Holiday? Let’s have a fête!

The covered market parking lot filled with people, food, and drink

Rumor has it that the French have a whole lot more time off from work than Americans do. It is true that many full time employees here receive 5 weeks of vacation each year while we know folks back in the “old country” who struggle to ration out their 2 weeks, combining them with weekends or other holidays to stretch the break a little longer. With annual trips to Europe, often to France, Bill and I were lucky to have had employers with much more liberal leave policies. But what about nationwide holidays known as public or bank holidays or in the US, federal holidays? In America there are 10 with an 11th day added every 4 years for Inauguration Day. In France it’s 11 and if any of those fall on a weekend, too bad, it’s not moved to the closest Friday or Monday so employees don’t get the day off. Last Thursday we celebrated one of those jours fériés that wasn’t on a weekend with 2 festivals; one in the lower town where we live and the other in the upper Medieval walled city that overlooks us.

Meanwhile inside the market

Since 1768 the covered market in the middle of Carcassonne has been the central meeting point to buy fresh food several days each week. As the range and availability of products grew, so did the crowds, and the arrival of electricity around 1920 provided a logical solution. Vendors of fruits and vegetables could set up in the square outside of Les Halles while those needing refrigeration could still rent space inside. It was those sellers of meats, fish, and chicken who organized last week’s Les Halles en Fête to promote their foods. The butchers, fishmongers, and chicken growers that we normally see behind big glass counters inside the building were now at booths in the parking lot offering tastings to tempt you to buy a full plate of tapas. It didn’t take us long to choose a couple of overflowing plates and a bottle of wine to accompany our lunch.

Vendors at the drawbridge

After that tasty meal a 20-minute walk was just what we needed to get to the second festival of the day. Right at the main entrance of the Medieval walled city, La Cité, a “village” had been set up to spotlight some of the small producers in this area. Individuals are proud of their work be it wine, olives, honey, cheese, cakes, or ice cream. The emphasis is on quality and creativity using what’s available locally. The dyes for the textile artist come from the plants grown in her garden while the basket maker gets reeds near his workshop. Claire, the ceramics painter, lives in our neighborhood. It doesn’t get more local than that. I think that the association’s moto, “De notre terroir à votre table!” or roughly “From our land to your table!” says it all.

Les Halles de Carcassonne:

Producers’ Village: 

Le Petit Atelier de Claire:

Fresh seafood platters
Atelier de Claire
Sparkling wine by Barbedette

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