Festivals and Fetes

During our stay in Gers we observed the local community take advantage of the long, sun filled days of summer to celebrate life. Usually revolving around food and wine, there were community dinners, evening markets, historical fetes, bull fighting events, antique fairs, jazz festivals and even a 5km wine tasting run.

Our first ‘local’ event was music in the nearby town, which we saw advertised outside the local supermarket. Friday night, 8.30pm, music, all welcome, and a telephone number posted for reservations. We couldn’t quite figure out what the reservations were for, and so decided that we would just turn up and see; if we were not admitted, we would feign surprise and ignorance and hopefully be allowed to attend. So, on the night we arrived in the town early and finally managed to go to the ‘Brocante’ restaurant that had been closed whenever we decided to visit on previous occasions. We duly sat at our table directly in front of the stage, which had been set up earlier in the day. Seats were placed in lovely straight lines in front of the stage and people started to arrive. We ate a lovely meal of Thai Green Curry; who would have thought a tiny village in rural France would serve the best green curry we had eaten outside of Thailand. The restaurants and streets began to fill with neighbors from around the area, air kissing each other in greeting, catching up on the local news and preparing for an evening of wine and song. Children chased each other around the square, dogs yapped sniffed, and there was an air of expectant joviality around the town. Eventually, a band appeared on the stage and began playing what sounded like folk music. Musicians on guitars and accordions, whistles and flutes, and pianos and drums, sang out into the evening air with the audience tapping and clapping along. After a few songs, another group came on, who sang some golden oldies and some classic rock, but quite frankly, the folk singers were much easier on the ears! Nevertheless, it was a pleasant evening and we were quite impressed by the turn-out in such a small village.

Our second ‘local’ event was quite an experience! Moules Frites Night in the even smaller village closer to our home. On this occasion, the owner had booked tickets for us and provided the pamphlet with all the information. Again 8.30pm start, so we arrived at the ‘Salle de Fetes’ (community hall), not knowing anyone, but followed the protocol and gave our names at the registration desk. The local mayor was in charge and gave us a quizzical look, but when we advised of our owner’s name, he recognized our reservation, so we were in! The bar was open, and the beer, pastis and floc were in full flow. After our first drink, and a stilted conversation with a very pleasant French neighbor, we were pleased to see an English acquaintance arrive. He explained that every town Mayor would organize a weekend of activities each year, to bring the community and farmers together. The day before had been a walk and horse ride, today they had arranged this evening meal, and tomorrow would be a picnic, which we were duly invited to. More drinks ensued, and a much easier conversation was had with our English friends. The evening was fine and nightfall not yet with us, so we were gathering outside the hall for a considerable time and my stomach had started to rumble so badly, I’m sure they thought a thunderstorm was on the horizon. Finally, at 10.30pm we were ushered into the hall, where long trestle tables had been neatly arranged, and we were guided to our seats. Wine was provided and poured generously, and after another 30 minutes the food arrived. Large bowls of steaming mussels, and buckets of lovely duck fat fries, accompanied by crusty hunks of bread and of course more wine. Everyone was tucking in, laughing, chatting and generally having a good time. Dessert of strawberry cake arrived around midnight and at 12.30am, the music began! By this time, my head was fuzzy, my eyes were droopy, and my tongue had turned into a creature unto itself, furry and rolling around, not knowing where to settle. We said our goodbyes and arrived home and fell into bed. The next morning, we got up early to take the dogs out for their morning walk. Oh dear, everything was still spinning, the mouth was still dry and furry, and our legs wobbled and buckled as we walked the field. We sat still for the rest of the day, not able to attend the lovely picnic at 12 noon – there would be wine…ugh. We would never have thought a night out in the community center of a tiny French village would render us so dysfunctional – these farmers know how to party!

We recovered in time to visit the Jazz Festival in Marciac. A three-week event in July and August that takes over the whole town. A large pavilion outside the town hosts an array of jazz star for the duration, and this year Sting was on the bill. In the town itself, the market square is taken over by street vendors, food stalls, a stage where musicians play throughout the day and night, and there are many pop-up stores and restaurants all vying for business. The place buzzed constantly, and we enjoyed several visits there. Parking was free, wine and food was in abundance and we spent afternoons and evenings, sipping and munching the fare, and listening to a variety of jazz styles, while watching everyone having a good time.

Vide Greniers – antique fairs were very common in the summer and we happened to visit a couple during our stay. So many pieces of furniture from old chateaux, pottery and kitchen equipment, and paintings.

Bull fighting is still popular in the area, being close to Spain and many of the towns still had the arenas. Many of them were now used for other events and not all were for bull fighting. The bulls are no long stuck, and so it has become more humane, but we still gave it a miss. Night markets were also very popular in the summer. Towns would coordinate dates and most days there was a night market somewhere. Local farmers, artisans and business would take advantage of the light nights and peddle their wares here. Along with local restaurants offering special set meals, and some stalls selling food, there was always something tasty to eat.

Wherever we travelled in the area throughout the summer, there was always something going on in the small towns and villages. There was one village that had scarecrows in every garden and on every corner of the street. All girl scarecrows, and nothing advertised… I never did find out what it was about but it did remind me of a horror movie I once watched!  Another town, Lupiac, which is the birthplace of D’Artagnian re-enacted a historical event with musketeers on horses and fighting in the street. There were motocross races, horse races and many art, photography and sculpture exhibitions which were usually held in the local church or in the Chateau. A great way to get people to support the local area.

It was lovely to see the local communities come out to gather, eat and drink and support each other in their business endeavors, and we were lucky enough to experience a little of the local culture, meet some very interesting people and enjoy their hospitality. The towns and villages may have been small, but the hearts of the people and the welcome we received were huge - our Moules Frites experience will be one to remember for a very long time……

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