La Fête à Gron – J’y étais
When we arrived at the Aire de Services in Gron, a gate blocked our entry. Disappointment fell on us like a wet blanket, as we had begun to relax in anticipation of a quiet night in this parking area, provided for motorhomes in this village.
We manoeuvred to leave, as we knew of another nearby location. However, the man controlling the gate would not hear of it, and insisted we stay. He opened the gate, made us welcome, explained that the village was having a Fete and even guided us into a parking bay.
The village of Gron (population about 2,000), six kilometres from the city of Sens, one hour south-east of Paris, sits on a knoll overlooking the Yonne river valley and is surrounded by grain and small crops farms. The gateway to every village in France displays a sign indicating its fleur rating, with four flowers being the highest. Gron is proud of its three fleur rating. After a very cold miserable and wet winter, the whole area had a rich verdant greenery, crops look plush, and the gentils were ready to come out of hibernation.
should explain what that term ‘Aire de Services’ is, and how it is central to our enjoyment of La Belle Francais. Camping is deep in the DNA of every French citizen. Having progressed past tents and tug along toys, now, their favourite piece of outdoor equipment is ‘le camping car’ (the French term for ‘RV’ or ‘Motorhome’ regardless of size). The population of France is about 70 million. My guess is that there may be upward of three million camping cars. They realize that campgrounds with communal ablution blocks and electrical connection points offer nothing for modern motorhomes which have their own salle de bain, toilet, hot and cold running water, solar supplied electricity, and gas-powered refrigeration, cooking, and heating. Camp grounds are used for longer stays, while short stays a provided for in thousands of towns and villages in an area called the ‘Aire de Services’. A services point allows grey/black water and chemical toilets to be properly dumped into the town’s sewerage system, as well as replenishing the camping car’s onboard water tanks from the town’s reticulated water supply. Some towns charge a very reasonable two to five euros for services. In others like Gron, it’s free. Signage
points to larger camping car parking bays which are usually centrally located, such as near the church, the town hall, or the sports fields. Universally they are an easy walk to shops and local points of interest.
Coming back to our Friday evening in Gron. The town’s park was bathed in sunshine when we arrived at 6pm, as the park was being set up with a stage, tables, and benches for the party. Children from the local school had hung decorations on trees in the park, as the fete is called ‘Les Arbres’. A band set a party tone as townsfolk filtered into the park. We cooked and enjoyed a sumptuous chicken, before adjourning to sit and sip, watching the local gentils chatting and partying. The sun would not set until about 9pm.
Our understanding of the word ‘fete’ brings back desperate attempts by hard working school and community groups to raise a bit of cash by running stalls and gimmicks. Not so here. It was simply a community gathering – on steroids. As I wandered through the crowd to take a few photos, I observed that the Commune de Gron must be financially Ok. The commune is
the basic level of government in France and might be compared to our local council, except that it is usually much smaller. Communes in France can represent as few as a few thousand residents. The Commune de Gron was not only hiring the mobile stage, tables, chairs, and musicians, but the man who greeted us at the gate was dispensing free wine.
There is a cool relationship between the French and British which can lead to a lukewarm welcome to English speakers. However, once they knew we were from Australia, the word spread amongst the crowd and we were elevated to something more like guests of honour. One by one, and two by two they came to engage with us. Some spoke quite good English. With others, it was a competition as to whether their Anglais was as bad as my Francais. Many spoke no English at all. Somehow, the poorer the vocabulary and understanding the better the laugh after communicating with gestures.
‘I bring you a gift,’ one lady said as she approached, and said I suspect that phrase was something her young interpreter coached her to say, as she could not say another word of English
and she understood none of my French. No one understands my French
. The gift was a glass of wine. It had a soft fruity taste that might have benefitted from cellaring for a few years. Somehow she got across to me that wine came from Epinay. Readers who are knowledgeable in viticulture will know that Epinay (to the north of here) is the heart of the champagne region. But this wine was a red, with voluptuous roundness of taste, and lovely alcoholic legs. Would I go out with a lady who splashed it on as a perfume? Why not? My memory has misfiled the name of the grape type. Our conversation was a string of interconnected fits of laughter. We turned down invitations to jig and shuffle along their brand of line/barn dancing, content to listen to the band.
A distinguished gentleman approached with his daughter to interpret even though his English was pretty good. We call our camping car ‘Skippy” and have a boxing kangaroo flag on the back. He asked if it was a wallaby. It took a bit of gesturing to explain that it is, in fact, a kangaroo and that male kangaroos box in their
natural environment to get the best femmes. He was particularly interested in rugby and other important worldly matters and we chatted for some time. I was not entirely surprised when his answer to my ‘Are you the mayor?’ was a “Yes.’ I don’t know why he did not answer ‘Oui.’ Perhaps it was because he now knew that his English was better than my French.
Later in the evening, the man who had been elevated from gatekeeper, to barman, came to us with tumblers of wine. The tumblers bore the inscription ‘La Fête à Gron – J’y étais ‘
– The Festival of Gron – I was there.
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