Another French Birthday


And yet another birthday party in France. This one started at noon on a Sunday, and I finally convinced my French husband to leave at 2 a.m. The party wasn’t finished.
We ate twice: once at lunch and then another full meal later that evening. There were the usual guitars and musicians. All of the neighbors were invited.
After dinner the party moved indoors, and the last thing I remember before falling asleep on the sofa was everyone dancing to French disco CDs.
You just gotta love the French!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry: the French Joie de Vivre

One thing the French do well: celebrate.

They celebrate birthdays, religious holidays, secular holidays, history, new friends, old friends, festivals, house-warmings, bull fights, music, food, wine, agriculture (as in the Festival du Riz). And when they don’t have something to celebrate, they celebrate life.

The French in France remind me of the French in Louisiana: Mardi Gras, crawfish festival, strawberry festivals, BBQ, hot sauce, catfish, jazz, zydeco, pirates, shrimp, ducks, petroleum, swamp stomps, hot tamales, and yes, rice–just to name a few. And like their French ancestors, they go all out with lots of food, music, dancing, and reveling.

… and be merry! Male-female couples are not required for dancing. It’s a group affair, so just pick a partner, or go solo.

The French take joie de vivre seriously, whether throwing a birthday party or enjoying a cup of cafe’ with friends at those famous little outdoor spots. I’ve been to numerous wedding anniversaries, birthday parties (otherwise known in French as the anniversaire),  and just plain old dinner parties (although there’s nothing plain about them).

One of my favorites are French birthday parties. You don’t have to be celebrating a big “O” to have a big party in France. Another year of life is worth an all-out soiree’.

I’ve not seen traditional American birthday cakes. They are always fruit tarts, like this one, with festive decorations.

I’ve yet to see a birthday cake, and gifts seem to be optional. It’s just another reason to celebrate. Food, and lots of it, is always on the agenda, as well as plenty of wine.

These fetes draw quite a crowd. The average birthday party, of those I’ve attended, runs 20-30 people. And they rarely end before 2 a.m.

So what do all those joyous French people do for all those hours?


Eat, drink and be merry. They should have invented the phrase.

Paella, a traditional Spanish dish made with rice and loaded with seafood and sometimes chicken and sausage, is a normal fare in the South of France.

Music and dancing are the entertainment. At least in the area where I live, the music usually consists of live entertainment–sometimes hired, but usually performed by invited guests, family, friends. Guitars, drums and accordions are popular instruments of choice. In the area of La Camargue, the music is often of the gypsi variety (made famous by local residents, The Gypsi Kings).

The photos you see here are typical of a birthday party. These were taken at the family home (built in the 1600s) of my husband’s cousin. She was celebrating 50 years of life and the party lasted nearly two days. It started Saturday night. Everyone spent the night and recommenced the next day at lunch (leftovers).

This party was planned by friends who went all out with a printed menu, complete with normal French courses: apéritifs and hors d’oeuvres, an entrée, the main course, fromage (cheese), and dessert.

I’m throwing a French anniversaire party this evening for my American friend (visiting from Virginia) and my husband. On the menu: olives and pâté, melon, fresh catch fish and crawfish, fromage (three varieties), and petit suisse with blueberry sauce.

And, of course, wine and lots of music.

“Volets” en France

One of my old, charming volet's on my old, charming house in the South of France.

I’m fascinated by volets in France, what we Americans call “shutters.” In the States they are stationary, ornamental additions to houses. In France you can actually open and close the shutters.

I love getting up in the morning and throwing open the volets. (Forgive my romantic imagery.) It’s like a statement that says, good morning, I’m ready to start my day.

Besides the fact that I find them charming, volets in France are practical.

Today it’s raining and the infamous “mistral” (wind storm) has arrived. Mon amour quickly closed the volets. You see, in France you can actually close the shutters, you know, like in the movie “Gone with the Wind.” The shutters keep the rain from beating against the windows and keep the wind from breaking them.

Shutters also keep out the cold air. When you don’t have double-paned glass, as in most of these old French homes, shutters serve as insulation. I’ve been grateful for our volets on many a cold and windy day.

Probably my favorite practical use of the volets is to keep out the sun. Every night before we go to bed we close the shutters. In the morning I can sleep in the darkness until I’m ready to get up. Of course, sometimes I sleep later than I should; but on weekends I love sleeping in and not having the morning sun tell me it’s time to get up.

In summer the volets keep out the sun and heat. I love a sunny home with lots of windows, but again, in an old French home with no central air conditioning, the volets offer a welcome reprieve from the hot sun that beats down in summer in the South of France.

So if you decide to spend your holiday in the South of France, make good use of the volets. You can sleep in, and then throw open the volets when you’re ready to greet the day.

The Cryptoporticos in Arles

I lived near Arles for a year before I discovered the cryptoporticos. And with good reason: they are several meters underground at the city’s center, Place de la Republic and Place du Forum.

cryptoportico, Arles

Cryptoportico in Arles, France

Cryptoporticos, typical of early Roman architecture, were built underground to support porticos, hence the name. The cryptoporticos in Arles supported the Roman Forum, and are one of several important such sites in Europe. The Roman Forum at Arles was one of the most important Roman centers outside of Italy.

Probably built in 30-20 B.C., and most certainly in the 1st Century B.C., the Roman Forum at Arles was a center of economic, religious, and judicial life for the Romans, who conquered Arles in 123 B.C. Underground passages with domed ceilings supported the traditional porticos that surrounded the Roman forums, giving them a slight elevation to signify their importance. In 46 B.C. Julius Ceasar founded a Roman colony in Arles. The cryptoporticos at Arles, built soon after, were constructed in a U-shape, and consist of three parallel passageways. Stonemason marks indicate that the underground foundation was probably built by Greek masons living in Marseille.

ruin from Roman Forum, Arles, France

Ruin from the Roman Forum, 1 B.C., Arles, France

The cryptoporticos at Arles were ingeniously built into a natural slope in the terrain. The southern portion of the foundation would have been underground and the northern portion would have been at ground level. It has been suggested that these could have been used as shops at some point; however, some believe that civil slaves were kept here during it’s earliest use.

Today, all of the structure is underground, and the Roman Forum has been replaced by the town’s municipal building and the Chapel of the Jesuit College. Access to the underground site is rather obscure and gained through a small office located inside the municipal building. After descending a stairway, you take a step back many centuries to walk the dark passageways in the horseshoe-shaped structure, completely underground and in a remarkably well-preserved state.