Carnac en Fete

Carnac en Fete

Lazy high summer is upon us and here in the lovely Quercy that means the season. Not only the tourist season but also the glorious season of the fêtes. Every turreted village, sprawling town and elegant city in France has at least one – often more – but if there’s only one it’ll be in July or August so that every member of the community can attend, from Madame Dubois, the eldest lady in the commune, to baby Aurélie who was born last week. In our immediate area the first in the summer calendar is Villeseque and the last is Cénac. In these two crowded months we attend fourteen delicious and somewhat riotous fêtes. All these affairs start with numerous aperitifs and general chit-chat, then gradually everybody will drift towards the long lines of tables and wait for local girls to bring on the first course.
It may be Quercynois melon and Bayonne ham or even more likely, onion soup, the summer kind made with sweet, juicy Marmande tomatoes instead of beef stock, then topped with toasted country bread and bubbling cheese. Sometimes you get both, and sometimes you’ll have a Salade Quercynoise thrown in, just to add extra weight and authenticity to the meal. The next course is invariably confit, usually duck, but the smaller fêtes may opt for a barbecue as they can just about manage to feed their hundred or so souls this way. All dinners finish with local cheeses and dessert. Sometimes the desserts will be ice cream, but it’s much more likely that you’ll be presented with an over-large slice of tarte aux pommes, sticky and delicious. It’s a huge party and the atmosphere is appropriately festive and expectant, everybody present is thoroughly over-excited – this is France after all – the maire is absolutely in his element and the revelries will go on until the early hours.

Carnac en Fete

Carnac en Fete

At the fête I attended last night, I arrived late having already been to friends for aperitifs. One of the nice aspects of a village fête is that, as it never starts on time you’re never too late. Relax and have another pastis is the general rule. Delectable aromas wafting from the kitchen made my tummy twist with longing. The five-course dinner was supposed to start at eight, but I knew from hard-won experience that the chances of it actually appearing before nine-thirty were slender indeed. The bowls of steaming soup finally made their rounds at ten o ‘clock. My tummy was pickled with pastis and inside out with hunger by this time, but it was worth it. The soup tasted ambrosial. Dinner continued as it had begun, each course arriving later and later, the volume of conversation notching up a decibel each time and the quantities of wine consumed reaching the sort of level that would show in Donald Duck’s eyes. Pizza came next. Numerous two-metre monsters, dripping with all the good things that heap the markets at this time of year. They’d been cut into unfairly sized portions, so I offloaded a good half of mine and accepted a little salade verte in exchange. I ate a truly sumptuous confit with far too many sautéed potatoes. I managed almost all of a creamy disc of Rocamadour cheese with a nutty walnut bread, warm from the ancient four au pain at the edge of this little village and finished, thankfully, with a bite of a heavenly tarte aux abricots.
If you find yourselves at one at these events for the first time, there’s really only one word of advice I can offer. Pace. But of course giving advice is easy, taking it is not so simple!
Back at the fête I sipped my coffee and sat back with a sigh of relief. It was midnight, the cicadas were in full flood and I watched the antics of the ancient ‘rock’ band as they heaved themselves into high gear and prepared to deafen the competition.
Madame!’ The dapper little man that I often see in his white Renault van was bowing respectfully to the beloved.
‘Une danse?’ He asked me. My swimming head splashed furiously for the appropriate words, and whilst they were still fighting their way down to my lips, my so-called protector had graciously given his consent.
Ah well, I thought, as I landed heavily on the poor man’s toes. When in the Quercy…

© Amanda Lawrence 2007

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Joys of French Life – Summer Fetes! from French Vie

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