Cheap flights, Fascinating Aida style

Following on from the previous post, where some actual, honest-to-goodness cheap flights are on offer, I bring you Fascinating Aida singing “Cheap Flights”. Thanks to the comments from Leslie, who pointed me to the video on Alex’s blog Moving From France To Ferrets (I kid you not).

Just had to share this here :)

A Curious Choir Call-Up

Since living here, there have been many moments when we have said to ourselves “This could only happen in France!”. One Saturday, three weeks ago, I had one of those moments.

The morning started much the same as any other. Rosie was sleeping off the school week, Molly was in her room tidying (!) and Joe was heading out to his guitar group. At that moment the phone rang. Richard answered and, after a quick and confused chat, the phone was handed to me with a quick “Someone for you, it’s about singing and she speaks a little english.”

Here is a quick translation of the very fast, completely french, conversation:-

Lady: “Hello, I hear you like singing, your friend said so. Would you like to join a choir? We meet every Monday night.”

Me: “Um, yes, um perhaps….um, which friend?”

There then followed a conversation full of names I have never heard of and I still didn’t know the name of the lady I was speaking to.

“Well,” said very nice french lady, “we are in concert tomorrow afternoon if you would like to see us”.

Me: “Sorry. Busy tomorrow but I am interested. What type of music? Where do you meet?”

Lady: “We sing classical. I will pick you up 8 on Monday night. I know where you live. What colour are your shutters? See you then. Bye!”

Then followed a stunned silence as I tried to take in what had happened. It appeared a “friend” had given the lady my number and I was going to a choir somewhere in Fontenay with someone I didn’t know.

After talking to my Mum, who came up with kidnap theories and declared “You can’t go, you don’t know her!”, followed by laughter, I decided to ring Lynn (my former friend!)

“Hi Lynn! You are not going to believe what just happened to me…!”

What followed can only be described as laughter of the highest degree, followed by shouts from Lynn to Alan, her husband, and then much laughing from him too.

It turned out this lady had rung Lynn first and suggested  she join the choir. Lynn told her she didn’t sing but had a friend who does and had given her my number. Lynn also had no idea who this lady was, or where she had got Lynn’s number from. It since turns out that another friend, Dee, had mentioned she likes singing to this lady’s husband, but hadn’t given her name. So this lady went to the Marie (mayor) to get the phone numbers of the english people in the village.

Of course, I am no stranger to singing in a choir and had been hoping to join one here at some point anyway.  When we lived back in Grimsby, I belonged to the Grimsby Philharmonic Choir under the direction of Sue Hollingworth. Sue is an inspiration to anyone who loves singing and for four years I was proud to sing in this great choir. The choir was made more special as I went with Val, Richard’s Mum, and my very good friend Annie. Along with other friends, Mondays were lovely nights spent singing great music with great people.

So, despite the unconventional introduction, I was actually looking forward to going to this new choir.

Monday at 8 saw Lynn and I (I wasn’t going to let her get away with dropping me in it!) awaiting the arrival of mystery woman.

What has followed since has been three very enjoyable Monday evenings singing with a great choir, Cantabile Opus 85 [pdf]. Lynn, sadly, has now stopped for the time being, due to various trips to UK while awaiting the arrival of her first grandchild. I hope she will come back as she is a great alto.

Fabrice Maurin, Conductor - Cantabile Opus 85

I have to say, this choir is great. The musical director Fabrice Maurin is really good. He knows how to have fun to get our voices all warmed up, but equally he is very particular about us singing correctly, precisely and with feeling. I am the only english person there, but I have been made to feel very welcome and anyone who has any english is very happy to share it with me.

As far as the singing goes, reading music is the same (though be aware, music-readers, in the UK I learnt A B C, over here it’s Do Re Mi) and apart from having to sing in french, it is all going well. The choir have sung in German and English in the past and of course Latin is a universal language for classical pieces, so there is hope.

So far, we have learnt two short pieces by Offenbach and a lovely Waltz by Faust. I have been told concerts are held in November but there is a chance of one in July.

So, from that Saturday when confusion reigned supreme, I have ended up being part of a very friendly and well-directed choir.

Happy Mondays are back on the song sheet!!

St Antoine Kermesse – a feast of food and fun

So to continue the tale of our hectic weekend, on Sunday we had the Kermesse for Molly & Joe’s school, St Antoine. A Kermesse is basically an end-of-term summer fair, although, unlike the ones we used to have in England, this one seemed to be more focussed on the community coming together and the children entertaining them, rather than bombarding us with a-hundred-and-one stalls selling corn dolls and peg-bags. Thank goodness!

We arrived way too early, of course. One day we will get it right and arrive with everyone else….  It was another beautiful day, which was fortunate as the night before we had had the most enormous thunderstorm. It had apparently been rumbling around for a while, but when it landed on top of our house at 3am I thought the roof was going to cave in. Thankfully we survived the onslaught and the morning was fresher, but still nice and warm.

Kermesse 2008The lunch was served in the Salle Polyvalente near the church and the Hotel de Ville. We queued for our meal and spotted our dear old neighbours at a table. It was so nice to see them there and most unexpected – we have never seen them anywhere other than round the houses.

The meal was great value – €10 got us a a large punnet of moules, and one full of gorgeous chips (you can’t beat deep-fried chips…), as well as a slice of bread, some cheese, a big slice of tarte aux pommes and a glass of rosé . The moules were the best we had tasted and the adults polished them all off. The kids filled up mainly on chips, as they do, so I ended up finishing their moules off, but nothing went to waste. They had clearly over-catered as well as they were coming round offering second-helpings to anyone who wanted them. By the end of the meal, topped off with a coffee, we were all pretty well stuffed and ready for a siesta!

Sadly a siesta was not on the menu as the kids had all headed off to the school to prepare for the “Spectacle“. When they returned they all looked so sweet dressed in their costumes. The school takes children from as young as 3, so there were all ages there, right up to Molly, who will be 11 this week (although she is in a year below her age in order to catch up on her french). Each class did a number of songs and dances on the theme of the environment. It was a wonderful show and, once again, we were so proud to see our two taking full part in it. Joe even had to say a line of a poem on his own and I’m sure no-one would have known he wasn’t french just by listening to him.  Interestingly, Molly looked really pretty in her “designer” dress made from recycled tin cans!

After the show, the stalls were opened and it was time to spend money :)    It was a good arrangement whereby the children could buy tickets on a piece of string and would trade the tickets for turns on the different stalls. There was a bouncy-castle, a football shoot-out, a fishing lucky dip, a wheel of fortune and a cake stall. Of course this was supplemented by a well-frequented bar as well…   We had turns on pretty much everything, winning various hats, t-shirts and other random prizes. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and as usual the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly.

After a while it was time to draw the raffle. We had our eye on the gas barbecue – ours is still at my parents’ house as we didn’t have room to bring it when we moved over. If we could win one here it would save them having to bring it in the car next time they drove over. But sadly it was not to be. At school the next day they dished out the “lesser” prizes and we won a bowl and some salad servers – a nice accompaniment to a barbecue…if we had one.

The night was going to continue for a long time to come, but our gang were again getting a little restless by now, having spent all their money and bounced themselves silly, so we headed home.

It had been a really wonderful weekend and we really got the feeling that we were part of a great community, something we have never truly felt before. Here’s to many more weekends like this!

Chante-Mai 2008

On Tuesday night it was the annual “Chante-Mai” concert. I’m not sure of the background to this event, but I think it is held all over the country. The Chante-Mai involves the local schools putting on a concert of songs (the “Chante”) in May (the “Mai”)…makes sense :)

Our concert was in La Chataigneraie and involved all the local private primary schools – 11 in all I believe. They have been practising the songs for the last 6 months or so and we have endured enjoyed them on a CD in the car for most of that time too. As is usually the case, we started off by finding the songs quite jolly and catchy. Then after a couple of months we really got sick of them. But hearing them performed at the concert was a totally different experience. All the kids did so well.

The concert took place in the sports hall at La Chataigneraie and there must have been around 200 children singing to an audience of around 600. All the kids were so well behaved and well turned out. It looked very effective with everyone in dark trousers and white shirts, with a musical note pinned on it in black paper.

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The songs were a broad range of styles, but all were fun and well accompanied by the small band comprised of some of the teachers. Even the head of our school took part, playing the flute! What a talented chap he is.

We were so proud of Molly. She knew every word and sang them all really well. To think that she has only been living in France for less than 6 months is amazing, when we saw here there joining in with everyone else. What a great experience for her.

The whole evening was very well organised as usual – no trouble, even though there were dozens of very small children in the audience, and all the kids on stage were impeccably behaved. And so nice to see the teachers all joining in. In the schools back in England music was sadly seen as a very minor part of school life and teachers would go out of their way to avoid having to do any. here it seems that everyone is eagre to join in and it gives such a great example to the kids – it’s really lovely to see and is another tick in the box for French education over English for us.

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A musical night out

Saturday night was the concert at Foussais church by the Stevenage Male Voice Choir and we were very much looking forward to it. Not just because we like that sort of thing, but also because it would give us a chance to get a bit dressed up and go out for the night. We get precious little chance to do that these days, and any event we do go to is almost certainly a casual affair.

Now, Lisa was keen to get there early, but I took the view that, knowing how we’d been caught out before by arriving on-time (how silly of us!), we should leave it until just before the scheduled start time of 8pm. So at 7.45 we set off into the village, only to find that half the Vendee had arrived at the church! It was heaving. Of course, when we looked at the proramme, it became clear why – it was being presented in conjunction with “All Saints Vendee” – the local Anglican parish, catering mainly for English-speakers in the region. So it was not going to be the small local gathering of the usual village faces, but was in fact a giant ex-pat gathering of English from all over the region. Not at all what we were expecting!

I have to say we were a little disappointed. Although it was lovely to see the local church packed to the gunnells, we hadn’t really bargained on a night surrounded by English folk. But then again, we can’t complain too much, as I suppose we are ex-pats ourselves!

Anyway, on with the concert. The SMVC were joined in the proceedings by Choraline, a local choir from La Chataigneraie, and Jason Wallace, a flamenco guitarist (more of him in a moment).

SMVCAfter various introductions in French and English, the combined choirs opened with Ave Verum by Mozart, which took a little getting going, but sounded good by the end. Then the english chaps went from Grieg to Elgar, via Dvorak and Negro spirituals and all sounded great… especially “Steal Away” which was sung very quietly and, even in the huge church, we could hear every word.

Then Choraline took to the stage. As a choir of around 60 (people, not average age!) they made a big sound. The Gloria by Vivaldi was particularly exciting as they filled the church with their combined English and French voices.

Then we had Jason Wallace. It is clear that Jason is a hugely tallented guitarist and you can tell that he is extremely passionate about flamenco, but I do feel that maybe his section of the programme went on a bit. His “Flamenco Rythms” were seemingly a string of improvised flamenco “riffs” that never really seemed to go anywhere much. If perhaps there had been a singer to accompany him it may have provided a bit more focus, but, as it was, most of the people around us (especially the children!) were dropping off half-way through the second “number”.

Anyway, having survived the flamenco, the SMVC came back with another selection, culminating in the rousing “Gwahoddiad”, which reallyblew our socks off at the end.

Foussais ChurchIt appeared that the interval couldn’t come soon enough for a lot of people, as three-quarters of the audience charged outside. Quite what for I don’t know as it wasn’t a warm night, nor were there refreshments on offer. Perhaps just for a cigarette…? Anyway, we just stayed indoors and stretched our legs and tried to regain some feeling in our backsides after an hour of sitting on church pews. I’m sure they make them deliberately hard to encourage the congregation to kneel!

The second half began in fine form with the boys singing “Over The Rainbow”, which was a really nice arrangement. “London Pride” and “On A Clear Day” were not songs I knew, but the chaps did well, before rounding off with “The way you look tonight”.

Then came what we felt was one of the highlights of the night, the second section from Choraline. They performed a group of Negro Spiritual and traditional songs that swung from haunting to rousing and everything in between – a great section that really showed off what a good choir they are. I could tell by this point that Lisa was wondering if she could get to rehearsals at La Chataigneraie! Even the bats in the church enjoyed this one, as they came out to play and started swooping and diving over the heads of the audience.

We then had more flamenco. ‘Nuff said about that I think.

Foussais Church WindowFinally the SMVC returned with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, which had everyone singing along (much to the kids’ embarrassment). They rounded off this section with an English version of “Nessun Dorma”, which was an interesting take on the classic, but I think it went well and was a good finish to their performance.

Finally, after various presentations and speeches, the choirs combined for a rendition of “Everybody Sing Freedom”, which was another rousing song, which gained them an encore from the gathered masses.

Overall it was a great night out and the kids did very well, considering it is SO not their “thing” :)

Afterwards we nipped to the Sale des Fêtes for the Vid d’honneur, where I had a quick chat with the conductor with whom I had traded emails before their visit and I said how much we had enjoyed it. Then after a slice of brioche and a quick slurp of rosé it was nearly midnight and definitely time for bed!