When I lived in the mountains, on my way to the highway, I drove through the woods, along winding tree-lined country roads.  One house I passed had evergreen trees which were different:  they formed a hedge, and were trimmed.  They were high, but only about half the height of the trees left to their own devices.  They were sculpted:  narrow but blunt at the top, sort of like a head without a neck, and came down to very wide at the bottom, sort of like a body with a wide skirt but no waist.  They reminded me of the dancing girls at the fêtes in France.  The “skirts” ended about two feet from the ground, but I couldn’t see legs underneath, or pretty shoes.

One day, when my mother was talking to some French friends who lived in the next village, she was told about a family in France who wanted to set up a summer vacation exchange between their daughters and an English girl, so their daughters could learn English and the English girl could learn French.  The first year I would spend my summer vacation with them, the next year they would come to us.

My mother had spent a year in the South of France before she was married, so she was a zealous Francophile.  The idea that I could learn real French was exactly what she wanted for me; so it was organized, and I was packed off to spend the summer on the beach with a bunch of French teenagers.

That ensured that I would really learn French – with the proper accent!  As they say, you can say anything in French – as long as it is said correctly.  Teenagers aren’t exactly patient or forgiving.  If you want to be part of the conversation you have to be up-to-speed; they won’t wait for you to figure out what words to use.  At the end of the summer I went home really speaking French.

While we were at the shore, “Mamam” took us to all the local fêtes and we saw the dancers in their beautiful costumes:  the girls wore black silk velvet skirts, gathered to the waist, and vests heavily embroidered in bright colors; their blouses and hats were very-white lace, starched and in stark contrast to the black velvet of their skirts; the men wore pants gathered to the knees, also with white shirts and gaily embroidered jackets.  I don’t remember much about the dancing but the traditional costumes worn by the dancers made a vivid impression on me.   The sun was shining, the music appropriate and the memories happy.

Every time I passed my “Dancing Girls” I remembered those happy summer days, and smiled.