Looking back at the first La Vie Anglaise salon de thé summer
The salon de thé was a fund raising idea that became a huge part of our effort to throw ourselves highly visibly into village life. The revenue didn’t really justify the time and effort we put in, but as a way into the community it was a huge success.
We expected to open and close in August but by popular demand stayed on through September. It was a fantastic expression of acceptance and appreciation .
As I mentioned in an earlier post Bassan had a run of bad luck in 2014. Two of the three tent-poles of small-town French life, the bar and the “boulangerie” (artisan baker), closed their doors.
We still had a “dépôt de pain”, a shop that sells another village baker’s bread, and it’s France so of course the pharmacy stayed open, there was no longer anywhere to meet up, buy a coffee, or buy a piece of hand-made cake.
As newcomers in town, and not just not local but not even French, we were almost certainly the least likely solution to this problem. But we had already started to put in a lot of time into village activities.
We dressed up and popped corn and flossed candy for the “comité carnaval” (carnival committee) at Halloween, Christmas, the carnival, and the village summer music festival.
We started after school English classes, purely as volunteers. To carry on with that this year we’ve had to set up an “association”, one of the organised clubs that form the backbone of France’s social, hobby and charity activities.
With no idea how well it would go, and no income, we charged ahead and invested quite heavily in resources. We thought organising afternoon tea on the village Promenade on a couple of summer weekends might be a way to claw back some of those funds. One of our boosters on the carnival committee took the idea to the Mayor as a solution to Bassan’s café-lessness.
We had a meeting, and the LVA pop-up Salon de Thé was born.
We had the temporary use of a community building on the “Promenade“, the village square.
There are rooms around town for regular weekly or monthly meetings that all associations can use for free. The big shed on the Promenade is a special case, for what are usually one-off fund-raising events.
Clubs are usually restricted to a few bookings a year, so no single group is seen to have particular favour or advantage.
We’ve been in a privileged position to use it almost continuously in August. The mayor took a real risk, giving us unprecedented access to the building. There was a serious chance other associations might object. Giving us special treatment could be a public relations nightmare.
Operating throughout the week could also create problems with France’s labyrinthine business and tax laws. To be able to argue this was fund-raising and not some kind of grey market catering business we settled on opening just on Market days – Tuesday, Friday and Saturday – when other temporary traders and more importantly the people of the village would be in the square.
From the beginning there was also a time limit. We would only be able to run the salon de thé in August.
That seemed like a problem at first but as time passed it seemed less and less of a blow. Rising at cock-crow for a half-day’s work three times a week has been a culture shock after a whole year as full time Extended Leisure Citizens. It was an amazing experience, but it cost us a lot of the time we should have spent preparing for our other association activities.
French bureaucracy about qualifications and the hygienic preparation and sale of food means it would be almost impossible for Jacqueline to run a bakery business. The blurred edges around the salon de thé as an activity on behalf of the association made it possible for her to showcase her baking skills to lasting effect in the village.
We had our grumbles. If we’d wanted an early start we could have stayed at work. Tempers frayed around late finishes when Jacqueline has to bake until midnight.
Nevertheless we counted down through the last days of August with rising dread. Every day in the square has been an absolute pleasure, and we were addicted to the community life that built up around it.
As it turned out, so were a lot of other people in Bassan, and some of them had the ear of the Mayor.
So we were given the chance to stay on for another month.
The risks we’d all taken had paid off. We’ve brought some life back to the centre of the village and reaped the benefits with a small pile of euro coins heaped under the mattress. There was also a whole tribe of local people who trusted us to bring them a coffee, or a tea, and some delicious and different cake.
We also didn’t make the mayor look a fool.
So we stayed open for business Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings 8 am to midday through September.