All fêted out

Country dances under la halle

So much has been going on in this area during the past few weeks that I scarcely know where to begin. This is typical summer in rural France. For a couple of months there is a plethora of cultural events, concerts, fêtes and jumble sales taking place. On 1st September, someone flicks a switch and normal life resumes. Le Figaro magazine is already carrying features about la rentrée.

Personally, I won’t miss the sheaf of leaflets that appears under the windscreen wiper every time I park somewhere for five minutes. But it’s always a bit sad when the fête season is over for another year.

Celebrating rural life

It’s quite common for local fêtes to celebrate rural life in times past. I’ll describe two of them below.

The agricultural revolution came late to France, but it swept away the old way of life in less than a century. Scratching a living from the poor soil here was a thankless task, made even harder by the extremes of climate and the lack of water. Farmers therefore welcomed inventions such as harvesting and threshing machines and fertilisers that enabled them to increase their yields several-fold. Few people foresaw that this would accelerate rural depopulation and lead to the decline of the old cottage industries.

Our friend Claude told us that, among other innovations, tractors now use GPS to identify the parts of the field that need more or less fertiliser and automatically regulate the dose.

‘My parents ploughed with oxen,’ Claude said. ‘I can’t believe how much it’s changed in 60 years or so.’

Fête des battages at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val 

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

This fête is held in early August each year in the riverside town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Local producers sell their wares and a parade of old tractors and other ancient vehicles draws in the crowds. The highlight is a demonstration of how threshing was done with the early machines.

Waiting for the parade

 

Threshing machine

There is also a demonstration of walnut oil milling in the 19th-century oil mill, installed in a 15th-century building. This method of pressing oil dates back to Roman times. We crammed into the tiny space to watch a horse drawing the huge millstone over the shelled walnut kernels. In the absence of olive trees, walnut oil was widely used in this region for cooking and flavouring dishes.

Horse drawing the millstone

However, we didn’t see any oil: it was the wrong time of year. The walnuts are not ripe until early October and the oil is pressed in the late autumn. Our friend Jacques has promised to take us to an oil mill on the Lot – but we will have to provide at least 10 kilos of shelled walnuts if we want to take away our own oil. Apparently, it takes 35 kilos of whole walnuts to produce 12-14 kilos of kernels, which in turn produce about 5 litres of oil. We’re going to have our work cut out.

 

 

 

Fête de la fenaison à l’ancienne at Espinas      

Espinas, about which I have written many times, is a small hilltop village. It welcomes thousands of people to its fête every August when the villagers dress up in ancient costume and demonstrate the old métiers. Life-sized figures dressed in old clothes, representing the former inhabitants, are stationed around the village with explanations of the tasks they are engaged in.

L'apiculteur

Le rémouleur

Les jeunes mariés

Espinas also has a vintage tractor parade and there are demonstrations of harvesting and haymaking using machines pulled by oxen. I actually took the shots of oxen below at Saint-Antonin but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the same ones that appear at Espinas later on.

Oxen

I have to admit that we didn’t go this year. It was nudging 40°C last Sunday and we have seen it a number of times before. Apparently, a lot of people kept away because of the heat. However, more than 600 people sat down to the traditional repas campagnard in the evening.

I wrote an article about the French tradition of country fêtes in the July issue of the now sadly defunct The French Paper. I included Espinas as an example. Nadette Curato, who runs the Syndicat d’Initiative and organises many of the local events with husband René, kindly agreed to be interviewed for the article. 

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

Advertisements

About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
This entry was posted in Customs, French life, History, Places and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to All fêted out

  1. Paul Diamond says:

    Currently my parents, sister, husband and their 3 young children are all staying for 3 weeks in our house in the Dordogne, and they video skype with us every day or so to taunt us with stories of the villages fetes attended and other activities they are up, amazing meals eaten, wines drank etc. It all very depressing being so far away from it all, but at least we can live vicariously via their (mis)adventures and your wonderful blog. Cheers, Paul

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It’s a pity you can’t be there with them but I hope you can get back there soon. They probably think they’re being kind keeping you up to date with what’s going on, but it sounds like a kind of torture to me! Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I hope people enjoy it.

      Like

  2. I love the pictures of the French tractors! This whole post is so well done- very informative, and I felt as though I had been there with you. Wonderful pictures and writing.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you for your nice comments about this post. I see you have subscribed, too – thank you. I enjoy writing about French history, culture and customs as I experience them here in SW France, so I hope you’ll find something to interest you in future posts.

      Like

I love to hear from my blog's readers, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s