Festivals, High Days and Holidays: Summer’s End in SW France

It’s good to see our village become animated again this summer after two years of Covid mutedness. Leave aside that it took me ten minutes to find a parking space yesterday morning, but then it was market day. In a week or so, the winding down process will begin in preparation for la rentrée. In the meantime, plenty is going on.

Home or away?

Many French people have chosen to holiday in their own country this year. Airport chaos, the price of fuel and passport renewal delays have contributed. Equally, they have kept British tourists away: far fewer UK registration plates are around this summer. No doubt the B-word has a role in that, too, but I don’t want to revisit that particular subject.  

We stay firmly put during the high season, preferring to travel and see other places out of season, once the tourists have gone home. Our experience is that you see the real bones and sinews of a place then. Of course, we are lucky to have that luxury, when others are restricted by jobs and the school/academic year.

During the four successive canicules (heatwaves) of summer ‘22, we have barely done anything, except for essentials like food shopping. Thankfully, the weather has changed, as it usually does around mid-August.

Seven mm of rain fell overnight during a fairly gentle thunderstorm. That’s more than in the past seven weeks combined. You can almost hear the plants and trees breathe a sigh of relief. It’s warm instead of furnace hot. Doing things other than the mundane now becomes much more appealing.

Le Quinze Août

Le Quinze Août is a big public holiday in France and an important date in the religious calendar, since it celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. It was already a religious festival, probably inaugurated in the 6th century, but it became a holiday in France in 1638.

Louis XIII lacked an heir after 23 years of marriage. He was very devout and consecrated himself and his kingdom to the Virgin Mary in February 1638, having made a personal plea for an heir. The future Louis XIV was born in September that year. Louis decreed that le 15-août, already dedicated to the Virgin, should be a public holiday. Further, he requested that every village should hold a procession in her honour.

[Aside: Louis XIII visited Caylus and made it his HQ in 1622 while his troops sorted out the Protestant rebels down the road in Saint-Antonin. The red arrow in the image below shows the house where he stayed. The rivalry between the two villages, based partly on religious disagreement, has continued down the centuries.]

Louis XIII slept here.

Today, the religious aspect remains important, and the processions continue. A host of more secular attractions (fêtes, jumble sales, concerts, etc.) also takes place on le 15-Août, which has become très famille.

Notre-Dame-de-Consolation above Thiézac, Cantal, where we stayed this year. A procession takes place from the village to the chapel every 15th August.

Markets and music

The main event in our village is the Marché des Potiers (pottery market), an annual event spanning two days around August 15th. We need new china and earthenware like a hole in the head. In fact, we should be divesting ourselves of items that have sat unused in cupboards for decades. However, it’s always fun to see the pieces that artisans have cleverly fashioned. I wouldn’t necessarily want them myself, but I appreciate the effort and skill that have gone into them.

Caylus has two weekly markets: Tuesday in the Place de la Halle in the upper village; Saturday in the Place du Lavoir in the lower village. Both are transformed in the summer. The number of stalls increases several-fold, as does the number of customers.

For a couple of months, stalls selling brightly coloured dresses, hand-woven baskets and olives sit cheek by jowl with the year-round sellers of veg and fruit, cheese and eggs. Those mysterious flowered apron-dresses sported by French country women of a certain age will not reappear until September. My husband frequently offers to buy me one, a fate I have resisted so far.

This week, a music festival is also enlivening the village. This, too, is becoming an annual event. A series of 10, mostly classical, concerts takes place in spots around the village, including the church, the lake and the Place de la Halle.

Yesterday, while shopping in the market, we were treated to a quartet of four young men (they looked young to me, anyway) playing French variétés (popular songs from earlier eras) on trombones under the market hall.

We look forward to further concerts later in the week and hope the weather will hold for the ones held outside. If it could rain at night, that would be perfect.

Somebody below is clearly unmoved by all the festivities. I suspect this cat has been brought in for maintenance et récuperation.   

Autumn leaves

Next week, the summer visitors will start to drift away. An autumnal air is already perceptible, enhanced by the heaps of dead leaves that have fallen early from distressed trees. The nights are noticeably drawing in.

It will soon be time to prepare for the winter: order the firewood, book the chimney sweep’s annual visit and resume all the garden tasks that the canicule made impossible. Then comes the season of long walks amid the turning leaves, crisp mornings and mellow days. My favourite season.

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12 comments

  1. Hi Vanessa. So jealous of all that pottery! We have no room for any more either but I love looking. We’re on a commercial canal and so not in the right place for strolling round markets. Perhaps next August.
    We’ve got fallen leaves here as well, way too early. Like you I am looking forward to the autumn and some crisp fresh air and the energy to go out and explore again after this overly hot summer.
    MJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were some lovely pieces. Quite expensive, but it’s not surprising when you consider the work that goes into them.
      I am itching to get out and have some exercise. I’m afraid my muscles are atrophying from lack of walking. And it looks like being hot again next week! Perhaps not quite as hot as before, though.

      Like

  2. So many similarities in your area’s summer activities and ours, even down to the two day pottery event. I couldn’t face the heat that accompanied it this year which the local paper referred to as happening under a ‘soleil du plomb’. Just as well as our crockery situation is much the same as yours!
    Our twice weekly market heaves with extra stalls and visitors in July and August too. Referring to those aprons, ‘Mr McGregor’ bought me one for Christmas soon after we arrived here.. it lives in the bottom of a drawer! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • You probably get some of the same exposants at your pottery fair. We were fortunate that the weather had cooled down considerably between Saturday and Sunday, when it began. The sun really beats down on the market square.

      Ha, ha! So you’ve got an apron-dress. I don’t blame you for not wearing it, though…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The markets look great. There is some lovely pottery. You are lucky to have two markets a week as well as some special events as I thought Caylus was not especially big.
    It is good to hear the heat has passed, hopefully for this year. The heat is one of the reasons we do not travel to France in summer and prefer Spring or Autumn.
    And on that note, we have moved from tentatively considering a trip next year – April to end of June- to definitely considering it. I have re read your Cantal posts as we would like to include it again. Last time we stayed near Salers and this time we have found a couple of gites near Murat. This would open up new areas including where you stayed. So we are starting to get excited although everything has become more expensive. That is happening everywhere I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are lucky to have two markets, although summer and winter are different countries here. It was a clever move to site them in different places in the village so they have their own character. Caylus is not very big: about 1500 people across the whole, quite extensive, commune. There’s more going on these days than when we first moved here. It was a bit moribund then. Caylus still loses out to St Antonin a few km away, which has the attraction of a river and a spectacular site under the cliffs.

      I’m glad your dreams are turning into plans. Do get in touch if you are in this general area. It’s always lovely to meet readers. Yes, everything is getting more expensive by the day. Book now before it goes up again!

      Like

    • It’s good to hear from you. I hope you’re both well. It’s nice to see things getting back to – almost – normal after Covid, although I don’t suppose it’s gone away.

      Like

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