Margaret and Dick   


June '04: Mother's Day

In France, Mother’s Day is the first Sunday in June.  There are posters in the shop windows for weeks in advance suggesting gifts.  The shopkeepers of Limoux have a lottery – a ticket for each purchase.  If you win the drawing you get 3 times your weight in euros.  Not a time for dieting.

The day arrives.  Dressed-up people emerge from bakeries with boxes tied in ribbons.  Unfamiliar faces are seen around town, grown children who’ve come back for the occasion.  All unrelated events such as bike rides end by noon so all can be back home in time for Mother’s Day dinner. 

From the house across our narrow back street, we hear loud North African music and increasingly raucous women's voices.  The Algerian couple who live there are quite integrated into society and speak perfect French.  Or at least the woman is well-integrated.  The husband spends his days at an Arab-friendly café drinking tea or coffee and chatting, just as he would do in North Africa .  Their daughter is fully integrated, with a career as an army professional.  Normally we hear little or nothing from their house.

But today is different.  Family and friends have gathered for an Arab Mother’s-Day party.  The music gets louder; the laughter gets more raucous, screeching hilariously.  There would be no alcohol fuelling this Muslim hilarity, just fun. 

They start clapping and I realize a dance has begun, perhaps a professional hired for the occasion.  The women’s voices and laughter get even louder.  They start the high-pitched ululating chant: uh-la-la-la-la-la…… uh-la-la-la-la…..  For some reason this thrilling sound also gives me the creeps.  My testicles try to crawl back into my body, in atavistic fear that a sharp knife may be out there somewhere.  Through the open window I see, vaguely, women of all ages, dressed in silks and moving to the music.  

I also hear the voice of monsieur, speaking softly and keeping a low profile.  This is a women’s party.  In a strict Muslim family there would be only women at this party.  But this is family is well-integrated into France.

The music, swelling to a climax every half hour or so, drove many of our neighbors to complain amongst themselves.  We loved it.  “At least it doesn’t happen every day,” said our next-door neighbor with the large scary dog.  His dog does bark, loudly, every day.


PS from 2007:  We've gotten to know these neighbors and have tea occasionally.  We learned that this party marked not only Mother's Day but also the birth of their grandchild.  Occasion for celebration!

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