In light of yesterday's national holiday on July 21st, I feel that some clarity is called for.
While the surrounding mountains confirm that I am indeed deeply imbedded in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of South France, I am even more so immersed in Belgians. At one point this week, two couples and a family of five crowded around the pastel painted wine barrel that serves as a coffee table out on the rainbow tiled patio. There was barely enough room to house the four bottles of wine in circulation, but everyone seemed at home in the company. Amidst the layers of conversation, some chatter rose up out of one of the guests, pointing a finger at me.
"You came all this way, but have you even met a French person yet?" he exclaimed. Everyone laughed in a pitchy chorus. Of the twelve people crammed onto that patio, not one of them was French. Eleven Belgians and one American.
"What a scam!" I said. "I'm putting that in my WWOOF review: no actual French here."
"How is it, you say? The Embassy. You live at the Belgian Embassy," said Renaud, the father of the household, returning the joke.
There is evidence all over the house that I can see now after a closer look. The license plates on the family cars are marked with B's instead of F's.
The fridge is stocked with Orval beer, and there are matching glasses in the pantry. Those chalices are particularly precious to Renaud. Somewhere in our half French, half English conversations was a story about how the glass is made at a monastery, or was, and may be a lost art now. There is a standing joke that if I, as clumsy as I am, break one, I'm on the next flight out of here. "Je bois avec duex mains, vois-tu?"
There is a wicked sense of humor about them that is supposedly special to the Belgians. Two weeks ago, Renaud ran over his favorite, 18 year-old cat. It died later that same afternoon. There were tears yes, but later that same day he had resigned himself to saying, "shit happens" with a light hearted shrug. They also frequently renew the joke of my drinking problem--that the black, steel water bottle I compulsively keep with me is actually full of beer to keep away the shakes.
But Renaud's joke echoed with truth. July 14th came and went without much ruckus, but last night everyone turned up to celebrate Belgian's Independence Day. How do Belgians celebrate? With beer, mussels, and fries--all in overflowing amounts. They flocked to a restaurant on the edge of Latour, the only place big enough to seat everyone in town with this huge gravel patio, string lights, a walk-up bar, and a small stage. The tables were covered in paper for the occasion. My host parents and I arrived late. The table mat was already soaked in cooked sea water. Two empty carafes of wine stood among empty shells scattered everywhere.
Another round of everything was ordered, and then the celebrating really began. A single musician on stage with his guitar took his pick out of the drunk audience for volunteers. It wasn't long before a conga line of at least thirty people was winding its way around our table, trying to take Renaud and Aline with them in their wake. People cheered. People sang. People danced in their seats. The kitchen had closed almost an hour ago, but the last glass of wine had not yet been emptied. There was still more to celebrate.
The stars were clear by in the sky by the time we walked back to the car for the short drive up the road to the house. The neighbors had fallen quiet, satiated by sea food and merriment. Yes, I was indeed living at the Belgian Embassy.