Reading Week in Languedoc: Part 2
'I have to warn you - the Roujan Feste is on just now.' Zoe (who is standing in this picture behind Andrew and Brenda - two of the people on the course) told me as we were driving to the villa. 'Something we will know to avoid in future. The last couple of nights it's kept going until two in the morning - loud music, disco - just at the bottom of the garden.'
But the night I was there it was quieter than it had been. A jazz band started half way through dinner, nothing too loud, quite pleasant in fact, and after our meal Graham (sitting opposite Sara at the end of the table here), Paul (on the right, immediately behind Mary, the woman with the red hair) and I talked long into the night while the rest watched a film version of Wuthering Heights in preparation for the next day's discussion. We finished the evening by walking down through the garden to see the Feste for ourselves.
The French take having a good time very seriously. I remember this from long-ago camping trips with my parents and brothers. Bastille Night always made me wish I was French - their fireworks seemed so much better than ours - and how much better to have fireworks on a warm sultry night in summer than a cold damp night in November!
However this was not Bastille Day but the village's own private summer festival. The whole population was out there sitting at long tables with food and wine in front of them. At the entrance was a small brightly lit Merry-Go-Round with children milling gently around, and various stalls selling more food and drink. At one end there was a small clear area where couples of all ages were dancing: middle-aged couples practising a skilful slow waltz; elderly women clutching each other for mutual support in a jolly but determined way; a couple of teenage boys attempting to break dance, a few amorous young couples clinging together rather more closely than strictly necessary, and threading their way around all of these were the children - running, laughing and trying to dance too - like a particularly fluid glue getting into all the spaces. Well that is how it seemed to me. Then close by was the stage with a woman singing songs I didn't recognise although they were in English, a small band, and then an accordion - immediately turning the occasion into something that was unmistakably French.
It finished late, but I didn't mind. For the last couple of hours I listened to it from my bed and the music was so gentle it lulled me into unconsciousness. I woke late, almost ten o'clock, but since I had been awake for almost twenty four hours the day before I felt I had some excuse. We then discussed Wuthering Heights by this pool (which contains Sara, one of the readers). It was an interesting discussion, touching on themes such as incest, the gothic novel, and what the author was saying about class. Several people seemed to have encountered this book at adolescence, when they found it affected them tremendously. We also considered the influence of film and the Bronte family itself in the writing of this book.
While I was sitting there listening I noticed this
The owner of the house, Teddy,
is an artist and the garden is strewn with art half-hidden in the bushes, like these birds
or this piece of abstract sculpture
or a treetrunk decorated with bells
or, my particular favourite, this sculpture of a child hanging from a tree.
There are two pools - here is Judith, another member of the group, reading beside one with Teddy's wife making the most of the warm water;
a small duck pond with some indolent ducks
and several interesting outbuildings with large function rooms and gites which can be hired separately.
The inside of the villa is just as interesting. A rather grand hallway, crammed with pictures
leads into equally interesting rooms, and it was here that I gave my talk on my novel, 98 Reasons For Being, and then answered questions about my writing.
The day ended with apperitifs and then dinner. Here is Lee, the other owner of Seven Day Wonders, doing the vital task of opening more wine (this week they were also sampling a variety of wines of the region), having helped prepare yet another French feast.
The participants of the course were very intelligent - and asked me some really good questions. They were also very kind about my book. In fact it was, without doubt the most enjoyable work I have ever done - not only because of the setting but because of the company too. The next morning I had to leave early to catch my plane so I didn't have the opportunity to say good-bye, but if any of you are reading this - thanks very much for being such a lovely audience. It was much appreciated.