We're in the final stretch here in Saumur, and the stagiaires aren't quite yet ready to leave. While they've expressed their excitement to see their family and friends, they're also sad to have to leave their host families. And yet in just a few days, we'll be hosting our farewell show with songs and skits as a gift to the families. The students are hard at work memorizing their lines and lyrics, so I think we will have a very nice show this Saturday. After that, it's off to Paris! Before I get too far into the excitement ahead, however, there is plenty to be said about the last few days in Saumur.
On Thursday, July 14, we witnessed a celebration of the French Revolution simply known as the fête nationale (which we refer to as Bastille Day in the States). We started out the day with a military ceremony, where several officers were awarded medals and a new rank. Thanks to the Mairie, the students and their host families had a front row view. We then joined the crowds to watch a parade that went through the centre-ville.
Military service members, police members, and firefighters were applauded as they passed through the streets. One of the locals explained to me that Saumur has a strong military presence, and so it is reflected in its July 14th celebration. We were then invited to return to the Mairie for the mayor’s annual reception and speech. The mayor arrived with several other city officials and began his speech with a fairly somber tone. He explained that rather than give his usual speech, he would like to honor five French soldiers who the night before, like many more before and probably more to come, lost their lives in Afghanistan. One of these soldiers, we learned, was from Saumur. The mayor asked the crowd for a moment of silence, which everyone respectfully observed. Afterwards, we were invited to drinks and snacks, then students left to spend the rest of the day with their host families.
Many had a big dinner with their family and friends before ending back up in town later in the
evening. Huge crowds showed up along the Loire for the night-time festivities, which included an outdoor concert and ball, and later into the night an incredible fireworks display. The bridge was lined with people watching the fireworks that were shot just in front of the river and reflected in the water. The students certainly enjoyed having the day off to watch the French celebrate the beginning of their republic and to note the differences in our celebrations. With just a week left of classes, however, we were back to work this past Monday for our last lessons.
With such little time left, we had a very busy week planned this week. On Monday afternoon, we went on our canoe trip that was offered to us by the Mairie. We took a bus up to a nearby town and, with the help of a guide of course, we canoed in groups of two down the Loire back to Saumur. While it wasn't raining, thankfully, there wasn't much sun either, and the wind picked up rather strongly about halfway through the trip, making it a somewhat difficult journey, but we did have the opportunity to experience the Loire in a different and beautiful way. Despite showing up to school the next day incredibly exhausted, the students were hard at work in classes and in preparation for the upcoming fête des familles. We are holding thorough rehearsals, tightening up every detail of the sketches they've created, and we're quite impressed with the progress they've made. I think their families will be pleased with their farewell gift.
In just about a week (it hardly seems possible!), the students will be on the plane heading home, but between now and then there is more work to do and more memories to be made, so the adventure is hardly over yet. You'll be hearing from me at least one more time here, and then it's up to the stagiaires to tell you the rest. Bonne nuit from us all in Saumur!