PARIS, France — Champagne on tap. All the lobster you can eat. A jar of fois gras to take home. Topless carnival girls and male pole dancers.
This ain't your grandma's Christmas lunch. Oh wait — it is.
Or at least it would be if Granny lived in Le Barcarès, a small town perched on France's southern coast. Authorities there have found themselves under fire from auditors who say that 33,700 euros — the equivalent of $46,500 — seems like rather a lot to spend to give some old people their jollies.
That's how much Le Barcarès spent on its annual senior citizens' dinner in December 2010, according to a spending review covering the fiscal years 2007-2011 but published only this week. At that banquet alone, guests were free to enjoy:
- 1,100 half rock lobsters, at a cost of approximately $10,500;
- 77 kilos of hand-sliced salmon, $3,300;
- 150 magnums of Perrier-Jouët champagne, $9,400;
- 1,248 bottles of wine, $12,700;
- 1,040 jars of duck confit, $7,600;
- 904 jars of fois gras, $11,200.
And that's not to mention the further $85,000 the town spent on Christmas gift hampers for its pensioners and local officials, which it crammed with more fois gras, duck confit, and thousands of dollars' worth of chocolates.
"The town does indeed look after its old people and the municipal council is proud of that," the longtime mayor of Le Barcarès, Alain Ferrand, wrote in response to the auditors' complaints. Ferrand — who incidentally has a conviction for abusing public funds — defends the lavish tradition on the grounds that it promotes "conviviality" between the town's residents.
We have to admit, it does look like one heck of a party (albeit one held in the afternoon, because — naps). Here's footage of the last bash in December 2013:
Even if you don't catch what they're saying, the grins on the old folks' faces as they clap along to the scantily clad cabaret and giggle at risqué balloon sculptures should tell you what they made of it.
In fact, we're beginning to think that Le Barcarès is some sort of pensioners' paradise. Aside from the holiday banquet, the town organizes a special "seniors' week" in September, during which the local council lays on free classes for over-60s in everything from painting to Qijong, zumba to "laughing yoga."
Awesome, obviously, and also surprisingly shrewd. Le Barcarès depends heavily on tourism, and you know who has time, will travel, even outside peak season? Retirees. As Mayor Ferrand argues on his website, it's in the local economy's interest to show senior citizens a good time.
It's in his interest, too. Le Barcarès has just over 4,000 permanent residents, some 40 percent of whom are aged 60 and over. Think about it: if 1,300 people attended the seniors' banquet in 2011, that means the mayor wined and dined most of his largest voter demographic in a single evening.
The investment is evidently paying off: just last month, Ferrand was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote.