Les feux de la Saint Jean

This week-end is really the start of the summer festivities in all the villages. Traditionally the feast day of St John the Baptist on 24th June was a time when bonfires were lit and there were bals in all the village squares with with local musicians performing and fireworks to round off the evening. Probably the Saint’s day was conveniently tied in with earlier festivals marking the summer solstice.

There is so much going on it is difficult to know what to choose, but we decided to return to the second Fete de la Cerise, de la Terre et du Feu in Empurany, the next village to us. The theme is original, marrying cherries, fire and earth.

For the cherries, there is a stone spitting contest, fire involves the participation of two young local blacksmiths showing their craft and a cracheur du feu or fire-eater. The earth is represented by Charlotte, the local potter, who creates a kiln for the day – this year it is made of PAPER! – and fires pots made in her workshop. But she also has lots of clay available for people to slop around with. Amongst other things there is a competition for who can roll the longest clay “sausage”.

Last year the children from the primary school had written texts on the theme of cherries and stuck them up around the village. This year they composed a poem, printed the lines on different pieces of paper and scattered them around the stands and attractions. The game was to put collect the different lines and put the poem back together.

Altogether this is a great day for participation. Charlotte’s husband set up a climbing wall agaist the back of the church, there are facepainters and pony rides for the kids and a guy teaching them to walk on stilts, juggle and do simple acrobatics. There is a huge array of giant wooden board games, of the shove ha’penny type for adults and children alike. Everything is free and everyone joins in and gets involved in doing something.

There is a stage set up with an improbable group from Vernoux performing line dance routines, and of course the buvette, where people prop up the bar with a little glass of the local red in one hand. And there are of course stands selling local products such as liqueurs and honey and homemade ice cream. There is also a stand with items produced by the little occupational therapy unit sited on the edge of the village, with the opportunity to make up your own surprise cornet for children.

And then there are the local craftsmen. For example the great guy from Labatie d’Andaure who turns up with a pile of small logs and produces Ardechois baskets using only his trusty Opinel knife.

Best of all this year we came across Elie, who has a farm right up on the Col de Fontfreyde and whom we often encounter on our walks, ensconced on a massive log working away at a piece of wood to make a roof timber as though it was the most natural thing in the world!

A magic afternoon. This evening it is a toss up between fireworks in Arlebosc, Folk dancing in Empurany or the music festival in Désaignes. This last is such an unmissable event in an unbelievable setting, that is probably going to be the one!

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