“A Splendid Occasion”, “A Lovely Setting”, “Delicious Food”, “The Music was Great”. These were comments made by members Sunday 6th September, following the first meeting of the ESU Loire Valley since March this year, when our lives were turned upside down by the Covid-19 virus.
The committee’s original ambitious plans for this special event had to be abandoned due to the current restrictions. Yet the gathering could not have been more successful. Members’ comments were quite right, but their selection of adjectives was not always correct. The setting was not just lovely: it was perfect. Fortunately, the weather was kind and thirty-five members, guests, and friends, were able to sit at tables on the terrace of the “Restaurant Plantagenêt” at the “Hôtel Croix Blanche” in Fontevraud. The association has always received a warm welcome from the hotel owners, Christophe and Mieke Chabenat, and this occasion was no exception. The troughs of pink geraniums decorating the terrace were simply lovely and added to the cheerful, carefree atmosphere.
Following a toast to the English-Speaking Union Loire Valley branch, the chairman welcomed those present, stressing that we must all be proud to be part of an association that clearly achieves its aims: to encourage communication between nationalities. She read out a message from Laure Chabenat, our hosts’ daughter, who had represented France at the ESU International Public Speaking Competition in London in 2018. In her letter, Laure, now a student of Sciences Politiques in Lille, expressed her gratitude for all the help the ESU has given for her, particularly with regard to improving her communication skills.
Our guests included Dr. Catherine Gaudin, Secretary of the board of ESU France, who had joined us from Paris for the occasion. The chairman, Lucia Dumont, was unable to join us and on her behalf, Dr. Gaudin congratulated the branch for all its achievements since its inauguration in 2010. Other guests included members of the first committee who, back in 2009 to 2010, spent so much time and energy working to establish the branch as we know it today: Maggie Coleman, the first Chairman, and Joan Homer, the Secretary.
The food was indeed delicious. Between courses, people were happy to chat to their table companions and to catch up with news of fellow members. The two musicians, Tony and Celine, entertained us with music that was indeed ‘great’. They had carefully considered the average age of those present when planning their programme and had taken pains to ensure that the repertoire included both French and English songs. We were treated to well-known numbers: by Edith Piaf, by Charles Aznavour, by the Beatles, and by Roberta Flack, among many, many others. Members sang along and were encouraged to clap to the rhythm if the lyrics escaped them.
The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful. The image of members dancing their way out of the courtyard at the end of a memorable afternoon will endure a long time.
After months of confinement and uncertainly people were obviously happy to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Our thanks to Christophe and Mieke, to the musicians, “Ambak”, and congratulations to the committee who had worked hard to ensure the maximum safety of all present. It most certainly was a ‘splendid occasion’, with delicious food, great music, all in a perfect setting.