How a French Fête is Run

Chapelle de Teysseroles

My blogging rate has been a bit erratic in recent weeks. We have been slogging hard to prepare for the annual fête at the chapel of Teysseroles, which we are helping to restore. Now we can breathe a sigh of relief. It took place yesterday to great acclaim. Lots of people came, the weather was perfect, the meal appeared to go down well and most, judging by what people said, had a good time. Here’s how it went behind the scenes.

Fourteen people sounds like a big team of volunteers. Believe me, when you’re trying to deal with about 220 others, it’s not nearly enough. The preparations have been going on for weeks.

Committee decision required

Saturday morning was the time to collect about 30 tables and chairs from the commune’s warehouse and set them up. This was not as easy as it sounds: the placement of each table required a committee decision.

We had cleared the scrub in the wood near the chapel this year but the ground was still a bit uneven. We didn’t want our revellers breaking their ankles or sliding backwards into the undergrowth.

Getting there

On Saturday afternoon, the women prepared the starters in someone’s garage while the men continued connecting electricity and water. Yes, I’m afraid gender stereotypes are still going strong. Françoise had us well drilled. We peeled and sliced enough potatoes and tomatoes for a battalion, grated carrots and courgettes for a regiment and mixed enough salad dressing for a battleship to sail on. I’m not sure the health and safety police would have cared for the conditions in which we prepared the food. So far, we haven’t heard of any salmonella outbreak.

Dressing the tables, setting up our kitchen and getting the outdoor “church” ready for the open-air mass were the first tasks on Sunday morning.

Open-air altar

The temperature started to rise in more senses than one when the first punters turned up. The mass was at 11h00; they started arriving at 10h10.

Yours truly dealing with the punters

Since I speak English and French, I was drafted onto one of the tables d’accueil. This is where the fun started. We had to register and take money from people who had signed up for the meal and enrol people who wanted to join our association. They had to be welcomed (and since we know most of them this took some time with all the kissing etc.); given forms to fill in; membership cards; meal tickets; the right change; ticked off on a list; sold a short history of the chapel that we had produced for the occasion; and then pointed in the right direction.

Not being a Catholic, I’m afraid I found the mass tedious, especially as I had to sit through it all, being a member of the Parisot Choir, some of whom were drafted in to sing a couple of pieces. Singing outdoors without accompanist were not the ideal conditions. I’ll draw a veil over the rest.

Feverish activity

After that, it was all hands to the pumps. Serving 220 hungry French people (and a fair proportion of English) is not a task to undertake lightly. We thought we’d lost it when the grillades took a long time to arrive. The man we had engaged to do them worked like a man possessed and sweated copiously but he found it hard to keep up with demand. Fortunately, Alan grabbed the microphone and got the punters going in a canon of “Frère Jacques”, which kept their minds off the delay. After that, they entertained themselves, taking turns at the mike with varying degrees of competence.

Headless chicken in the throng

The SF took most of the photos on the day. Quite how he found the time to do it when I was running around like a headless chicken is beyond me.

Alan’s “Tue le rat” (kill the rat) game proved as popular as last year. He dropped “rats” (cuddly toys) down a length of drainpipe hitched at a 45° angle to a step-ladder and you had to hit them with a stick as they came out. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s fiendishly difficult.

Teysserolles fête - killing the rat 2 - compressed

Killing the rat

Jean-Claude then took the mike to announce the tombola results, complete with repartee in French and Occitan.

Friends enjoying themselves

The last ones left around 17h00. Then it was the washing up. All 220 knives and forks, bought at various vide greniers (car-boot sales) around the region and the bowls, plates and pans provided by the volunteers. Thankfully, the plates and glasses were disposable.

Today, we had to take the tables and chairs back to the mairie’s warehouse and ensure the site was clean and tidy. Then we shared out the leftovers – not many of those.

Now it’s over till next year. We’re meeting on Friday for the post mortem and to find out how much we made for the chapel restoration fund. Watch this space.

P.S. Inevitably, the loos got blocked up after the first hour…

The smallest room

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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.
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19 Responses to How a French Fête is Run

  1. Pingback: Bons Voisins – Good Neighbours | Life on La Lune

  2. I’m all out of touch with your news. I see from the next blog post that you raised a huge sum. Congratulations and admiration for all your hard work.

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    • nessafrance says:

      It was hard work but a lot of fun. We could do a lot of things better but are on a learning curve. People enjoyed it, anyway – that’s the main thing.

      Like

  3. I used to help at the annual snail feast….preparing the little beasts did wonders for my hands…
    The day itself was hectic, but so much fun, just as you describe.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I’m rather partial to snails – or at least the sauce they are cooked in – but probably wouldn’t care for the preparation. Which reminds me, there’s a man who breeds snails and sells them at our local market. I must find out more.

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      • Evelyn says:

        Is that the Caylus market? Sounds fascinating…might be worth a trip just to see his home-grown snails on offer!

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      • nessafrance says:

        Yes, it’s the Caylus market but it’s the Saturday not the Tuesday one. And it’s not held in the halle in the Place de la Mairie but in the Place du Lavoir at the bottom end of the main street. He comes from the Aveyron somewhere.

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      • The local snail breeder used to keep them in a sort of pit with an electric fence for security…there were lots of jokes with his neighbours about what happened to their gardens if there was a power cut.

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      • nessafrance says:

        Amazing. I’ve never heard of that. I really must find out more about this particular snail breeder and how it’s done. It’s all really rather repulsive but fascinating.

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  4. I really wish we had a fête in our neck of the woods, but I guess that’s what comes of living in a city. We did however have our school Kermesse which was really fun. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t help out but am inspired by your efforts, and intend to do so next year.

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    • nessafrance says:

      True, but sometimes they have repas du quartier in the cities, which are like fêtes but more restricted to the very local inhabitants. It was tiring but we had a lot of fun. Most of the day we were running on adrenalin.

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  5. Evelyn says:

    I drove by the chapel a week or so ago…where in the world did all those people park??? That part alone had to be a nightmare. Sounds like you did a splendid job, and it will take you until next year to recuperate. Is there any way for me to buy one of your French/English histories of the chapel?

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    • nessafrance says:

      There are two large, flat fields, which you won’t have seen driving past, and the farmer kindly cut the hay the week before so that people could park. We are tired but pleased that people seemed satisfied. I’ll email you about the history – it’s only a small booklet.

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  6. It looks as if you did a really, really good job. Congratulations. We’ve never been to our village fete, we’ve vowed to go this year but as the total population of the commune is 156 I think it’ll be a rather smaller affair!

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    • nessafrance says:

      We have had a lot of nice comments from people about the fête, both during and after the event. It’s in a good cause and people seem to be inspired by it.

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  7. amelie88 says:

    This is something I can see my mother getting involved in and really enjoying it. She used to sing in the choir at our Catholic Church in New York and did stuff with our church before her parents got ill and she then spent all her free time taking care of them. Looks like the hard work paid off! 😀

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    • nessafrance says:

      It was very hard work but it was worth it. I’m not a Catholic, so I’m afraid the mass didn’t do it for me, but it was appreciated by those who are.

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  8. Sue Whatmough says:

    Wow! What a great event. Sadly, our little village doesn’t manage anything very grand. Leaf and I are on the committee and frequently suggest ways in which things might go more smoothly, or be more fun, but we’re usually ignored. Up comes the brick wall. ‘We always do it this way,’ they say.
    I can remember really enjoying fêtes up-country in Tarn et garonne a decade or so ago. Never mind, everyone’s lovely and we’re pleased to be able to serve, clear tables, wash up etc.

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    • nessafrance says:

      There is a certain element of “This is how we do it” but they are also open to suggestions. There are some interesting cultural differences, though. We had more people in the end than we expected so we were flat out but it was fun.

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