Free association

Festival of Associations

There are over 500 clubs, interest groups, and other hobby alliances, all classed as Associations,  registered with the mayor’s office in Carcassonne. That seemed like a lot for a town of 50,000 inhabitants until I started investigating why there might be so many. A law went into effect in 1901 to ensure that two or more persons were free to organize themselves without fear of persecution by the government. Additional benefits, at least where we live, include members being able to use city property for meetings, free publicity for their events, very modest monetary support, and the ability to hold a garage/yard sale annually. Individuals are prohibited from having what our British friends call a car-boot sale, as its considered unfair competition to a town or village’s small shopkeepers, so being able to raise money for an organization in this way can be vital.

As part of that free publicity for all of those associations, the first weekend of September each year the city holds a fair where all the groups who sign up are given a table and other display space as needed to inform the public about their activities. In the case of a dance group or musical ensemble, for example, there is also a stage for the members to show others what can be achieved by joining their club. There were more than 130 tables that covered a variety of interests including sports, culture, art, and lots of volunteer opportunities in humanitarian and health areas. The AVF (sort of the Welcome Wagon) where we take French classes and I teach English was there as well as another favorite, the SPA—but not for pampering humans—as this is the Society for the Protection of Animals.

Artist’s impression of the sale street
…and the real thing

The next day we saw one of those neighborhood association garage sales in action. Here they are called Vide Grenier (literally “empty attic”) and Le Trivalenc is one of the largest ones in the region with nearly 200 vendors. The 800 meter (½ mile) road leading up to the castle is closed to cars and every inch of sidewalk covered with tables piled high with true antiques and some slightly newer treasures. On the left you can see the artist’s rendition of the street advertising the sale and to the right is Bill’s real-life picture from the same angle showing the castle in the background. These sales are so popular (there were 20 others the same day in our Department) that I’ll include a link below to the website devoted to them across the country.

I’m currently taking an online course called “Living in France” that deals with both the day-to-day activities of someone who moves here from elsewhere in the world plus the history and culture of the French people. It’s designed to help new arrivals quickly assimilate and by chance, the weekend earlier this month when we went to these two events described above, I was studying about “The Principles of the Republic”. You may be familiar with this country’s motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and that last word was definitely in action that weekend. Joining together with others for the benefit of the entire community is inherent in the spirit here. We look forward to freely continuing this association with our neighbors and friends.

Groups mentioned:

AVF (Accueil des Villes Françaises) national website:

SPA Carcassonne Facebook:

Garage sales:

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