Bonne Année!

31 December 2017 ~ 01 January 2018

First of all, Happy Birthday to my (real) mom! Coolest thing ever to be born on the last day of the year.

Just like my epic adventure here in France, the last day of 2017 was set to be epic as well. One of the most important sights in Arcachon was the Dune du Pilat – the largest dune in the entire Europe. And we set out to climb to the top.

It was nothing like I was expecting. I completely forgot about what made up dunes – sand. Combined with the weather that day, which was windy, it spelled disaster. I made the mistake of not wearing enough again. It felt like re-experiencing climbing the Vosges, except this time I went barefoot. Seeing the huge mountain of sand, I was not going to let the tiny particles get into my socks and shoes. Papa took my pair of Converse and tied them to his belt by the shoelaces. There was still a downside to keeping my shoes clean though – my feet were freezing in the sand. So much for warm sunny beach memories.

Five minutes into the climb, the wind started to gain speed and whipped up whirls of sand. I quickly turned myself towards the opposite direction and hastily adjusted my scarf to cover most parts of my face. We continued to mount, and I followed the steps of Papi by stepping on the footprint he had already made. The sand in that area was already firm from the pressure when he stepped on it, so it was kind of like a “staircase” for me. Yet despite the convenience, I was quickly losing energy. The strong wind was making it difficult for me to breathe and I could feel the dizziness lurking in the back of my head. Soon I had to tell my host family that I needed to sit down. While I sat carefully by the ledge in fear that the sand under me would break down any moment and slide down the steep hill, Papa took out his phone to take pictures, as he always liked to do. (So did Papi, who just got a new phone the day before and was learning to use modern tech electronic gadgets)

There were certainly people having lots of fun. Some were skidding down the sand hill, a few accompanied by their faithful dog companions. There was also a group of young men that placed themselves at different places on the hill and playing rugby. I feared the most for the one at the most bottom position, for he was responsible of catching the ball before it tumbled all the way down into the forest. While watching them, Papi told me about one of his friends who brought his skis to the dune and skied down the hill then climbed back up again – seven times. Given my weakened state, I couldn’t even imagine doing something like that. His friend came from the Alps though, so he was probably a semi-professional skier.

Standing at the highest point, we were able to get a great view. On one side of the dune was the ocean, where people can directly head into during summer. On the other side was the forest, which shrinks a little every year because of the dune. It’s what we call desertification, a phenomenon where greenery gradually disappears, swallowed up by sand. The sand cuts off the water supply to the tree roots, which results in the forest drying out and crumbling down. As we took the route back towards the entrance of the dune, we passed by the boundary of the dune and the forest. The trees nearest to the dune were mostly dead and scraggly, bending towards the ground as the trunks were no longer strong enough to support the plant.

We found a faucet by the trail, and I proceeded to rinse my feet. Seeing that I couldn’t get to the bench without stepping onto sand covered pavement again, Papa actually princess-carried me to the bench, which was pretty funny.

Mamie was at home preparing for New Year’s Eve. We walked through the door proposing that everyone get a drink of hot red wine. It was a pre-mixed brew already containing all the spices, and all we needed to do was to heat it up. When the hot drink touched the tip of my tongue, it was the definition of winter warmth. (Though the temperature was not very low in Southern France, I was still quite cold from the dune climbing experience) Along with the hot wine, we ate some mini crêpes. (I actually believed that was our New Year’s Eve dinner, but no, it was an “afternoon snack”)

Afternoon time
Mamie preparing crepes and Papi serving hot wine!

I showered to wash out all the sand that got caught up in my hair, and got a fair enough amount out of my ears too (ew).

Think about the stereotypical way of celebrating New Year – opening a bottle of champagne. I’d imagine popping open the cork right when the clock strikes midnight, but it really just varies for every family. At Papi and Mamie’s house, we opened the champagne to go along with the “apéritif”, small snacks and drinks that we take before the real meal. “Santé!” we said to each other as we clinked glasses. It means wishing good health upon the person.

I probably haven’t mentioned this before, but there are certain rules regarding clinking glasses in French culture. First of all, you must look the person in the eye, which is a form of respect. Also, you must not cross the path of other people clinking glasses, because it brings bad luck.

The much more beautiful tableware were brought out for New Year’s Eve. Everyone found their seats according to the name tag chocolates placed near the plates. We kicked off the dinner with an entrée – foie gras, a French specialty made from duck liver. I didn’t like foie gras the first time I tasted it, but I grew to get used to it. Besides, the homemade foie gras of Mamie was undoubtedly undeniable.

Then came the seafood that French people always eat on huge occasions – raw oysters. Besides that, there were also shrimps and lobsters. And, of course, fumed salmon with butter, bread, and lemon slices. I went with the salmon but also ate one lobster claw. After that I decided to stop myself from continuing with the seafood because I knew I might get an allergy reaction if I ate too much of it.

I thought the seafood was the end of the meal (before the dessert), but I was wrong. Mamie went back into the kitchen to prepare something, then out she came carrying a platter of beef steak, medium rare with that beautiful shade of red-pink seasoned with pepper and garlic. Even though I was already half full, seeing the steak still made my mouth water.

Dessert was a raspberry flavored ice-cream roll with a meringue base. After that, I was really so stuffed that I couldn’t send anything more down my digestive system.

We waited…and waited…and waited… Finally, there were 10 minutes left until midnight. I watched the time on my phone, and when the numbers jumped from 11:59 to 12:00, I quietly said, “C’est 2018…” (It’s 2018, I didn’t jump up or anything because I was already very tired)

Half a second later Papi jumped up from his chair and threw his hands up in the air, hollering “Bonne Année!” (Happy New Year) while going around the room planting kissing on everyone’s cheek. He’s definitely one of the most energetic elders I’ve ever seen.

We filled our champagne glasses once again and drank to the new year. Soon, I excused myself from the table and went to bed. My eyelids were already drooping by the time my head sank into the pillow, and before I knew it I was sound asleep.

 

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