chrisdolley (chrisdolley) wrote,

Three Fêtes and a Football Match Part One (Joan of Arc and the Peach Hunters)

And now we plunge back in time to June, 1995 for the next instalment of Nous Sommes Anglais (the ultimate expat horror story - with animals.) We've survived four months in France. We lost a roof outside Calais, I was arrested outside Samatan, and menaced by a ten-foot long caterpillar outside our house. So, time to go outside once more. This time to a fête.

Our first experience of a French fête came in early June. We'd found the unexpected invitation waiting for us in our post box a week earlier. Journée Pêche, it had said.

It took us a while to work out whether this was a peach festival or something to do with fish. Fish was ahead narrowly, as we'd never seen much evidence of peach worship in the village. But we were far from certain - who could tell what old ways dwelt amongst the rural hearths of Gascony?

We read on. It was to be held at Tuco, by the church, a five-minute walk from our house. And the invitation came complete with a menu and a programme of events, starting with early morning fishing - or, possibly, peach picking.

The midday meal seemed remarkable value at only fifty francs. Especially as it included an apéritif, charcuterie, salad, paella, fromage, dessert, coffee and wine. Plus what looked like a barbecue of whatever the pêcheurs caught that morning. Could you catch peaches? And would you want to barbecue them if you did?

Peaches were definitely out. Although the image of wild peach hunters crouching by the roadsides with their long peach spears glistening in the early morning sun lingered for quite a while.

The programme continued into the afternoon with what it called an amicable game of boules. The fact that they had to print the word 'amicable' implied to me that perhaps the normal game was far from it. Should we take our coloured plastic set or would that be taken as an insult to the national game?

We were still wondering about the etiquette of using coloured plastic on the hallowed gravel when we noticed the last entry in the day's festivities. Grillades, Soirée Dansante et Feu de la St-Jean.

Ah. Feu de la St-Jean, didn't that sound suspiciously like the burning of Joan of Arc? And how would the presence of an English couple at the burning of a French saint go down with the locals?

And why were they burning her? Wasn't she on their side? Wasn't that akin to burning effigies of James I on Guy Fawkes night?

Or was this something peculiarly Gascon? I'd noticed the name Prince Noir appear frequently in glowing terms in the local tourist guides. The Black Prince built this, the Black Prince killed that. He'd been Duke of Aquitaine and the feudal lord over much of South-West France. And apparently popular with the locals because he knew how to fight and gave a good party.

But was that enough to turn the region against Joan of Arc?

Which is where my history deserted me. Was Aquitaine still in English hands when Joan of Arc was around? Or didn't that matter, was this like the English Wars of the Roses where rivalry became timeless? Certainly, I could imagine a Yorkshire village fete committee looking favourably upon a suggestion that effigies of Lancashire be burnt as part of the coming year’s celebrations. But was there the same depth of feeling here?

And if so, would we, as representatives of England, be called upon to cast the first burning faggot?

(next instalment: Ricard, Rosé and Red)
Tags: fete, food, france, gascony, humor, humour, nsa7
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