For weeks I’ve been hearing about the nanny kids’ upcoming fête de l’école (or, school party). At l’école Notre Dame de S.R, and other primary schools throughout France, it’s traditional to throw an end-of-the-year party for the students, parents and neighborhood. What a fête is traditionally comprised of is unclear, but at S.R the kids put on an annual show for their parents and neighbors before everyone sits down together to eat, drink wine and champagne (of course) and celebrate the coming of summer.
Though I’ve been hearing about this spectacle for weeks, my understanding of it was pieced together from the little bits of information sporadically offered to me by P and E. Last year was so much better, E would complain. I was a dame de la cour. (A lady of the court). This year, P was proud to be a grand prêtre, whatever on earth that was, and E was devastated with her teacher’s choice to dress the entire class as people-sized mushrooms.
As far as I could gather, it was going to be something straight out of The
Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever – a motley assortment of boys in weird feathery hats and like dresses, but for men (P’s description of his own costume), animals and fungi prancing around through the streets of the 1er arrondissement.
On Wednesday there was a meltdown because the mushrooms were all supposed to wear white shoes, and E was going to ruin the show in her palest green Bensimons. There was stomping, door-slamming and coercing of a friend’s mother to call and convince the nanny mom of the necessity of a new pair of white Bensimons, but in the end, green it was.
On Thursday, I was completely befuddled as P sashayed around the kitchen island, giving me a sneak preview of his part in the spectacle. It’s going to be so weird Halley, he told me, swaying back and forth with his face and arms raised toward the ceiling. I’m the grand prêtre, well okay, actually there are two of us, and WE come down the steps first next to Tintin. Then we do this. And he twirled once more around the island, waving his hands spastically above his head.
On Friday I finally looked up grand prêtre, and didn’t become any less confused. A high priest? P is a high priest dancing with Tintin, and E is a mushroom – what on earth kind of show was this going to be? It all became clear later that evening when E finally chanced to mention that the entire spectacle was dedicated to Tintin. Georges Remi, or Hergé, as he was popularly known, was born at the end of May in 1907 – the spectacle wasn’t at all the wildly disorganized grab bag I’d imagined it to be. It was a celebration of the creator of Tintin’s would-be 100th birthday. All of a sudden everything made sense.
On Saturday, P asked me to please come see him dance down the steps of the église as a grand prêtre. Also on Saturday, E asked me to please avoid the neighborhood at all costs – apparently dancing as a giant paper-mâché mushroom is not exactly a ten-year old girl’s dream role. Unfortunately for poor E, I’d been hearing about this spectacle for so long that I couldn’t resist. Rachael and I carefully scheduled our workout group around my date with the schoolchildren of S.R.
Bright and early this morning, C and I found ourselves leaning against a police barrier on the rue St. Honoré, awaiting the end of messe in the church and the beginning of the spectacle. Leaning against the railing next to me was an elderly Parisian lady with a large SLR camera. She gave me a big smile when I arrived and asked, Vous aussi, vous venez chaque année? Vous semblez trop jeune d’avoir un enfant dans le spectacle. (Do you come every year too? You look too young to have a child in the pageant). I explained that no, I’ve only been living here for a year but that I babysit for children in the show. She was delighted with my explanation and assured me that we wouldn’t be disappointed.
By 11h30 the street was packed with parents, priests and neighbors as we all anxiously awaited the appearance of the children. Class after class danced down the church steps, dressed as space explorers, alligators, senioritas, forties ladies, mushrooms, Tintins (there was at least one Tintin for each class) and yes, grand prêtres, before they left to parade through the neighborhood. Turns out P was an Incan priest, in a feathered headdress, a shiny golden robe and piles of bracelets and necklaces. E was indeed a giant dancing mushroom, and green Bensimons or no, I’m quite sure that no one was focused on her feet.