I'd like to know why they think the Père Noël showed up at Sophie's school last Friday--with her classmate's horse. I might have asked the Père myself, but he showed up after I left. Figures. Everyone's families had been invited for a Christmas lunch on the last day of school, to be held in the school cantine. After grinning continuously over our wine and appetizers at the children singing their way through a medley of Christmas songs, over two hundred people settled down for veal fricassee and buche de noel, or yule log (6 euros per person for enormous, kid-ladled portions). Our waiters were selected from the oldest kids, who'd dressed for the occasion. As the service was a bit slow, I had time to gaze around and do a bit of musing. I was startled by how many grandparents showed up, although I suppose they are more available. These are often the ones who mind other parents' little ones on a regular basis, which seems like something out of a fairy tale to me. I forget that the expatriate life, spent at a formidable distance from one's family, is not the life most people choose. You lose, you gain.
Examining the rather puny, half-hearted efforts to dress up the otherwise bare, large walls, I had time to ruminate on the odd inability of the otherwise (generally anyway) oh-so-stylish French to decorate for the holidays. They hang these horrible, deflated little plastic santas outside of their windows, for example. I realize this is a personal, small gripe, but I don't know why French Christmas trees must always look so anemic, so sorrowful, so oddly-shaped, compared to the lush, fluffy behemoths to be found on the other side of the Atlantic. Jose Bove would probably retort that the French trees haven't been genetically modified. At present, the French simply do not have suitably plushy, filled out trees to decorate (the only somewhat decent variety to be found is the Nordmann), and, once decorated, the ornaments are usually too sparsely and quite poorly hung anyway. Even in Paris you find weirdly shoddy Christmas decor--everywhere. They manage deciduous tree lighting decently, but the rest I just don't get. The annual December editions of Cote Sud, Marie Claire Maison, and Elle Decor are the exceptions to the un-Christmassy rant of above...
So anyway, there we were, filling up endlessly long tables, munching on slices of flute (the inflated, airy cousin to the baguette) from the only bakery in the handkerchief-sized village. Everybody was periodically craning for a look at the littlest children, seated communely at scaled-down round tables in the center of the canteen. The veal and its carrots were juicy and tender; we all went for seconds. I didn't try the pitchers of red wine, but others certainly did. I could see Max, at his round table, seriously chowing down. Sophie said it was the kind of food they get every day...except for the yule log. I cannot imagine eating like this every day, but it is one of the things Sophie loves the most about the French educational system: a warm, multi-course lunch.
I left early, utterly satisfied and replete with good feelings; it was time to get started on my own holiday cooking.
Merry Christmas to all, (and to all a good night!)--Clement C. Moore. (Remember?)