♫ Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrive ♫
My 84-year-old friend Lois threw a Bastille Day party last Monday, which was attended by seven brave people capable of generating enough gill action to swim through the air as thick as wet clay to find their way to her house. They were: the friend she met at Oxford in the summer of ’52 and her nice husband, on the board of a nearby Art Museum; the teacher whose classroom was right next to Lois’s in their years at the local high school; a professor from the local University; and Lois’s nephew who was visiting for a few days on his way to the can-only-get-there-by-boat island off the coast of Maine where his family has been going for decades.
One guest brought a dozen note cards imprinted with a moving photo of a crowd surrounding General De Gaulle in Paris 1944 after that amazing city had at last been taken back from the Nazis. In this picture everyone in the picture looks deliriously happy, even the General himself with his long cowcatcher of a face. Lois had three kinds of wine, a chicken salad and a potato salad she had made herself. One guest brought a large bowl of cut-up fruit so colorful it looked like a mound of precious stones. Another brought a peach-ish velvety fruit punch that made your taste buds cry out with joy, which was a good thing since the improvised limeade I made and brought tasted like battery acid.
And then there was this lovely cake.
The wine didn’t see that much action where it was so hot out, and in spite of the window unit in the living room, most of us were sweating like teacakes, as Harper Lee said regarding those southern ladies come summer in To Kill a Mockingbird.
We sat in chairs around the table instead of at the table, kind of up against the walls, which gave the thing the feeling of a visitation as much as of a meal. Actually it felt like a salon as we spoke of books and art and French history. My sole contribution was to recall the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities where Dr. Manette gets released from his miserable cell in the Bastille – only I couldn’t recall a single other thing about the man afterward except that he was the father of Lucie Manette whoever she was, my mind being such an echo chamber of forgetting lately.
Then at Lois’s instruction, copies of the words to the Marseillaise were distributed. She started us off in her bold alto voice and away we went. We got clear to the second verse, and, finding us wholly unfamiliar with words and somehow the music as well, declared the effort a success and went at the cake.
Good day. Good company. Now let’s hear this lovely version and count our joint blessings as co-believers in
Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité! (and possibly have some cake if we can find any equal to this gorgeous one pictured above.)