Wednesday, 22 June 2011

La Fête du Tonnerre

Yesterday being the summer solstice (already! I'm sure the last one was only 4 months ago), it was also the occasion for La Fête de la Musique - a much anticipated event in this household as it marks the first opportunity of summer to get out there and dance till late.

The previous two days had been hot and cloudless. Tuesday dawned still hot, though much more humid and slightly hazy: by noon some ominous looking clouds were appearing from the west. Metéo France, on the ball as always, hurriedly changed its forecast to 'risk of storms'. At 2pm the thunder started. For the next 4 hours, it rumbled and groaned and banged in almost continuously and in spectacular fashion, but without a drop of rain.

At 6pm we came in to shower and change and by 6.30 were ready to go. Just as I stepped outside, I was almost knocked off my feet by the loudest clap of thunder I've ever heard, and someone up there in the sky started emptying buckets of water (and I mean buckets. I've never seen anything like it). It was suddenly as dark as night - all the better to watch the now almost continuous lightning that streaked around in all directions. The rain suddenly turned to hailstones the size of large pebbles. It was awesome.

We ran around with buckets. The storm continued at the same level of intensity for a whole hour before the rain slowly eased off, although the thunder continued in an almost continual rhythm. Then: bugger it, we said, no self-respecting Ariégeois is going to let a bit of a storm get in the way of a good fête. So we got in the car and made our way to St Girons.

We were right. People were arriving in droves. And though the thunder and lightning continued unceasingly, a hint of blue appeared in the sky. Unsurprisingly, what laughingly calls itself the timetable (if you live, or have ever travelled in France, you'll understand exactly what I mean by that ...) had been thrown into disarray, which was A Good Thing as it meant we could still catch the early gig by five young jazz musicians from Marciac, who'd decamped from their open stage to a smaller space under the arches outside the church while volunteers baled out the stage and tried to salvage the sound system ...

We wandered around sampling the usual mélange of thunder, rock, Cajun, punk, flamenco, chanson, blues, classical, Occitan, reggae and all the rest and were just about to sit down with a glass of something, some street food and some salsa when once again the heavens opened. All around us people grabbed their food and drinks and looked for shelter, of which there was nowhere near enough for the two or three thousand revellers. Most, like us, just put up their umbrellas, shrugged, and got on with it. I felt sorry for those eating 'properly' on the terraces of the various restaurants as tout d'un coup their plates were awash with water.

And still it thundered. And still the lightning tore and danced around the sky, often in several directions at once.

A few bands, those playing on open stages, simply had to abandon; some found rudimentary shelter and played acoustically instead. The rest just carried on regardless. As did the rain. We joined the huge crowd gathered around the Guinguette Ludique to hear and dance to the Celtic band Finnan; they're a multicultural (Canadian, French, German and English) mix and always highly popular. And when you're wet, you can't get wetter, so what to do but ditch the umbrellas and dance madly in the rain ............

PS The thunder finally moved away just before 1 in the morning. It had continued for eleven hours ....

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