... just a snapshot of last night's Fête de la Musique in Saint Girons (and the reason why we finally made it home well after 2am. And by implication the reason why the cement mixer was just a little late in starting up this morning ...).
I'd vaguely heard of La Fête de la Musique before we moved here, but I hadn't really grasped it, if you see what I mean. A nutshell resumé: the first one took place in 1982, when the renowned Jack Lang was Minister for Culture; it was officially declared a public festival in 1983. The idea was simple: that on the night of the summer solstice, there should be music of all kinds (both amateur and professional) everywhere, and that it should be always remain 'popular' - that is, free and open to, and patronised by, all.
It took off. It's reckoned that one in five French people attend the Fête de la Musique every year, and that one in ten have at some point taken part. It's also been a major factor in the flourishing of the summer music festivals that are now such a part of cultural life here. And it's been emulated, to some degree, in other countries around the world, though nowhere with the sheer vibrancy of the French festival, and not, sadly, in England.
The Fête held in our local town, Saint Girons (population: 6552), has a reputation for being one of the best not just in the department but in the entire Midi-Pyrénées region. And I believe it. More than fifty groups, playing well over 60 gigs; plus a whole gaggle of spontaneous music makers (like the four guys playing fantastic blues in a tiny gallery at 2am). The entire town centre closed to traffic and filled with 'happenings', stages, bars, bodegas, makeshift restaurants, co-operative games (well, this is Ariège ...); bar and restaurant tables spilling out into the streets; and, of course, the sound of music everywhere. And people. Thousands of people. Mostly they (we) just drift around, led from one set of sounds to another, and another, until they find themselves drawn to one that they just can't leave. The smells of barbecuing lamb and suckling pigs mingling with those of chicken colombo mixed with churros and accras de morue and galettes and barbe de papa and patchouli and marijuana (as I said, this is Ariège ...). Oh, and I only saw two gendarmes all night, and they were listening to some Celtic rock.
Fancy it, next year?