Monday, September 28, 2009

La Rentree

We are just back from two weeks in the United States. While a terrific vacation, I would call it more productive than relaxing - what a whirlwind. And now we are back in Brussels. And it feels like home. And that feels good.

In the French culture the "back to school" time in September has an official name - La Rentree. I wrote previously how folks leave Belgium (or France) for at least a month every summer to go on holiday, leaving signs in shop windows that they will be back soon. My mother-in-law heard this blurb about La Rentree on NPR and I thought it was an apt description:

It is true, there is a distinct change in the air from Summer to Fall around here. The cooler weather is upon us and the routine of normal life resumes. We are taking the advice of the French and have some La Rentree Resolutions:
1) Potty Training - Part Two
2) Swim Lessons for Connor
3) Reduce the amount of juice - evolving to only water and milk (to minimize cavities)
4) Tackle the remainder of our "to do" travel list in the next 6 months
5) Exercise and eat healthy
6) Prep and ready myself for returning to work when we get home

Here is the transcript of the above NPR audio:
Every September, Paris buzzes with renewed excitement and energy. It's la rentree - an expression that translates to the return. It's like one giant back-to-school for the whole country, the entire nation returning from a long summer's break. This is a country that takes its summer vacation seriously -no three-day weekends or a paltry week at the beach. Vacationers even have names depending on which month they take off. Those who go on holiday for the whole of July are juilletistes. If you take the entire month of August, you're an aoûtien. Now, all those tanned and rested juilletistes and aoûtien are back in the city gearing up for a new year. The street markets are bustling again, as colorful vendor stalls spill over with summer fruits and vegetables. And neighbors and friends hail and greet each other with a flurry of cheek kissing, despite the warnings about swine flu. Others gather in groups on the sidewalk, smiling and talking animatedly. Small children with nannies in tow frolic between the vendors' stalls, and a new crop of babies seems to be making its debut. Young mother Laurents Marmot is standing in front of the cheese seller's stall holding a chunk of Roquefort and her new son Antoine, who was born in July. Marmot says la rentree itself is a rebirth. La rentree in September is a lot like the New Year in January. A lot of people make resolutions and make a new start. Paris is bursting back to life after the doleful month of August, when every other shop is shuttered and the streets are full of tourists but empty of Parisians. It's as if someone has flipped a giant light switch and turned the city on again. Neighborhood butcher Michele Sinai is back behind his counter. He lifts a giant beef rib cage out of his window and carves up a thick entrecote steak for one of his customers. Sinai has run his busy butcher shop on Rue Saint-Charles for more than 30 years, except during the month of July when he puts a handwritten note in his window that says gone for the annual closing. We work hard all year, and we're all packed together here in the city, so you've got to get away for a month. When you return, life starts up again and you're ready for it. I observe la rentree in full swing from my vantage point on the terrace of the newly reopened Cafe Maribeau. As he brings my frothy cafe creme, my waiter admits he's a little bummed to be back, but he seems a minority among such high spirits today. Fall rains and broken resolutions will come soon enough, bringing the scowls this city is famous for. But for now, at least, it's la rentree and Paris is glorious.

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