Colette and I were married in September and by October we were well established in our little house on the edge of the great Ubangui River and very much a part of the local civil and diplomatic party scene. Colette’s English teacher, Tim Browne, and his wife, Carole, had become good friends and they would frequently join us, and other friends, for barbecues on the front lawn. Other good friends included the Jacques and Augé and their two teen-aged sons. Brigitte Renault would arrive via the river in her inboard motor boat, the fastest on the river!
As was/is the custom in French speaking Africa, soon after our arrival we had given our own party to introduce Colette and it had been a success. More than 40 friends and acquaintances invited, my secretary at the US AID office in the Embassy engulfed in telephone calls of people who thought they should have been invited, many of whom I had never heard of. The crowd was such that arrival times had to be budgeted by the quarter hour so everyone would not arrive at once.
Now a year later and in anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays, in September the Embassy had put a group order for frozen turkeys and other goodies from Denmark, so the menu was already established. Over sunset drinks on the terrace overlooking the river with the Browns and the Augés the subject of Tfhanksgiving – a high profile American feast, came up and we planned a simple dinner. The issue of additional guests was discussed and we agreed to keep the group small, say 12 persons. The goal had been set, and the execution was the next step.
A week or two later Tim dropped by and said with excitement that they had written friends in England about the Thanksgiving project and said friends, an airline pilot and his wife, replied they would fly to Bangui for the occasion. Another French friend heard about the project invited himself and his wife, and said parents would come down from France for the occasion. The guest list became longer.
The turkey was at least 20 pounds so we were safe. The great day approached. I would cook the turkey, and the Browns and Augers would prepare other dishes.
On the equator the daily weather is fairly predictable. The big rains come in April-May, and a shorter rainey season in September-October. The hot weather without rain is more or less from Ocgtober until the spring rains begin. December and January are splendid! So we had no concern about planning an outdoor activity. Chairs and tables were borrowed from the Embassy. Now we had to cook the dinner.
I had decided to do a corn-bread stuffing, so my battered copy of The Joy of Cooking was brought out. Jacques Augé said he would help and the late evening before the schedule feast we set to make corn bread stuffing following the recipe from Ms. Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking. The guest list now numbered more than 20 persons, so we set up an assembly line for measuring, mixing, and baking. I
By midnight we were done, Jacques went home, and I set the alarm for 4 AM and went to bed. Too soon the larm went off and I went to the kitchen and lit the oven, stuffed the turkey, and popped it into the oven and returned to bed. Our cook and houseman would come in by 7 and would take over the responsibilities of watching the turkey, setting up the tables and chairs and preparing for the onslaught of guests.
By 12 noon the guests had started to arrive, men in shorts and flipflops, the women in a wide variety of costumes from the African version of the Hawaiian mou-mous (?) to skirts and shorts. Dorothy Parker put it neatly that candy is fine but liquor is quicker. There was a wide variety of thirst quenchers – guests brought Champagne, white or red wine, and of course there were G&T’s.
Beside the turkey the highlight of the afternoon was reading aloud and passing around copies
Buchwald’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdue
By Art Buchwald
Thursday, November 28 1996; Page B01
The Washington Post
Thursday, November 28 1996; Page B01
The Washington Post
[ In 1953, during my tour of duty with the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara, my tough sergeant from Marseilles said to me, "Why do all the American recruits refuse to eat anything but turkey on this day?"
I told him I was sorry but my lips were sealed. He then poured honey on my head so the ants would get me. That's when I broke down and talked.]
One of the most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of pilgrims (Pelerins) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde), where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine) in a wooden sailing ship named the Mayflower, or Fleur de Mai, in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them how to grow corn (mais). They did this because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good they decided to have a celebration and because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by the Peaux-Rouges.Every year on le Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a shy young lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant:"Go to the damsel Priscilla (Allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth (la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action (un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe), offers his hand and his heart -- the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you understand, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war (Je suis un fabricant de la guerre) and not a maker of phrases.Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballé), friendship prevailed over love and went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow (rendue muette par l'etonnement et la tristesse).
At length she exclaimed, breaking the ominous silence, "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ("Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance?")
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for such things. He staggered on, telling her what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally, Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ("Chacun à son gout.")And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes, and for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grand fête, and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
(C) 1996, Los Angeles Times Syndicate . Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company