I’ve been wanting to have a neighbourhood party since we bought Closerie Falaiseau three years ago but it was a little tricky while we were still living in Paris … I check the date – 29th May – and ask what my oldest and dearest friends in the street think about it. Great idea, they say, but neither will be able to attend.
I call in to see my next door neighbour (the one that ISN’T going to have a poultry yard) at her snackbar in Blois and she thinks it’s a wonderful idea. “We’ll come”, she says, “and so will our friends down the road that I knew from high school.” I ask for advice about food and she suggests that I simply tell people to bring a picnic basket with what they need.
Jean Michel and I spend some time finding the right wording for the flyer and I add a logo I find on a website. La fête des voisins also called Immeubles en fête (which roughly means “partying flats”) was created at the turn of the century (this one!), at the initiative of one Atanase Périfan in the 17th arrondissement in Paris. It was promoted by the mayors of Paris (all twenty-one of them) and low-income housing owners and its popularity rapidly spread to the rest of France. It is now held on the last Friday of May or the first Friday of June. It became Europe-wide in 2004.
I print out 70 copies (two flyers per page) because the last house in the street is 132 (it’s a long street) and we set out after dinner on the Monday 18th to put them in everyone’s letterboxes. We have lots left over so I can only surmise that many people have two numbers (like our neighbours on the other side).
At the end of the road, we see the Harley Davidson man whose wife’s car we ran into the first night we ever slept at the Closerie. He thinks it’s a wonderful idea and will come with his wife.
Next day, a lady walks past while I’m weeding on the footpath and we chat for a while. She says her husband has a pétanque game but they will try to come afterwards. Another neighbour we know also calls by to say he’s coming. We’re up to 12 which seems a decent number. I invite Mr and Mrs Previous Owner and they are delighted to come.
We keep checking the weather and although it will be a little chilly and overcast, no rain is predicted. Responses trickle in and it looks like we might make it to twenty.
Jean Michel is going to set up a couple of trestle tables and a banner made of balloons saying “Fête des Voisins”.
Friday dawns and to my dismay, I am too sick to get out of bed. My terrible January flu seems to be back. I make my way to the sofa and finish off the two translations due that morning, then drag myself back to bed. I am feeling very miserable and very disappointed to say the least.
Jean Michel goes off and buys the balloons and at 5 pm is setting up the first trestle table in the area opposite where we park trailer. By then, I am feeling even worse than I did during my first flu so ask him to ring the doctor (whom I incidentally do not like). The doctor says to bring me straight over so I clutch my sick bag as we hurtle over to Chouzy-sur-Cisse.
The doctor reassures me that I don’t have Lyme’s disease from a recent tick bite, nor a urinary infection, nor encephalitis or meningitis from all my recent mosquito bites. We go home and I collapse into bed again fully clothed.
At 8 pm, I wake up and take some aspirin, feeling slightly better. I can hear joyous voices wafting in from the outside. I go down and get my deck chair and wander across the road. Someone spies me and starts clapping. A loud “hourray” goes up !
I am amazed to count a total of 31 adults and 5 children. Everyone comes to talk to me in my deck chair and I can see they are all enjoying themselves. There is plenty of food and I end up having a glass of rosé bought from the Cheverny Cooperative the day before. I slowly start to feel better and after an hour or so and a second glass of wine with a sandwich can actually get up and mingle.
Most of the people present are our neighbours who are geographically the closest, although lady comes from the top of the street. She tells me she felt a little shy at first so drove past. One of the other neighbours recognised her and called out so she stopped and joined us.
I’m told by another neighbour that she once tried to initiate a fête des voisins and met with little enthusiasm. My principle is that when you hold a party, even if only one person comes, then it’s worth it because that person wants to be there !
Another lady tells me she and her husband are moving away in a couple of months’ time because they have never managed to establish a social network in Blois. How lucky we are !
About 10.30 pm, as night falls, the party spontaneously breaks up and everyone helps to clean up. Next morning only the balloon banner still remains. At the market, we meet no fewer that three of our neighbours present at the fête. All repeat how much they enjoyed themselves.
So we’ll be on the ball next year for the 2ème fête de voisins (and I won’t be sick because spending three days in bed is no fun!)
All About France #5
I would like to dedicate this post to Phoebe Thomas from Lou Messugo, who’s neighbour day party two years ago inspired me, and at the same time participate in her All About France #5 blog link. For other contributions, click here.