One of the many wonderful things about living in south west France is that you can immerse yourself into a full summer of fetes and other community events which happen in every village, no matter how small. It would be possible to go to two or three a week for the whole summer if one wanted to – and why not?
Sometimes it is a fete, sometimes it is a Marché Nocture, and sometimes is is a festival of some sort. I am going to describe one of each in this blog. What they have in common makes it quite difficult to tell the difference – the difference is one of emphasis rather than substance.
There are always rows and rows of long trestle tables with families and people of all ages and types sitting side by side, normally there is a paper tablecloth and a black bin bag taped to the end of each table for you to put your rubbish in. Here we are at the Blasimon Marché Nocturne.
A loud PA system with a band or singer setting up for the evening’s entertainment is usually derigueur, the singers in my experience are very good, and we always get a round of the Bayonne rugby song (don’t know why) which everyone sings and which we are learning to recognise but don’t know the words yet.
The point of the trestle tables is so that you can choose your food from the various stalls on offer.
Usually there is some initially mystifying system for getting a drink, which involves you buying a ‘glass’ often branded for the event which you reuse. Here’s the glass from Ruch fete, printed with a picture of the Mairie we were married at.
Sitting at long trestle tables means you inevitably start chatting to neighbours who are without exception friendly and interested and welcoming. The only time we have not got involved with those next door was when it was a British family who brought their own bottle of tomato ketchup (the shame) and never engaged with us at all.
So, the Ruch fete took place at the Stade Bonvoisin (named after a former Mayor and alleged lothario, but that is another story). It lasted three days and nights, with 3 different suppers. Everyone was asked to wear a blue neckerchief in the basque style for reasons that have escaped me but at least half the population did. One night was a repas escargots – not for us I am afraid, but we went for the sunday night moules frites. The system for purchase was fairly mystifying – but eventually we discovered you had to pay to get in (we walked across the vineyards and into the back field, so avoided the entrance fee to start with), then a series of tickets to get your glass and have it filled with wine (rose or red, no white as usual) and a queue (always fun – in this one John had a lengthy conversation with the man behind about whether M Macron would turn out to be any good – consensus was ‘non’) whereupon in a very lengthy process presided over by three nice ladies d’un certain age, we got four differently coloured slips of paper printed in turn with ‘melon’, ‘moules’, ‘frites’, and ‘fromage’. These four tickets were then taken over to the kitchen tent and handed over en masse to the people running that (including Raymond who we bought our field from) where all four items were piled on a tray for you to take over to the trestle table.
We had fireworks also at the Ruch festival – don’t come out that well on the photo unfortunately – but magical to sit at midnight with your neighbours watching a ‘disco’ firework display.
In between the moules and the frites we had ‘DJ Kevin’ a local man entertaining us – a great voice and actually a great selection of tunes – he is judged by how many people he can get up and dancing.
Onwards to Sauveterre wine festival -here you pay 5 euros for a glass and have a little card which is marked so you can have six different wines to try and to buy. The glass hangs by a string around your neck, freeing your hands up to go and collect whatever it is that you are going to eat – we had ham and chips this time. The entertainment was a rather good Mariarchi band who were singing ‘The Lion Sleeps tonight’ and other classics.
Finally the Blasimon Marché Nocturne – held every Wednesday in august. Similar drill but this time a rather good Edith Piaf singer ‘non, je ne regrette RIEN’ and so on. We went to this one with my brother and his partner who were visiting and they got a good old dose of lovely frenchiness. We bought bottles of wine this time which are uncorked by the producers – we bought from two sisters who are running a vineyard near sauveterre – very acceptable red – and steak and chips cooked by the butcher who supplies them – fantastic steak we are going to seek out the butchers near Branne. On the table next to us was a whole extended family – grandma, grandad, mum, dad and kids who brought salami type sausage with them to eat with bread as an entree and then they moved onto the mains – salad with smoked duck and bacon mostly. The grandad who we spoke to is a ‘traiteur’ near La Reole and he gave us all some of his home made rum cocktail which as far as I could tell was rum, orange, pineapple and some other stuff I didn’t recognise. Hit the spot tho’. We told him about our Ruchelaise gin, and we have promised to meet again this Wednesday at the last night market of the season and give him some of our gin in exchange. A great night. That is grandma squeezing past my rather bladdered husband and brother.