13 September 2011

A Country Fair

At first, we couldn't tell if it was a cattle auction or a country fair, the way the beef cows were all dolled up for the occasion. A sign on the road read "Chateau-Chervix" and we followed to see what sort of castle we'd find. The chateau stood on a hill, at the end of a long straight street lined with houses - but something more interesting was happening down on the ground floor. Cars were parked along both curbs and everywhere in between. Music played in one direction and crowd roared in another. Naturally, we squeezed into a spot and went investigating.
Chateau-Chervix is not just the name of the castle, but also the small commune at its foot. And it probably doesn't see this sort of action on any old Saturday. Today was the agriculture show, the country fair, if you will. I've never been to a country fair in America, but have read a few Garrison Keillor accounts and feel pretty confident in my conclusion that they are pretty universal. The whole town was there - probably the surrounding towns, too - to see the animals, mingle, eat and drink. Old men wore their best suspenders and young kids wore pink and brown ice cream smiles.
It was fairly sparse, but festive. Men huddled together to discuss the bovines (and, most likely, gossip about their owners). Lively debates went on under newsboy caps and straw hats. It was a very hot day, which drew some attention away from the animal stars and drove more people into the shaded areas.
I'm sure people perused the local produce and chatted up the vendors a little bit longer because of the umbrella salvation. Cantaloupes and a myriad of onions and garlic were for sale. Nearby, a woman stood behind a table with a few pieces of used, mismatched glassware, a wrapped leg of cured ham that was being raffled off and a television which was plugged in and showing a rugby match. On the tv was a sign that read "40€. Cannot take until game has ended" (in French, of course). I wonder how many wonderfully amusing signs I've missed in countries where I didn't benefit from a translation.
A few children were being lead around on ponies and a number more were kicking up dust in a dirt bike ring. This young woman led her horse around in a circle right beside a loudspeaker which played country western music. The songs were in English, but I couldn't tell you if they were American or not. The flag draped over the horse sure was. It put a smile on my (particularly patriotic this weekend) face.
Understandably, predictably (and enviably) most of the country fairers were congregated in the refreshments tent. The din was almost at a roar and the tables were strewn with emptied cups and plates. This is where things began to look particularly French. The food was sold as a three course set menu: local dried & cured meats, local beef with vegetables and goat cheese for dessert. A far cry from the sausage grills or (dare I say "french") fries usually served in these settings. Red wine was the drink of choice.
As we left, the band was arriving, hurrying toward the tent in their traditional costume. The women clomped along in wooden clogs, worn over thick woolen socks. I couldn't imagine how hot they must have been. But this is tradition at its most fun, I think.

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