Sometimes, I miss the bright lights and the big city. Lucky for me, Angouleme is only a twenty-minute drive, so I get to enjoy the best of both worlds – the countryside with all of its charms, without being too far away from a Chanel make-up counter.
Especially as the winter sets in, the smaller towns seem to get much quieter. The vide-greniers pack up, the markets stop, the second-home owners go home and the residents are left to make it through the next five months with ne’er a frairie nor a repas in sight. In fact, the next time anything exciting happens in my village will be the post-New Year drinks and brioche at the chateau.
So you can imagine my joy when I saw a sign in the bakery window this morning. Fishbone at La Nef in Angouleme.
Now, unless you are a fan of 80s funk-metal, you might not be a fan of this band. That’s understandable. If I’m the only person in the audience on Wednesday, I wouldn’t be surprised. It seemed a little surreal, seeing a sign for a band I loved well playing at a smallish venue near me. I had to check it was THE Fishbone and not just some accidental copycatting.
When I realised that it was, it made it all the more exciting. The last time I went to a proper rock-band gig was a good three years ago, Cognac Blues aside.
This from a girl who once went to four concerts in five nights and who had a favourite link to Ticketmaster.
Largely, it’s a sacrifice I was happy to make. Sure, I feel a little jealous when my friends’ facebook statuses say they’re off to this band or that band. I kind of hope in vain when my favourite singers put out tour schedules that they might come to France and that just maybe they’d make it to Bordeaux or Poitiers. But in all honesty, I’m at that stage in life where I’d swap the atmosphere and crowd and live performance for a good CD and a cup of hot chocolate in a place where toilet queue consists only of me. Yes, I get it. I grew up.
But Angouleme does its best to gear up a little to take up the slack in those winter months. Not only with the amazing Gastronomades at the end of November, and the BD festival in January, but there’s plenty on in the meantime.
This weekend, for example, it was the 4th ‘Day of the Night’ – a day when all the cities in France commit to promoting the biodiversity agenda and highlight the issues of light pollution.
The first – and only – time I experienced a city in darkness was Havana. Our plane got in late and our trip to the hotel in an ancient Lada taxi went through dark streets. It wasn’t a black-out – there were plenty of lights coming from windows and doorways, but there were no street-lights. It was a very strange experience to be in a city that seems to be so completely asleep – especially when the bars and paladars closed for the night. The hotel we stayed in was the darkest space I’ve ever been in. Not only did the room have no windows, but the corridor outside had no lights other than the one you press for a moment just to get your bearings and move down the corridor. Added to that, there were none of those ‘on’ lights or stand-by lights. No television on standby, no blinking alarm clock. It was like being totally blind. I felt very disorientated those first few days.
However, I like the fact that the streetlights on my road go off at 11pm. They come back on at 6 am. From that time, it is completely dark in my neighbourhood. I keep a torch in the car to help me see how to unlock the gate in the dark and I know where all the candles are stored – power cuts are far too frequent. But from 11 pm – 6 pm, I get something that I never truly experienced in a city – the stars. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t get them right now. There are far too many clouds. And many nights, the moon is too bright. But on nights with no moon (and it was only in France that I saw my first moon shadow!) and no streetlights, it’s amazing to be in a place which is lit only by small fires many many billions of miles away.
I think it helps me feel the year a little more, which is why I was pleased to see there was a workshop for children that helped them learn about the changing days, how they shorten and lengthen, and the nocturnal animals that come out to play. That reminded me of another thing – there’s barely a night I drive home in the dark when I don’t see some kind of wildlife. On Friday, it was two deer. Tonight, it was a huge hare.
This weekend also saw La Bazarderie – a kind of street sale held once a year which literally means ‘a throw out’ or a clear out. Shops put out tables and have a great stock clearance. Despite the rain, it was incredibly busy. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s nice to feel the rhythm and beat of a city from time to time. Sure, it’s a different pace from cities I’ve known and loved in England, but it’s a place that’s still open after eight and a place with people and life and music. And it’s nice to have those things from time to time, even if it’s so I don’t become a crazy lady wearing wellies and printed frocks and threatening people with a pitchfork.