We wandered up into LaBastide d’Armagnac square on Saturday afternoon to find the demonstration of Tai Chi and Chinese Calligraphy. We felt a little shy, as this was an event organised by, and for, the local community. We needn’t have worried – we were welcomed warmly and invited to sit in a circle to watch the Tai Chi. It seemed that a small group of Chinese people were guests in the town and had been invited to share something of their culture. We heard a mixture of French, English and Mandarin being spoken as the group communicated with one another. Nothing happens quickly in the South of France but after a while a diminutive Chinese lady, wearing a red silk two piece suit appeared, music began to play and she launched into the most incredible display of grace and strength. She wasn’t a young woman. We would guess mid sixties yet she was flexible and strong, at one point landing on the floor with one knee bent under her and the other leg out straight then springing back to her feet in one easy movement.
After the Calligraphy demonstration, we stayed for a while and attempted a little small talk. It is small in more ways than one but we’re doing out best to get over our reluctance to try for fear of making a mistake. The French people we have spoken to are always encouraging. We’re grateful for the two courses we took at the French Institute in Edinburgh where we dragged our school girl French out of the cobwebs and learned some modern conversational skills.
In the evening we walked back up to the Church for a Violin Recital by Liu Yuxi. To be honest we’d never heard of him and we planned to sit near the back in case it was dreadful. I’m embarrassed to admit that now but there isn’t anything much worse than a bad violinist is there?
As the audience settled down the last of the evening light left us in semi darkness apart from the one light above the piano. We translated the programme between us before it became too dark to see and realised we were about to hear two outstanding musicians. The music, an incredibly eclectic mix of Western and Eastern, Classical and Modern, had us completely captivated. We could barely believe we were there, in a Thirteenth Century Church in the South of France listening to this wonderful music and feeling a part of the local community, even if only for the day.
Oh yes! The Expat. In every magical story there is always a darker character and this story would not be complete without one. Earlier in the day, as we wandered around the little town trying to find out where to get tickets for the concert we met a man outside the church. He spoke to us in French – no surprise there – and we tried to ask him where to get the tickets. After a few minutes watching us struggle, he replied in perfect English, so perfect that it was obvious that he was British. We laughed, thinking that he had been teasing us a bit, but no trace of a smile passed over his face. He seemed less than pleased to have been rumbled. Later, when we arrived for the concert and again when we left he chose to ignore us completely, despite the fact that his role was obviously central to the arrangements for the concert. We wondered about him and his chilly air for a bit then decided instead to remember the warmth of the local people and the beauty of the music.
We started this journey wanting to bring a little kindness with us and we’re quickly discovering two things. One is that we are receiving more kindness than we are giving and the other is that the occasional chilly character might tempt us to feel uncomfortable but they can’t take away the extraordinary gifts we’re receiving from the lovely people we meet.