Monday, March 13, 2006

Me et Henri IV

When I was growing up, I rebelled against being part French. It had given me a last name that no one could spell or pronounce, got me in trouble with teachers who figured that since my family had kept the French pronunciation of our last name I must be able to speak French (this continued through college), and who, on the whole, seemed to be pretty snotty.

So, of course, DS#2's middle name is that same last name I fought with for 25 years.

Ligue Henri IV is a fraternal organization based in San Francisco. Originally, members were from the Berne Region of France (not too far from Lourdes), where Henri IV was from. They are sheepherders. Or, as my grandfather used to claim, French hillbillies.

Some of their descendants still bear traces of their peasant origins. We're built solid and low to the ground. The men have barrel chests; the women ample hips. Most are brunet with olive skin that does not burn easily. And for some reason, we have prominent noses, as can be seen in the picture of Henri above.

DS#2 got the nose as well as my name, although he is much taller than most of the men on my dad's side of the family.

Once a year, the Ligue hosts a banquet. Although my dad is gone, one brother is a member and my mother is the widow of a member. We sing The Star Spangled Banner and La Marseillaise. The pastor of Notre Dame des Victoires sings a French grace (I can manage the Sign of the Cross in French--that's about it!). The Counsel General says a few words about the friendship between the Americans and the French. The President of the Ligue makes a speech--lately, it's been in English, native French speakers becoming rather scarce.

But, really, my family goes because it's an excuse to leave the kids at home, dress up (it's a tuxedo and evening gown affair), eat, drink, talk, and dance. There is a nod to the traditional French culture, including a slide show that inspires me to visit this area--someday. (Sadly, my dad never made it back to the village his grandfather came from.) It's also one of the few events where the older women proudly wear their fur coats--and this past Saturday night, it was cold enough to justify wearing one!

But all is not stiffly formal. One of the most popular dances is "The Chicken Dance" where folks flap their arms and wiggle their hips and spin around in circles while the music plays faster and faster.

Perhaps if the French were to dance this in Paris, they would be able to laugh at themselves and resolve some of their issues.