In French bingo, called loto, the rules are different; only numbers are called. Our loto reader (caller? officiator?) gave character to every single number. For example, an eight was a "belted zero". Seventy-seven was "the tools of my grandfather". Fourteen was the Sun King. Nineteen was a Renault classic. Twenty-four was the pays du noix, or land of the walnuts (24 being the departmental number for the Perigord). Thirty was home (being the departmental number for the Gard, where we live). There were cultural, historical, musical and pop references I completely missed. All this was ad-libbed, mind you. I've never experienced that full-entertainment experience in stateside bingo. Yet anyway.
I've also never before experienced such bawdy humor at a school fundraiser. The hall was simply packed with people ranging from toddlers to the very seniors and everyone in between. The loto reader--who also happens to be the school principal--defined three as the "modern couple". Sixty-nine? "Ta touffe m'etouffe!" I'll leave you to translate that one...
At the drop of a hat, I could rattle off a number of these sorts of experiences, but it's another thing to tackle your various impressions and experiences, then wrestle them into a winning story.
This is what Rosy Thornton has done to most engaging effect in her latest book, The Tapestry of Love.
Some of us write online and then graduate to books. Rosy, also a Cambridge professor, went the other way around, and volunteers on her site that "there must be something pretty special about a place if you spend a fortnight there and, twenty years later, feel inspired to write a book about it." Indeed.
Her heroine, Catherine Parkstone, does what so many Anglo-Saxons have done--or dreamed of doing: she picked up stakes and headed to the south of France. Specifically, the Cévennes. And that's where the story begins, and where her life becomes richly complicated. She becomes a furniture upholsterer, tapestry weaver and all-round seamstress without taking enough account of the vagaries of French bureaucracy. She gets to know her neighbors through their idiosyncrasies. She falls in love. (In my opinion, her Cévenols, while reserved, are still less reserved than my Cévenols...) Deeply woven through this tale are the traditions, places and spaces that make the Cévennes what it is--beautiful, variegated, a little rough, and seemingly timeless. There is the twice annual ritual of the transhumance, there is the history of the silkworm and silk production, a significant Cévenol industry until the 1850s or so, but the book is also rich in local, earthy detail. Tapestry of Love is filled with delicate, discerning observation, and it won me over.recipes you can download.
Full disclosure: Rosy Thornton is a La Vie Cévenole reader.