Saturday, 2 August 2014

Bastille Day, Summertime, Flowers and Food

Bastille Day, Summertime, Flowers and Food

Ah, “la Fête Nationale”, 14 July, better known in Oz as Bastille Bay.

Well, I had hoped to give you a riotous account of the happenings in celebration of “la Fete Nationale” in Juignac and surrounds. Alas, I can’t. Mainly because nothing really happened here. The only French flags we saw jauntily blowing in the breeze were the two Val and I had bought for our front porch. (Doing our bit for the hamlet, don’t you know?)
Flags fly at La Petit Maine for
La Fete Nationale

Perhaps I‘m being a bit severe because there were fireworks at Montmoreau and Chalais, our two shopping towns. Well I should say our supermarket towns; “le shopping’ in the French sense requires heels, smart frocks and doing lunch, whereas “faire les course” only requires thongs, tacky trackies and a big trolley, and rushing home before the ice cream melts. But enough of my impromtu French lesson.

Our friends, Ian and Pam, invited us to watch local fireworks from the deck of their house, after a BBQ and perhaps a glass or two of a fine Bordeaux. Actually with Ian, luckily, it’s always a glass or three! The sky show was very good, the BBQ was rained out, the Bordeaux excellent, and we could hear dance music in the distance, presumably for the traditional “public dancing in the street”…though this year in the rain!

Oh, we did come across an older gentleman in Montmoreau, nattily decked out in jacket, tie and beret and sporting on a lapel a rather grand medallion, backed by the blue, the white and the red colours, the tricolour. So perhaps there was a ceremony somewhere complete with La Marcellaise….I certainly hope so.

But enough of this jingoistic Francophilia…it’s summertime and the French certainly do a good summer.

The Charente and surrounding area has the reputation as being the sunniest part of France outside the Mediterranean South. The daily temperature at Le Petit Maine, our hamlet, has quite surprised us. Often in the low thirties, but feeling much hotter. It’s a dry penetrating heat, enough to burn the skin off a basking lizard!

Even the most introspective tourist will notice that flowers are huge business in France. In Spring Val and I had observed council workers attending to and repairing street and bridge flower beds. Now it’s summertime, and the villages are beautiful with stunning flower beds and pots everywhere. Any Commune councillor silly enough to ignore the summer time flower arranging responsibility would be set upon by vengeful, pitchfork weilding villagers. Mon Dieu, it would be a hangin’ offence for a village to be downgraded by a fleur or two in the “Villes et Villages Fleuris” ratings.
Flowers decorate a bridge somewhere in France.
We have seen prettier ones but stopping in the middle of a busy town
can be a tad difficult!

Town bridges seem to be the favoured architectural structure for displaying a Commune’s floral artistic flair. Every town bridge we have seen is florally decorated. Typically on the railing on each side there will be several long pots filled with carefully chosen plants. They may simply be chosen to present a proliferation of colour or as a repeating pattern of just two colours. The more daring floral architects will have multiple pots soaring several meters high. The colours are rich and vivid, much more so than we see in Australia.

Summer is also the time for “vide greniers” and “les marchés  du producteurs”.

“Vide grenier” means “from the attic” and it’s the opportunity to get rid of all the stuff that accumulates in one’s attic. Each village holds a vide grenier and each stall seems to have the same unsaleable stuff! Val has developed a passion for the vide grenier but I think it’s that voyeuristic instinct to check out everyone else’s stuff. “Oh, I’ve got one of those at home” or “Hey, isn’t that piece just awful…it’ll never sell”
A typical small village "vide grenier"

The best “vide grenier” combines both genuine car-boot stalls and dealer stalls. We’ve been to enough now, however, to recognize many of the various dealers showing up at each event. To our dear mature children at home, rest assured that your Christmas presents are being carefully sourced from only the very best of the second
hand stalls!

The last vide grenier we visited was near the village of Les Essaudes and beautifully situated on a country laneway running alongside the river Dronne…well it would have been beautiful if a summer torrential storm had not done it’s worst. We particularly felt for one stall holder presenting a huge range of baby wear so carefully laid out. All were totally saturated.

But as grandmamma always said (God bless her) “every cloud has a silver lining”. Last of the big spenders that we are (sorry about the inheritance, kids) we had intended to treat ourselves to a take-away helping of the French national dish, frites, to which I’ve become quite addicted (just pop another cholesterol pill after eating).
The food tents in the middle of a muddy field at Les Essaudes

Two long marquees joined side by side just had to be the mess tent, so to it we trudged through the rain and the soaking grass on the quest for our hot frites. Bingo! A gay and noisy troupe of volunteers were bustling about a make-shift kitchen ready to serve the expected hordes of hungry fete visitors. A quick reconnaissance and a few rudimentary questions established the rules. A complete “plateau du repas” was the offering at the staggering price of eight euro.

“Hang the expense, let’s do lunch” Val enthusiastically decided. Each plateau (that’s tray) included a roll of bread, a melon quarter, triangle of cheese, a small éclair, a generous serve of frites and either two BBQed sausages or a heap of moules (mussels to us). Not feeling culinary adventurous I opted for snags; Val took the moules and was well satisfied. That’s another gourmet box ticked for her.
Val getting stuck into her moules, frites and melon.
Check out the field kitchen in the background! 

Naturally the plateau included a glass of vin rouge or vin rose. We have noticed that vin blanc is seldom on offer at these ‘lesser” village affairs.  

There we were in the soaked marquees, rain thudding on the roof, water dripping in from the gaps where the roofs joined, half the bench seats wet, lighting sometimes on, sometimes off, the rattle of another batch of cooked moules being tossed into the serving tureens, and the laughter and chatter of the volunteers. Marvellous.

“Oh, bother it’s still raining! Why leave such a happy place?” we ask ourselves. I brave the internal waterfalls and join the short queue for a second round of vin rouge, just 50 centimes a plastic cup full.  Vin rouge extraordinaire, it surely is.

à bientôt, love to all our friends
Bryan and Val


  1. Second hand Frenchy briccabrak!?! Yay!!!!

  2. Oh we were thinking of you both on Bastille Day even though a lot was not happening around you sounds like you still managed to have a great time. Flowers look amazing, love the view from the bedroom and those Moules Moules cooked with vin blanc and crusty bread yum!!!!!! What a great experience you are having!