Drive just two hours outside of the bustling, crazy City of Lights and you’ll find yourself in the middle of open farmland dotted with villages so small that you could miss them in the blink of an eye. Nestled into this picturesque countryside is Villebout, a cluster of houses that could hardly be called a village with a population of just over 100 people. In this bubble, isolated from the outside world and the stresses of daily life, I celebrated my first Christmas. I was lucky enough to be invited to spend Christmas with my aunt’s family at their vacation home in Villebout and to be included in the unique affair that occurs every year at this mini chateau. And when I say unique…I mean that there is nothing else in the world like this place and what goes on here during Christmas.
Since I was little I had always heard stories of that chateau in the countryside, of its charming beauty, of its history as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II, of the ghost that greets a few select guests, of the infusion of their ancestors’ Madagascar culture into the French maison, and above all of the annual Christmas extravaganza.
And yet, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think I expected that there would be an African tribal spear in the corner of almost any closet or that every doorway, table, and wall space would be strung with enchanting Christmas decorations to match the golden tree. I didn’t expect everyone to average one bottle of wine (not including champagne) for each meal. I didn’t expect to dance until 4am on Christmas Eve. And I definitely didn’t expect to feel as comfortable and included as I did, barging in as an American teenager who has still hardly grasped the French language. But while there is the main core of people who migrate to Villebout every Christmas, there is always room for a few extra visitors who are welcomed in naturally. And that’s exactly the point of Villebout: to bring people together in an escape from the rest of the world, where there is no internet connection and no need for TV or computers, where one can simply enjoy sitting in front of the fire reading a book or sharing a bottle of wine with a friend or cousin. During my three days at Villebout, I enjoyed nothing but good food (don’t get me started on the wine and cheeses!), good music, and good company. Maybe we all need a little more Villebout in our lives.
Side note: on Christmas eve morning, we drove to the nearby town of Châteaudun to buy wine, merguez and baguettes. Despite the fact that there was a boulangerie just a few stores down the street, the line at this one boulangerie where we bought our bread was out the door. We waited in this infinitesimally slow moving line for about 40 minutes in the cold before we were finally at the cashier filling our bags a dozen fresh, warm baguettes. I had to laugh because only in France would people calmly wait in line for over half an hour in winter just to buy bread at this boulanger instead of the other down the street where there was no line at all.
vocabulaire quotidien: avoir la flemme – an expression that means to be lazy, but more specifically when you really don’t feel like doing what you know you should do…I had so much flemme when I came back from Villebout after doing pretty much nothing for three days and knew I had to write this blog post!