This Is Debussy, But Not As We Know Him …
At the invitation of our wonderful neighbour, Monsieur Philipe Auclair, we attended the Festival Debussy at the weekend in Argenton-sur-Creuse, which is about 70kms west of Culan.
Monsieur Auclair is not only a well-respected composer in his own right, but a Debussy devotee and he is part of the festival’s organising committee.
We have grown to appreciate the French composer, as well as Ravel, as often we can hear their music wafting over the garden wall when Monsieur Auclair is in residence.
Debussy, in particular, we have come to love, and find his music soothing and full of mystical charm and ethereal beauty. I discover that he was an influence on jazz pianist Bill Evans and modernist composer Philip Glass, two musicians I also greatly admire.
It’s all so, well, very French. Back in East Sussex all we could hear from our garden was either neighbours shouting, dogs barking or motorbikes tear-arsing up and down the estate.
Another aspect of Monsieur Auclair that is undeniably French is the way he appears, quite unexpectedly, often when we are having lunch or dinner … “Bonjour!” or “Bon Appetite” he cheerfully exclaims.
Sometimes he brings us a case of fine Reuilly wine from a friend’s chateau and he is always welcome at our table. When the weather is cold he wears a care-bear sweatshirt, or when the weather is hot he pops over in just a t-shirt and boxer shorts and is always wearing a pair of crocs on his feet, even in the middle of winter.
We sit and talk about music and opera and life in Culan, as Monsieur Auclair was born in the town, while drinking wine. I have made arrangements with Martine, his lovely wife, to go around for French lessons as sometimes the conversation gets lost on me and I am in awe and slightly envious of how fluent Sadie has become and can seemingly converse in French with ease, whether it is sorting out a water bill on the phone, or discussing compositional theory with Monsieur Auclair.
After a week of high temperatures thunder storms are forecast for the weekend, but luckily they hold off on the Saturday for the Festival Debussy.
We invite other neighbours that we have met recently, Benoit and Isabelle, who live in the old town next to the Chateau. Both are early retired after working in insurance in Paris and we have become good friends with them.
Benoit is a music lover and guitarist and he has built his own studio in one of the outbuildings that he says Sadie can use, which is very kind of him.
Isabelle is looking after their twin grandchildren so can’t go to the Festival Debussy. Benoit brings along his godson, Nathan, and Thalia also joins us for an afternoon of high culture, food and wine.
We have a wonderful lunch in the main square of Argenton-sur-Creuse before heading to the festival site, where we are required to take a COVID-19 Rapid lateral flow test before entering the site.
We spot Monsieur and Madam Auclair manning the merch stall and they are pleased to see us. The main stage has a varied and free programme of music during the day and the festival is well-attended. It is in its 10th year and is one of the highlights of the French classical calendar.
The agenda also includes art exhibitions, installations and poetry reading along with the composer’s oeuvre. Debussy’s music has often been compared to the musical equivalent of impressionist painting and also inspired Van Gogh.
Away from the main stage we catch a performance of Pilot Fish Company, a modern dance ensemble, who give an enchanting interpretation of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, in a garden setting.
Our afternoon ends by bidding the Auclairs au revoir and we head back to Culan for an aperitif with Benoit and Isabella, and another couple from the old town, who they are friendly with.
As we sit in shadow of the Chateau and enjoy the company of new friends we feel we are finally getting a taste of French life at its best, as the town and country opens back up, after a almost half a year in isolation, and Culan really does feel like home.