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February... benefit concert, pig killing and the start of La Carême     


     I hear that the European Commission’s tsunami benefit concert in Brussels raised 7,000 euros, with three rock bands, entrance tickets at 20 euros, and posh dinners and airline tickets for the tombola prizes. 

     Here, 100kms from the nearest railway station and 500m above sea level, entrance to our soirée was free.  The tombola prizes were two splintery wooden vegetable crates covered in Christmas paper and filled with packets of coffee and pasta, bargain biscuits and cheap wine - and the tickets were 2 euros apiece.  La buvette - drinks left over from other events and homemade dishes brought by the audience - was free and the music was played by amateur local bands. 

     Still, we raised 330 euros and that’s not bad for tiny depopulated village high up in the mountains with the snow falling outside and sheets of thick ice forming over the fountain.

     The concert was surprisingly multi-cultural, given that local demographics show a population mainly consisting of retired paysans and agriculteurs.  We kicked off with some American jazz from WWII (that was me and the postman), and followed that up with English folk (my daughter on her clarinet), African drummers and dancers, (the guy from the bar with all his mates) and a didgeree-doo display from Marie-France’s daughter. 

     The audience watched in respectful silence, their eyes wandering round the tangerine-painted walls.  They clapped dutifully, nodded at the jokes, watched the children scooting round the floor between the musicians’ legs, and bought lots of tombola tickets.  The prizes, carefully wrapped up in cellophane and raffia, glittered temptingly beside the door.  No-one could leave the hall without walking past them.  Everyone stayed, their eyes fixed on the hat containing the tombola tickets.

     Tisanes and homemade pizzas were served, along with cakes and red wine.  With shouts of joy, the kids escaped outside into the frozen wonderland, until a stray snowball hit the shutters and alerted their parents.  They were then hauled firmly back into the salle des fêtes for another dose of culture.  A tuneless harmonica rendition of La Vie en Rose, a selection of Eastern lute music from the local dentist, a group of teachers playing traditional French dances on accordions, and finally, the tombola was drawn.

     As usual, Monsieur le Maire won, and having watched the organisers hand the proceeds over to the Red Cross, shrugging and laughing, chairs were scraped back from tables, scarves wound round necks, elbows offered, arms taken, and the audience shuffled slowly out into the glacial village.

     The next morning, Marie-Pierre not only organised volunteers to stack the chairs and tables, but also defrosted the communal freezers in preparation for the arrival next week of the village pig.  This unfortunate animal is due to meet his fate at the hands of the village elders, and his demise will be followed by three days of energetic cuisine charcuterie, as Marie-Pierre and her cohorts make sausages, paté, and tripe.  Yes, tripe.  They love it here.  They love it so much that they’re going to hold a whole tripe supper, with nothing to eat but tripe and potatoes.

     But luckily I’ll have a cast iron excuse.  The pig killing is a week late this year because the pig farmer had a cold in January so he couldn’t deliver the pig before.  Which means that the tripe supper will be held in the first week of La Carême.  No-one else will see that as any reason not eat tripe of course, but me and my girlfriends always keep Lent.  Apart from anything else, giving up wine for 6 weeks gets rid of the half a stone we all put on at Christmas, and this year, it’ll also serve as my excuse for ducking out of the tripe. 

     Never been so glad to get on the waggon.

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