Of course, it was the beginning. I was still filled with wonder. But I remember discovering the town square that night, emptied of its carpark to make room for the annual Bastille Day Banquet. Entrusted with the photograph for the following week newspaper, I had a free ticket for a free "authentic" evening in a new country: the French provinces on the 14th of July.
It was beautiful! Plane trees, pink twilight that comes with heat waves, the blue-white-red flags decorating the square and the school. A tourist from Lille, behind me, shared my delight. And we reflected out loud that if a film director sought a location to represent France, it was there, now. A pocket sized city, citizens in their sunday's best, shrieking swallows in the sunset, and an outdoor feast. There would be for sure speeches, serenades, a Marseillaise. Sometimes, life is more picturesque than film.
With my press invitation I presented myself at the control table. The lady in charge was none other than the personnal assistant of the deputy mayor. He really drives them hard. Then, I had to chose a table . I landed near a small group of buddies, "down from their mountains" for the annual banquet, an event they never miss. With my meal voucher, I stood in the queue like everyone else. The mayor, a little ahead of me in the queue, highly recommended to me the local dish: sheep intestines,rolled in balls and fried. A local gastronomy brotherhood devotes its free time to maintain the tradition. Good.
But I never could swallow them. Rubber balls, with the powerful taste of cattle shed. My charitable neighbours at the table pointed to a second dresser , where "those who do couldn't make it" can nevertheless eat a traditional stew. Now, my neighbours ...I had fun. On my left hand side, a broad and jovial character, down from the mountains of the south of the department. He handed me his card , a huge one, where it was written he was a wholesaler in lime and agricultural products. Retired, he added.. Though him, I learnt that the deputy mayor owed something to his village. During a difficult patch, he went up to his village for a visit. Thanks to the trader in agricultural products, the village "went with him". Many years later, the trader had his reward: a medal of agricultural distinction. The official ceremony was going to take place soon. Could I come and photograph the occasion for the newspaper? Unfortunately,no, it is not my territory. I would have liked to witness an official handing out of agricultural medals, before they disappear.
With his buddy, from the northern mountains of the department, I had a surprise. Not at all agricultural, that one. Lacoste Sportshirt, but very shy person. To deride him, I asked him a simple question. And there, he dropped the kind of CV you read in the classified adds. "I love sports, I appreciate nature and walking, as well as movies and music ". No one speaks like this about oneself, unless one has registered with a matrimonial agency. I quickly stired the conversation towards the new tunnel project.
There were no fireworks that night. Those are saved for the local patron saint, in autumn. But this republican banquet was like a first day in a new country. I remember the gleam of the multicolored lampions, the balmy night. I always kept the trader's card . Broad, covered with old fashioned capital letters, like him. One day, I will go and visit him, in his far away mountain village.. His store, he told me that night, was so pretty that it was short listed to play in a movie called, just like him: "The grocer's son".