Ever since we first met, Guylène has talked about renting a gite and inviting a bunch of friends in for a weekend together for her 50th birthday. Today was the big day. Some friends of her family own three chalets in the hamlet of Le Pelly (6 chalets total) in the Cirque du Fer à Cheval – a horse shoe shaped valley not far from her weekend studio in Samoens. They let her use one of them for Sat & Sun.
It sits halfway up a hillside with a wide meadow below. A flat area out side the door with picnic tables in the shade of a huge old tree is perfect for outdoor gatherings. The plan was to have apertifs outside starting about 6:30 pm, then crowd into the long thin room on the ground floor for dinner. The two upstairs floors had beds and matresses for those from out of town to spend the night. Guylène herself was preparing the apertifs and dinner – for 25.
Our schedule: go shopping for bread and other last minute items, finish the projects connected to the speech she was going to give, eat lunch, leave no later than 3:00 pm for the one hour drive to Le Pelly. Set up the tables, make the aperatifs and set them up outside on the picnic tables overlooking the meadow, cook the dinner, take a small siesta, and be there to greet the expected guests as they arrived! I had no idea how it would all get done, but have learned never to underestimate Guylènes organisational skills or her ability to get by on very little sleep. Though she went to bed long after the 1:30 when I did, she was up at the rising of the sun, and by the time I arose the hall was lined with large plastic shopping bags filled with the items on her well organised list, the contents well organised by bag into expected time and purpose of use.
After a quick trip to the local supermarché we stopped by her parents’ house. Her mom had made several square savory cakes, and picked a flat of strawbwrries from her garden. We took a quick tour of the garden and the new wooden tool shed her dad had built. By the time we returned to Sallanches, her daughter Claire had arrived. She and I were delegated to tie ribbons onto the ‘medals’ (actually construction paper hearts inscribed with an ‘award’ for each person attending, the award wildly ranging in seriousness.)
There was barely room to squeeze in the car when we headed off to Le Pelly where Claire and I were delegated to set the tables, and prepare the appetisers. I realized that Guylène’s strategy was to keep the dinner and appetisers very simple – and to delegate, delegate, delegate. Just as we arrived in Le Pelly it started to thunder, and the thunder was soon followed by the one thing we did not want, rain.
Amazingly enough it stopped just as the first guests began to arrive. It was really fun meeting so many people I had heard stories about, some cousins, friends from high school, friends from work, friends who share her love of walking and sketching. It was so wonderful to see other camino friends, Beate, and Daniel & Christal (& their dog Patch.) I started to write that I particularly enjoyed meeting Suzanne, Veronique, Christian, Beatrice, Mariac, Bernard… But in fact everyone contributed to making a comfortable and welcoming experiance. People were very patient with my heavily-wrong-verb-tensed and noun-missing French. (forget the accent). I spent a lot of time listening and gradually began to be able to follow parts of conversations, ranging from the horrors for women in Eastern Congo to the SDF scandel to anecdotes about other attendees, their children, their parents, watching a bird building a nest above a challet window.
As it got dark we crowded inside for dinner, followed by Guylène’s speech, awarding the awards, cleaning up, singing happy birthday, opening presents, more talking, all of which proceeded at a leisurely and relaxed pace until we retired well after 2:00 am.
Following breakfast in the morning we all walked together around a loop at the base of the walls that form the Cirque du Cheval à Fer- maybe 3 miles? We walked slowly. Lots of dramatic rock formations with precariously perched woods and alpine meadows, upper peaks still streaked with snow.
Beate began searching for words to a – unbelievably – Georges Moustaki song (Guylène commented that the foreigners knew him better than the french). From there we started singing songs including Amazing Grace and a German song by Schubert. Suzanne and Guylène have particularly melodic voices. The afternoon thunder showers came a little early leaving us a bit damp but far from drenched.
Back at the challet it was time for a leisurely lunch, cleanup, saying good-bye to new and old friends.
By the time Guylène, Yoland, Beate and I closed and secured the shutters, locked the three locks and returned the keys to their various hiding places it was after six o’clock and the end of an excellent party.