Monday, November 10, 2008
November- The Month for Remembering.
From the middle of October the supermarkets and flower shops have been filled with huge pots of chrysanthenums,and to a lesser extent scarlet cyclamen. These are in readiness for Toussaints,or the feast of All Saints on November 1st. Cemeteries all over France will be ablaze with gold, copper or deep maroon balls of tightly packed chrysanthenums. On the actual day of Toussaints masses for the dead are said; in the case of our village an 11 a.m mass was celebrated in the ancient chapel of St. Jean which adjoins the cemetery As is customary in France, the graveyard is several hundred meters outside the village itself. If cemeteries can be pleasant places, ours is. It has magnificent views - south to the mountains, north to the flatter, more arable land of the Gers, and in front, the peaceful valley of the Save. The family plots are quietly impressive, with their collections of memorium plaques..for an uncle, a god-parent, an old comrade. Reading the names it soon becomes apparent that there are four or five main famillies in the village whose roots go back generations, and their heirs are still running local life..as councillors, bar owners,local tradesmen. Modern life has made it's presence felt in France, as everywhere else, and new famillies move in, but it's reassuring to know that the old-established names are still here, contributing to village life.
November 11th sees the 'Armistice 1918' as it's called on my French calender.
This afternoon the young man who works for the mairie, and keeps the village looking nice, will put out the four small tricolour at each corner of the memorial opposite the post office. The four corners are marked by upright WW1 shells, now unarmed and painted black. As in the UK the monumant itself bears the names of the village men who died in both conflicts, and in the Algerian debacle as well.
Tommorrow, at 10.55 a small crowd of villagers will gather and the mayor will solemly read out each individual name, each one followed by a murmured 'Mort pour France' from the congregation. There will be a one minute silence, and then everyone will retire to the bar for an aperitif.
The French don't wear poppies as they do the UK, instead they opt for blue cornflowers. Unfortunately in this day and age the cornflower is now reduced to a paper sticker for coats and lapels. The British Legion still produce a 'proper' poppy, thank goodness.
Toussaints and Armistice Day provides the French with two more public holidays, but that will be their lot this year until Christmas Day.