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Bon weekend from a dancing queen in France

Waiter stands outside a restaurant in Paris as autumn leaves fall around him...

It’s feeling just a little bit autumnal where I live in the north of France. The air is cooler in the mornings and evenings, and the harvest is under way, with farmers working through the nights to get everything picked, plucked, and dug up. There will be a big party next week at the village town hall to celebrate, we call it a ducasse here, a Flemish (this being part of the old Flanders region), word meaning a get together. The local DJ was at the town hall this week practicing (not mixing or scratching, just putting records on and using the microphone to make muffled announcements), “allez, allez allez” and “mwahaha musique”, and the sounds of ‘Flash – aah aah he’s the leader of the universe’ (Queen), filled the valleys which was a bit surreal at 11 o’clock in the morning. After several hours of practice, he must have felt he was ready, as at last it went quiet again

The village handyman Jean-Francoise was clipping the hedges of the village green while the music played, staying as close as he could to the sounds. He’s a dancer. Not a professional dancer, but one of those people with naturally dancing feet. He bobbed, swayed, and swished as he lopped the leaves off the hawthorn hedgerow which got the haircut of its life that day.

Vegetable man arrived while the DJ tests were ongoing, he’s not made of vegetables, he’s the man who delivers them to the villages in these parts. He grows them at Saint-Omer on the ancient marshes which were first cultivated by monks in the 7th century. There are still around 50 market gardeners there, and the marshes are UNESCO-listed as a biosphere reserve where nature and human activities co-exist. There are hundreds of tiny islands in the marshes, many of them inhabited (a friend of mine lives on an island with a little shed built by American GI’s who were billetted there during WWII) and it’s the only place in France where the postman delivers by boat!

Vegetable man stood at the doorstep holding two cauliflowers singing along to “Boom, boom, boom” by the Vengaboys which was now playing in the Valleys, and yes, it is old and rather Euro-trashy with some not very poetic lyrics (mostly whoa-oh and boom boom boom) but it’s joyful, and the sight of a skinny old man singing with cauliflowers and swinging his hips and hopping from one foot to another is not something you see very often on your doorstep. “If they play good songs like this at your ducasse” he said, “I’ll see you there.” I assured him to expect nothing less than this type of music and that I looked forward to joining him on the dance floor!

Meanwhile I’m off to Paris next week, it’s my birthday and I am treating myself to a couple of days of being a tourist in the city of light – I’m going alone but feel free to join me via Instagram!

Wishing you a very bon weekend from a dancing queen in the middle of nowhere, rural northern France.

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Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online. Her new book How to be French – a celebration of the French lifestyle, is out in October 2023 – a look at the French way of life.

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