A slightly fictionalised account of a recent lunch. No actual photos of the day, because sometimes a camera can just spoil it all…
She had only meant to stop by quickly, just to say hello, and ask about Madame’s health, and maybe take a quick tour of the garden spreading out behind the château, and where she knew the spring bulbs would be in flower.
The truth was that she was feeling guilty because she hadn’t been recently and so she took a box of fancy biscuits by way of saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know how the days go by so fast” ……
She knocked at the château door, and a few minutes later it was pulled open slowly by Madame. Small, white haired, blue eyed, a sprightly eighty something, dressed simply in black trousers and turtle-neck sweater. Once inside, there was no fear of guilt or reproach for her prolonged absence, simply the same warm welcome, kind eyes and natural elegance that had always characterised Madame, since the day she had first met her, over twenty years ago.
“Ah vous voila, …oh, des biscuits! … merci, you are very kind. …. Come in, come in, sit down and tell me how you are”
They had only been talking for a while when the invitation popped up unannounced and spontaneous “But why don’t you stay for lunch, I have my friends Beatrice de N. and Laure de T. who are coming, there is enough for you too”
A negative answer was not really an option, and frankly the prospect of lunch with three distinguished ladies, of a certain age, in a beautiful château … well, it was simply too tempting to refuse.
“Come along, come into the kitchen, I still have to prepare for the lunch”.
She knew the kitchen already, quite large, high ceilings, the walls tiled in old blue and white squares and a long heavy wooden table running down the centre. Together they checked on the stuffed tomatoes in the oven.
“Do you think there is enough, yes I am sure, …… can you cut this bread please …….. will you drink wine with the meal? no, neither do I at midday …… I have a very nice Camembert cheese, let us put it on this plate ……” Madame chatted easily as they laid the table together and prepared glasses for an aperitif before the meal.
Her friends arrived on time, and walked in through the main entrance, laden with baskets of food. “But I have already prepared the lunch my dears, what is all of this?!”, Madame was laughing. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter ma chère, then you will have some left for your dinner tonight”
She could see that Madame’s friends were keen to take care of her, to keep her company and be sure she had all she needed. They all walked into the kitchen and there was a momentary flurry as one of the guests re-organised the menu, popping more food into the oven, preparing an extra salad. It was relaxed and pleasant, old familiar friends who had no need to stand upon ceremony, nothing to prove.
Conversation was quick and amusing. They jumped from a minor local scandal; to the work they were each undertaking in their respective properties; to the difficulties encountered when hiring a gardener; to the curé’s sermon last Sunday in church; to their grandchildren and finally to some happy memories from their youth, and their days of dancing late in the châteaux ballrooms, of champagne, of music and … of love.
And while they talked, she observed, smiling. Posed the occasional question, listened carefully to every word, watched every glance. She quickly understood that all those present were grand aristocracy, names were mentioned that were an integral part of french history, yet to them they were just lifelong friends.
And then her eyes wandered to her surroundings; the long table; the glass fronted cupboards full of the family china; and she realised that even though the tableware was silver and the glasses were crystal, there was no sense of putting on airs and graces – this was simply the way that things were done. This was a very simple lunch, shared by old friends, and she was privileged to be a part of it.
PS. Many people are asking about the porcelain in the photos here. They are simply pictures that I found to illustrate my tale. The service is French, Porcelaine de Paris, dating from Louis Philippe, so around 1850.