The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
We went to the Ganges history fair last Saturday and had such a good time that we went back on Sunday and did it all over again.
It was amazing. The centre of town was closed to traffic and all the shops and businesses had taped brown paper over their modern shop signs, replacing them with old-style facia boards. One café had even gone a step further, erecting a large wooden facia over the whole of the front of the building, including the balcony. The window displays had all been changed too, and replaced with items from various museums. Modern street signs were disguised, sacks had been draped over gas cylinders, hydrants and other traces of the 21st century.
Instead, there were straw bales standing about and wooden pens of sheep. Carts, barrels, wooden crates of old glass bottles, tools and all sorts of paraphernalia were lying about on the streets. Add to this various people riding about on horses, others leading donkeys, riding period bicycles and driving antique cars and you can perhaps start to picture the scene.
There were also little match girls, and people selling old newspapers and a small traditional market with all the stallholders dressed in period clothes. Indeed, one of them even brought his vegetables into the market in a horse-drawn cart.
The maire was there with his wife, both of them dressed up to the nines and shaking hands with all and sundry; the bars were full of women in petticoats squired by men in rough waistcoats and clogs. We even saw a small boy in an outsize cap lying on a bale of straw playing with a puppy. He looked exactly like a Victorian print entitled something like "A Boy's Best Friend" or "A Peaceful Moment".
Perhaps because everyone in our village dresses up every year for July 14th, we're used to wearing petticoats for parties, se we were among those who dressed up to go to the fair - but loads of other people had too. There were seas of parasols in every direction, along with fans, shawls and fabulous hats galore. We even got our photos taken.
But there was more to do than merely wander around the market gazing at things. There were events. We went on a carriage ride round the town, we saw the wedding (twice) and several times helped the firemen put out a large bonfire. They were equipped with an old fashioned hand pump on a cart, connected to a large hosepipe, and the "townsfolk" helped by forming a chain and passing canvas buckets from the fountain to the hand pump and back again until finally there was enough water in the pump to squirt water through the hose and put out the fire. Obviously this required loads of shouting and jostling and needless to say once the fire was out there was a brief water fight.
The old post office was open, a man in period costume stamping all the postcards and selling stamps. There were also traditional games for the kids, exhibitions, dancing and for those with something to prove... dictation. Yes, in the Mairie you could sit and do the end of year dictation that formed part of the school-leaving certificate in 1900.
There were also dozens of musicians playing squeeze boxes, singing, churning the handles of hurdy-gurdy machines and little bands playing for dancers, again all of them in traditional dress.
There were also loads of other things; demonstrations of traditional handicrafts like mattress-making, basket-weaving, stone-cutting, sculpting and painting; exhibitions on silk-making, sports, tools, crafts, a circus, a town crier, guided tours of the town, artillery salvos, a face-pulling contest, a waiters' race, a huge meal on Saturday night with dancing and entertainments, open air cinema, boules and probably other stuff too. There was way too much to see in just one weekend.
But there are loads of photos, so you can catch up on the official website: www.ganges1900.com - and while you're about it why not sign up for their newsletter?
See you in Ganges next year.
This article is protected by all international copyright agreements, and reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author.