The New Year is a strange time. January is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of gates and doors, of transitions and time. Usually portrayed as a two-headed figure, he looks back at the past and forward to the future. He epitomizes perfectly the duality of the winter holiday season.For expats such as ourselves, the divisions are even more pronounced. December in Atlanta, January in Aix. The pleasure of Christmas with family, followed by a return to the reality of our everyday lives.
We fly Air France from Marseille to Atlanta via Paris Charles de Gaulle. In true French style, the bread basket is passed around with each meal and the wine flows freely. We land at the smart new International Terminal at Hartsfield Jackson Airport, clean, open and spacious; we are able to pick up our bags in record time and head “home.”
Highlights of our stay in Atlanta:
- watching grandson Alex, 2 ½ , open a door on his advent calendar each day
- having all our family together at Christmas
- Alex’s excitement on Christmas morning as he opens his stocking from Santa
- meeting up with friends at their homes, at La Madeleine conversation group, at Val’s mah jongg group
- a visit to the New American Shakespeare Tavern, our favourite Atlanta venue. www.shakespearetavern.com
All good things come to an end. We are back in Aix, and it is time to get down to the serious business of renovating the kitchen. Or maybe not just yet … the holiday season in France traditionally continues until the festival of la Chandeleur on February 2. This commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and is commonly celebrated by eating crêpes.
The French tend not to send Christmas cards, opting instead for New Year wishes, which can be sent anytime during January. The same rule applies to wishing Bonne Année or Meilleurs Voeux pour le Nouvel An to neighbours and friends. So we enjoy opening all our Christmas cards, New Year cards and newsletters in one fell swoop.
We are especially gratified to receive one with no name, only Mr and Mrs T (in English), with an incomplete address, but luckily la factrice (our post lady/mail carrier) knows us well enough and rings the doorbell to see if we would like to claim it.Frédérique, our voisine de palier (neighbour across the hall) comes over with a box of nougat to wish us Happy New Year.
Mme Barbier, a sprightly 80-year-old on the fourth floor, invites us for an aperitif, un apéro, in order to view her Christmas crèche, complete with santons. Santons are small figurines representing local métiers or jobs in Provence, such as le boulanger, le bûcheron and la poissonière (the baker, the wood-cutter and the fish-wife). No Provencal crèche is complete without them.
January is also the season for Galettes des rois or king cakes, eaten to celebrate epiphany. There are two types of galette. The kind found all over France are made with flaky pastry filled with frangipane, or almond paste. In Provence they have their own version, a brioche decorated with glacé fruits – see the opening picture, complete with the obligatory coupe de champagne. Both galettes are delicious, and both conceal a fève, or charm, to indicate which guest will be crowned with a paper crown and be king or queen for the day.
We are invited by our friend Lisa, whom we met at our Saturday morning conversation group. She is excited that we are all able to come to her apartment on the last Sunday of the month. As of the first of February, the galettes des rois disappear from the bakeries and will not be available until next January.
But now it really is time to get down to work. Kitchen renovation, here we come. Forget the his-and-her guest towels, we have his-and-her step-ladders. Goodbye holiday celebrations, hello plumbing and wiring; away go the Christmas decorations, out come the power tools and overalls…
Entretemps, in the meantime, Bonne Année à toutes et à tous !
French teachers: for more on la Chandeleur, you can go to http://french.about.com/od/culture/a/chandeleur.htm
© 2013 Trevor and Valerie White