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Paella Night (!) at the Fete du Village

August 6th, 2017 · No Comments · France

Little towns in the south of France have more spirit and energy than unwitting visitors might expect. Especially if the visitors happened into a village in the winter.

Ah, but the summer …

A different story.

The villages in this part of the Languedoc gear up in the summer with events such as weekly barbecues and semi-weekly bingo games in the plaza and music in the local church or party room. (And every town has a church and a party room (a salle de fete). It might be a law from the Napoleonic Code.

The local mayors are expected to make sure that happens.

Also, vineyards near the villages can be counted on to hold open-houses in the afternoon, with free tastings and perhaps a food truck to provide lunch.

Outsiders who own places in the villages, houses left empty during the winter, are filled again as the northerners (French, English, Dutch, German …) stream into town, chasing the sun and often followed by their children and grandchildren. And the quiet little villages turn into collections of people going from one party to the next.

Something resembling the height of the season went on, in our town, over the weekend.

On Friday, carnival-style mobile units pulled into the plaza, and a bouncy-house and shooting gallery and carousel were soon up and running.

Live music was provided by a local singer, and the town’s single cafe sold pizza and wine and beer at low rates. When we got back into town from a visit to a neighboring town, the locals were still dancing, at 11 p.m.

Saturday night was the big show. At 7, live classical music in the 300-year-old church, where a man who makes and plays guitars performed for 30 minutes, followed by a brother (violin, oboe) and sister (flute) duo playing for another 30 minutes — with the guitar veteran joining in at the end with his self-made double bass.

The near-capacity crowd then streamed from the church into the plaza, where chairs and long tables were set up and the sun was about to go down. The afternoon heat was dissipating nicely.

We had an hour for an aperitif, and everyone could produce their own bottles or buy them from the cafe. Much wine was drunk. Some people brought appetizers to hold the crowd of 150 or so at bay until the paella arrived.

I love meat-and-rice dishes so, of course, I love paella. As does just about everyone.

Paella apparently was popularized near Valencia, which is a few hours south of Barcelona, in Spain, and at the southern end of a cultural region that continues north and east past Barcelona and into the Languedoc.

Over the centuries, quite a few people moved back and forth across the eastern side of the Pyrenees, and the area has languages that must have been mutually comprehensible, not all that long ago.

Occitan in this part of France, Catalan around Barcelona and Valencian in and around Valencia.

Some members of the crowd gifted/cursed with a keen sense of smell sniffed out the arrival of the paella before the rest of us did and got in line immediately.

The paella came on two enormous platters, each as big across as a tractor tire. And piping hot. (Where it was made, I don’t know.)

This paella was mostly seafood-oriented. Shrimp, mussels, scallops, with a bit of chicken. All of it sitting atop the thick base of rice, with a bit of baguette included for the important French event of “wiping the plate”.

Everyone was happy and the seven euros (about $8) we spent for the paella and a glass of wine seemed worth it. It’s not like any of us could make it nearly as well for less than that. As for the live music before and after? No charge.

And we weren’t done! The carnival rides were going strong, absorbing some of the little-kid energy, and the rest of us turned our attention to the far end of the plaza, where the stage was set up, and a handsome woman with a pleasant contralto voice was just getting revved up with a lineup of oldies and not-so-oldies … when the weather front we had been warned about arrived overhead.

Within a few minutes, big, fat drops of rain were hitting us on the head, and the plaza cleared in about two minutes. Some of the people stood under cover, ready to wait out the passing lightning and thunder … but most of the rest headed home. It was 10 p.m., which is semi-late in French villages, even in summer.

So, to recap … music, a wine-tasting party, paella on an industrial scale and more music.

Not bad for a slow little village.



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