This article is taking part in the blogger event “what is your best memory of France/French people” organized by Sabrina, author of the blog Frenchness.
After 24 years (and 720 blog posts!), I have so many memories of life in France that it’s hard to choose just one. However, I had a life here before I started Life on La Lune, and this memory comes from that period.
Jazz in Marciac
The long, blisteringly hot summer of 2003 will stand out for a long time in my recollection for many reasons. One of the principal ones, apart from the heatwave, is our trip to Marciac in the Gers for the jazz festival.
Marciac is one of hundreds of bastide towns built from the 13th century onwards in Southwest France. It follows the standard design of a grid of streets enclosing a large central square. Marciac’s place measures 130 m by 75 m. Every year in late July/early August, this town, buried in the heart of rolling countryside, hosts an international jazz festival attracting the best jazz musicians in the world.
Here, I need to explain that I am not really a jazz fan. Classical is more my bag. But when French friends proposed a visit, it seemed like a great way to explore a part of the region that we had yet to venture into.
The day we left in early August, the temperature on the car thermometer was 43° C (109.4° F). We had to start the ignition 10 minutes before departure to get the air conditioning going. The fields and woodland en route were parched and brown. The sun drilled down from a sky that was almost white with heat. We could still appreciate the Gers countryside, rather different from our own area: sunflower fields interspersed with woods, presided over by villages perched on gently rolling hills.
Our friends Brigitte and Michel were waiting for us when we arrived in the town. They had booked accommodation “chez l’habitant”, i.e. in the house of a Marciac resident. As you might imagine, jazz fans from around the world descend in droves on the town each summer, and lodgings are like gold dust.
The house was a typical Marciac townhouse, built of stone with columbage (half-timbered) and roofed with pink-red Roman tiles. Our room was comfortable, if hot, but then so was everywhere that year. It turned out that we had ousted the room’s usual occupant, the 12-year-old daughter, although she seemed to take it in good part. The only bémol was that the loo was downstairs and had to serve about 10 people.
Music and wine
After a hurried dinner, we made our way to the enormous marquee that seats 6,000 people. The first evening’s main attraction was none other than Oscar Peterson. Even I knew who he was. Still going strong at 77 and sweating copiously under the combined onslaught of the heat and the stage lights, he delighted the audience with his virtuoso keyboard playing.
The following day promised to be just as hot. With our friends, we explored the surrounding countryside, stopping at a small town in the Hautes-Pyrénées for lunch. Michel is a great wine buff, and since the small wine area of Madiran is not far from Marciac, it was a good excuse for a visit.
Apparently, Madiran’s high concentration of antioxidants makes it one of the most cardiac-friendly wines in the world (in moderation, naturally). Who are we to argue? We visited a couple of domaines, had a dégustation and bought a case or two.
Back in Marciac, Canadian pianist and singer Diana Krall and her band played in the packed marquee. It was an accomplished and polished performance, greeted with noisy appreciation by Krall’s fans.
The tent flaps had been left open to try to circulate a little much-needed air. The undulating Gers countryside was visible through the golden haze, lending a touch of magic to an already special weekend.
Have you been to Marciac? This is the festival website, if you’d like to find out more.
You might also like:
Open-air Concerts at the Château de Mayragues
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[…] Memories of Marciac […]
Very happy memories of Marciac…without looking back I can’t remember the first visit except we were in our camper van on the campsite which had itinerant musicians playing every night in the bar. We only had tickets for one concert but stood outside the big chapiteau listening to Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena vista social club and watching on a big screen. Magical. When we did get into the show the next evening for Wynton Marsalis I enjoyed it so much I was up on my chair cheering and clapping for an encore. I thought you didn’t like jazz, commented my husband. I hadn’t, up until that moment! We went back again a couple more times as there was so much music to enjoy in different places at all times of the day but the last time we found the summer heat a bit much to cope with. However, an experience to be tried at least once.
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We went a couple of years running and had a great time, although we are not jazz fans generally. I think Wynton Marsalis is there every year, since he’s the “parrain” of the festival, although we didn’t have tickets for him either time. There are lots of impromptu gigs and “off” festival music, which is great fun.
We have visited Marciac. It was in early April 2012 when we had a gite for a week near the small town of St Clar in the Gers. We did a drive one day stopping in at several villages. It is a lovely area and one that is not as well known among overseas travellers such as those from the US or Australia. This is the type of area we enjoy visiting. I think you get to see a different France from that of the heavily touristed places full of ‘ must sees ‘, ‘ must dos ‘ and ‘ must eat at ‘ restaurants.
We are enjoying the broadcast of the Tour de France at the moment. It is bitter sweet as we have no idea when, if ever, we will be able to visit France again.
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It’s a lovely part of the country. Being off the beaten tourist trail adds to its appeal for me. We went to the jazz festival two years running, but we haven’t been back since, not really being jazz buffs.
Hang in there. You’ll get back here one day. 🙂
I’m sure we’ve visited Marciac (outside of the Festival) but was also very interested in the articles it suggested afterwards as it included ‘Music at Puycelsi’. That is a place I remember well, we stayed there twice as the first holiday we had, Vince had gout and we couldn’t get out and about so returned a few years later. It’s a beautiful village in a lovely area.
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Unless you have tickets to the jazz festival, Marciac is better visited outside it, since it’s just too crowded, so I’m sure you did well to miss it. We sing in Puycelsi a couple of times a year (in normal times) in aid of the church restoration, when a scratch choir comes together, usually to sing a big choral work. We might manage it this September, but it’s still not certain. Puycelsi is about 50 km south of us, but it’s a lovely drive there and a beautiful village. Glad to hear your second visit made up for your first.
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