Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Harvest Home

In the Christian church the first Sunday in August marks (or marked) the start of Lammas-tide (one never knows with modern liturgy these days- it could be totally obliterated from the list of Anglican festivals ) Anyway Lammas runs from now until Michaelmas(Sept 29th), in other words through the harvest season. It derides its name from the medieval English word ‘lam’ meaning bread, and traditionally a loaf was baked using grain from the first sheaves brought in from the field.

Living where we do the seasons are as marked as they were in medieval England, just that bit earlier. Our hay harvest is all but over. The hay has been cut, left to dry (unfortunately we’ve had the wettest July since we’ve lived in France ) and for the past three or four weeks we have become accustomed to the rattle of tractors and over-loaded trailers roaring up and down the road in a frantic attempt to get it all in and under cover. It would seem an awful lot of hard work – they’re still at it at 11 o’clock at night – but there are beef cattle to be fed all through the winter so hay is money. The more you can store the less you’ll have to fork out for commercial feed, and the better fed the cattle will be.

Being a secular country, whilst hiding under the pretence of being a Catholic country (or should that be the other way round? One never knows with the French) old religious ceremonies seem to have been forgotten, but from a non religious aspect the bucolic celebrations associated with the harvest and the land are still observed here.

From the middle of July the rural community is gearing up for old time markets and harvest fetes.

The Marche L’Ancienne in Montrejeau acts as a good advertising platform for the August harvest celebrations. Out come the ancient tractors that rarely see the light of day, puffing, coughing and burning a small hole in the ozone layer immediately over the town.

There are teams of oxen, shepherds on horseback with their dogs riding side saddle, decorated farm trailers and the ubiquitous majorettes, the tinys looking vaguely worried as they try to keep up with the ‘big girls’, and not drop their batons.

The old copper still, that to this day pitches up in the local villages to distil the fruit harvest into something very alcoholic and inflammable, is brought out and joins the parade. It’s the same-old, same-old every year and although there is a smattering of tourists in the main the crowd is the same. You know that by the leg-pulling, joking and laughing going on as the older generation recognise old friends and neighbours.

The first weekend in August (which coincides with Lammas Sunday) sees the first of two Fetes de Moissan held in Le Cuing and Lecussan. The old farm machinery that’s been in the barn all year is dusted down and brought out, the threshing machines are checked out and a huge meal consisting of multiple versions of chicken is served in vast airless marquees.

All the old skills are on display, oxen grinding grain on a giant millstone, hand reaping, and threshing.

The air is oppressively hot, and the smell of steam and oil mingles with the aroma of roast chicken.

The stubble scratches unprotected toes, and nothing runs to the published timetable …. but what the hell ? It’s fun, and like the Marche L’Ancienne it’s the same every year which is how our rural neighbours like it.


the fly in the web said...

All this has just about died out round here....there is just one fete left for the threshing machines and old tractors and I wouldn't miss it for worlds..

Jarmara Falconer said...

How wonderful to see the old ways in this very hitech world in which we live.

best wishes,


Dedene said...

I just found your blog through Survive France. Even though I've been in France a long time, I've not gotten to the Pyrenees. Shame on me.
Love your blog and keep up showing me what your life is like.

Jo said...

Yes, I guess down here in the Pyrenean foothills we do probably live in one of the last really rural communities in France.

In a way it's nice, but we sometimes feel like proper country bumpkins. But we can still leave windows open, bread deliveries hang on gate posts without being nicked, and 'potagers' are never raided.
It's the UK forty years ago, which annoys a lot of expats but suits me.