Today, I celebrated a wonderful 23rd birthday in France! I don’t typically initiate grand birthday celebrations. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I would tell the other singers about my birthday - I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to make my birthday special. To my surprise, I already felt so close to the other singers by the second day, and I knew that I wanted to celebrate with them. It’s also hard to hide one’s birthday when our conversations are filled with horoscope signs and birth months!
My first birthday indulgence was the opportunity to sleep a bit later. Some of us stayed awake playing ping pong and foosball until midnight so that we could ring in the special day with a very dramatic rendition of Happy Birthday. I awoke ready to enjoy an exciting and relaxing first day off in France. We had planned a morning excursion to a market in Issigeac, a local town. When I joined the breakfast table, I was sad to spot cold rain outside. The market is located outside, so another dreary day would not bode well for our excursion. As we ate, the rain started to lighten, and we decided to proceed with the trip.
Hélène, one of our wonderful coaches, drove Temple and myself to the market in her car. This was a great opportunity to practice some more French conversation and get to know Hélène a little better. Since so many languages are represented among our singers and faculty - English, French, Spanish, German, and more - we have a very symbiotic linguistic community. I feel further supported in my French studies when I can help Hélène and other French speakers with an English translation here and there.
Issigeac offers a quaint, rustic appeal, but the market itself was immensely popular. (Quaint is one word that was completely new to Hélène!). It was difficult to maneuver oneself around the many attendees within the narrow streets. This was my first experience with a market that strings along various streets. I have visited many farmer’s markets in the United States, which often fill vacated parking lots, as well as other European markets that sprawl around an entire square. The linear rows of stands along the town’s streets allowed us to appreciate the surrounding buildings and picturesque alleys that branch out from the city center. The vendors offered a diverse array of products, from foie gras to leather bags. I certainly enjoyed many of the edible samples that were on display. I was so pleased to find one of my favorite pastries, a canelé, at one stand. This is one of my favorite treats, and I was able to buy a massive, delicious pastry for about one quarter of what it would cost back home in Virginia. It was already turning out to be a wonderful birthday.
After helping my friend pick out a light linen dress, I stumbled upon a stand featuring wooden watches and sunglasses. The watches charmed me, and I couldn’t resist purchasing one as a birthday present to my self. The market was a success!
We enjoyed another lovely lunch upon returning to Les Jouandis. All felt normal, but there was a surprise brewing. I was shocked that the staff had planned for a cake to be shared in honor of my birthday - with candle and all! They also guessed my favorite flavor - lemon. I received another dazzling rendition of happy birthday, and all I could think about was my gratitude for the kindness and generosity from my fellow musicians.
Long warm naps, sunbathing, and pool volleyball filled the rest of our sunny day off (there may have been a bit of score study squeezed in there too). I enjoyed yet another stunning afternoon walk before dinner and was so grateful for the company of my new friends. I am still blown away by the excitement and energy that everyone shared with me. I think that this speaks to the kind character that fills the chateau’s halls, and I’m looking forward to reciprocating the warm camaraderie that I received today. With an extra year added to my age, I am feeling ready to take on a great week of music - and, our first concert on Friday!