Ceremony’ (according to Google Translate) on Friday evening at 6pm in the community’s multipurpose hall (Salle polyvalente).
Of course, it was not addressed to us, but every home in the village had an invitation put into its mailbox. I was very excited about it and said to Mick that we had to go. He thought the suggestion was ridiculous at the time until I let our host know about the invite, and she suggested we should go. The Maire hosts this party each January she explained.
We had the neighbours from across the road over for dinner earlier during the week, and we asked them about the ceremony. They have lived here for years and had never been. But, when we said we were going they said they would come too. Now that made us feel a lot more comfortable as they can speak quite good French.
I suggested we leave at 6pm as it is only a 3 minute drive to the village and I did not want to be the first ones there. Well, that was a mistake, as we could not get a park except for behind the cemetery. We had to walk to the Salle polyvalente and I took this photo of Sabarda and the moon on the way.
As we got closer to the hall, we could see lots of people inside, and once we entered many more people arrived.
That’s Mick on the right with our neighbours.
It really surprised us that there were so many people there. Mick counted 56, which is about 8 more than the village’s population, but the Maire was putting on free drinks and food and that seemed to be enough to bring everyone out on a cold evening. Cakes, pear juice, cider and Pastis seemed like an odd combination but proved very popular. But, where was the wine we thought? We found out later that it is more common for the French to drink wine with meals and to enjoy Pastis and Martini Rosso as aperitifs.
But, before we could have a drink or a piece of cake, Monsieur Le Maire stood up to make a speech. You might be able to spot Mick in the right of this photo giving the Maire his full attention. Not that we understood what he said, except for a few words here and there, but he was entertaining.
He then called for suggestions from the crowd and several people, mostly women, spoke up. Mick was interested in one woman in particular who apparently suggested the community should look at car pooling to get to the neighbouring village of Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet for shopping and medical appointments. As it turned out, we had driven our neighbours to the ceremony and so were ahead of the game there. But Monsieur Le Maire acknowledged it as a good idea.
When he finished, the Maire stood down from the steps ……
……and nothing happened.
I expected a small round of applause, but no. People just started to help themselves to the free food and drinks.
There was lots of talking and chatting and we met quite a few people. Most locals of course could not speak any English, but we made ourselves understood and we were made to feel very welcome. One of the locals there was François, who is going to give us French lessons, so we caught up with him and organised a time for our first lesson.
It was hard taking photos in such a small space, so they are not great, and I was really sorry we did not get one with Monsieur Le Maire who spoke with us at length towards the end of the evening (around 7.45pm). When we left the crowd had dropped to ten, mostly men who were keen to finish off the bottles of Pastis.
Monsieur Le Maire told us that he had been Le Maire of Fenouillet for 36 years. He joked that no one else wanted the position. He insisted we call him Jean-Louis which was very nice of him. He also complimented me on my French, which showed just how polite he was because it is terrible.
The next elections are due in March 2020 and are held every 6 years. The position is very much respected in France – the Maire has a lot of power. There are over 35,000 Maires in France. Communes like Fenouillet with fewer than 100 people have seven elected representatives that must meet at least once every three months. Now that’s a good way to keep everyone involved.