Monday, May 24, 2010
Well it would seem we have survived yet another Pentecostal ‘Féte Locale’. Fortunately it only happens once a year, because it can amount to a good deal of sleep deprivation … if you happen to live in the centre of the village, as we do.
The féte, as in most French villages lasts over the weekend, and usually kicks off on Friday evening. For the past week lorries and big caravans have arrived, parked up on the salle de féte car park, and pitched camp. Like Boer ‘vortrekkers’ the caravans corral the dodgems, the floating ducks, the tombola, and the candy floss stall into a cosy circle. At the far end is the stage, from whence all the noise comes, with lights and amplifiers brooding silently over the fairground until the hour comes for it to spring into life. Round about 10.30 a deep, but persistent beat will erupt and it will continue until dawn breaks. We‘ve got used to it now, and thankfully, due to our thick walls and heavy shutters, when we go to bed we seem to be able to shut it out and get a reasonably good night’s sleep.
Friday and Saturday are given over to ‘les jeunes’. The proceedings kick off with a village ‘repas’ on Friday evening arranged by the salle de féte committee. The committee are all young people, which is in direct contrast to village committees in the UK, where the average age is about seventy. The food isn’t exactly ‘gourmet’ but the wine and digestifs flow, a good crowd turns up and before long someone will murder ‘La vie en Rose’, or ‘Mon Legionnaire’, before the oldies stagger home and les jeunes arrive for some unadulterated house music … or is it garage? Whatever it is it sure ain’t Piaf.
This year Saturday night was somewhat ‘livelier’ than normal. Around four in the morning some over-excited revellers decided to let off a barrage of thunder flashes. Not the great big ‘simulated- battleground- trainee- squaddies- for the use-of’ sort of thunder flashes, these were the domestic variety, but in the confined area of a narrow main street and village square they might just as well have . World War 3 (according to Steven Speilburg) was in imminent danger of breaking out, and even when the ammunition was exhausted the troops still had plenty of energy to return to the music, which after a brief breather, resumed with gusto.
Sunday was altogether quieter, with families pouring in from the surrounding villages around mid afternoon to sample the delights of the dodgems and the ‘barbe á pappa ‘ or granddad’s beard .. known to the rest of us as candy floss. Later in the afternoon the artillery arrived again and resumed their bombardment. Fortunately the bangs didn’t resonate quite as loudly in daylight. The music resumed but it ended earlier, about 2 am, perhaps the late night on the Saturday was catching up with them.
Today was essentially for the village. As is the custom with French fétes the celebrations start with a short service at the war memorial to honour the dead from the two World Wars. Shortly before 11 twenty or thirty villagers assemble at the church and walk the few metres to the memorial, lead by a side drummer and a bugler. The drummer adopts a funereal tone, reminiscent of the Revolution. I half expect to see a tumbrel, packed with condemned aristos, rumbling across the bridge en route to the guillotine. I think I’ve watched ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ too often, due to a schoolgirl crush on Dirk Bogarde, now totally demolished by reading John Coldstream’s 2004 biography on my teenage heartthrob.
The service is short; a bouquet is placed at the foot of the monument and the bugler launches into the ‘Marseillaise’. After this everyone retires to the bar for free drinks. An accordionist appears, the side drummer (suitably refreshed) shows off his supreme ability to perform single paradiddles and embarks on a musical duel with the accordionist. The battle seems to end in a draw.
Some considerable time later the bugler and the side drummer depart in their car. I wonder if they advertise themselves in the local free newspaper … ‘ Side drummer and bugler available for fétes locale, Bastille Day celebrations, VE day anniversaries and bah mitzvahs. Competitive rates’.
After this, the afternoon has been remarkably quiet. The boules tournament was well supported by players (all male) and spectators, and played under the shade of the trees, strangely boule is not a sport that’s played at any other time in the village; I think it needs a drowsy, hot afternoon and a plane tree-lined square, the sort you find in the south. It seems to go perfectly with pernod and water, and black olives.
We have had a perfect weekend, with the garden thermometer hitting the high 30’s, but it doesn’t always work out like that. The weather here can sometimes be as capricious as Britain just when you really want it to be nice. The week’s forecast looks gloomy, with rain and falling temperatures, but at least no-one rained on our féte.
There have been half-hearted attempts by the French government to abolish Whit Monday as a public holiday, due to the fact that some years (this one for example) the month of May sees 4 separate public holidays. Up to now it’s been blithely ignored, and judging by the fun everyone has had today, I can see little Sarky and his government in that tumbrel if they persist in enforcing it.