I woke up this morning, knowing full well that it was a national holiday and that most everything was going to be closed. "La Fête du Travail", or Labour Day as the case may be. I didn't have to go to school but I did have a student to meet in the morning... such is the life of a freelancer. The most fascinating thing of course is the fact that France means business when it comes to public holidays. Sure, there are touristy areas still bustling and a few cafés open in my neighborhood, but don't expect to do much grocery shopping, or any kind of shopping for that matter. In NYC, government holidays usually mean offices are closed, but for the tragic layman who works their ass off in customer service, the industry just never ever sleeps. Even though the school system just had a two week break from learning in Paris, the fact that May 1 landed on a Thursday this years means that tons of families will take another opportunity to have a long weekend, whether their child has to miss Friday classes again or not. And next week? May 8 will bring another bank holiday and another round of how fast can we flee to anywhere other than Paris for a few days.
That being said, as I walked to meet my student this morning, I was completely surprised by a wide array of small tables set up on street corners displaying small bouquets of flowers. As I walked around, I literally counted between 10-15 vendors in a two block radius, some just a girl with a small basket selling her wares (very Eliza Doolittle come to think of it) and some a complete spread of mini-clusters of fleurs placed in colorful plastic vases. My brain wasn't so behind the times that I wasn't able to put two and two together and realize that it's May 1, May Day, and that perhaps there is some specific custom here. But I honestly didn't know what the real hubbub was about and why so many people were hawking their merchandise.
Either way, I am a complete sucker for anything miniature and cute and unnecessary. Though, I would argue the last point because what better way to brighten your day than a mini-bouquet? She rhymed, oh so cleverly... The best part, however, was yet to come... After finishing with my student, I wandered to one of the tables that had caught my eye so that I might purchase a perfumey parcel. A gentleman was standing there, clearly a customer, but he pointed at the price list so I could peruse. I was about to choose a bouquet and pay the girl selling the flowers, when the man told me in French that he was waiting for change, which explained why the girl was looking confused about what to do with my €5 bill. A moment later, another lady returned from across the street with what I can only assume was more change. As the gentleman proceeded to pay, I heard him say something to the lady, but I wasn't paying attention until he gestured to me. When I looked over, he told me that he was buying the bouquet for me because of the holiday. I admit I was incredibly appreciative and floored but still had no idea the exact meaning of the day. Of course I thanked him warmly, and the man replied in kind before being on way, no ulterior motive at all.
When I arrived back in my little apartment, I immediately looked up the custom... La Fête du Muguet, basically the holiday of the Lilly of the Valley. Apparently it is the tradition to give a small bouquet of these flowers to someone you love or care about, or even to just wish someone happiness and good luck. Every year little stands and tables pop up overnight to do this honor proud, and I saw almost everyone wandering with some petit fleurs in hand. Little did I know that I would be so fortunate as to have a complete stranger shine on my morning with such a lovely token of goodness and humanity.