American songwriter Johnny Mercer left behind many unfinished compositions when he died in 1976, one of which Barry Manilow turned into a hit 8 years later under the title of today’s blog post. It’s a rather sad tale of a childhood in the distant past and a lost love that’s always brought back to mind when the leaves fall and “the snow begins to fly”. Add in a melancholy melody and you can understand why part of the refrain goes, “I turn my head away to hide the helpless tears….” Luckily in Carcassonne when the calendar changes from Halloween to All Saints’ Day, everything is a bit brighter than in the song.
In France, November 1 is the public holiday Toussaint (All Saints) that honors the dead with the tradition being to place a pot of chrysanthemums on the grave of a loved one. These flowers overflow every florist shop at this time of year and even the city’s public gardens are filled with all of these beautiful colors. It’s for that reason that many websites with advice about what not to do in France tell you to take a bouquet of anything except mums if you are invited to someone’s home for dinner. Knowing of that supposed “taboo” I was shocked when one of our neighbors saw us last week bringing home a gorgeous pot of chrysanthemums from the market and called out, “Ah, for me, thank you!” We’ll examine some of those cultural rules we’re supposed to follow in a future blog post.
In the summer, Carcassonne hosts a month-long music festival with nightly concerts on multiple stages throughout the city. International stars—Sting, Joan Baez, Black Eyed Peas, this year—plus dozens of groups well-known here attract hundreds of thousands of out-of-town visitors. With the arrival of cooler months, much smaller venues allow more intimate encounters at the city’s theater, for example, with comedies, operas, dance, and orchestras. Local musical groups of many kinds take over a nightclub-style stage at the city-owned Chapeau Rouge for free concerts and can even record their music there at no charge to present themselves to a wider audience. The city’s Fine Arts Museum recently signed an agreement with the Louvre in Paris that will bring exciting new special exhibits to town. Several other city owned galleries, with free entry too, provide lots of opportunity to view creations from local and national artists.
November 1 also marks the beginning of free entry into the nation’s monuments, including the castle here, on the first Sunday of each month through March. On our walk over there we can admire the changing leaves along the river, the vineyards now void of grapes but still full of autumn color, or the ducks gliding along the tree-lined canal. Just-picked apples, pumpkins, and chestnuts fill the market stalls and even the new crop of rice from my French teacher’s family farm is available. This area’s signature dish, a hearty duck and bean stew called cassoulet gets a warm welcome on dining tables on cool evenings.
November’s big US holiday of Thanksgiving, although not significant here, provides us with a handy reminder that we need to renew our annual residency cards. We’ll do that one more time and then after having been here for 5 years we can apply for a 10-year card. With that in hand we can begin the citizenship process. Details to follow.
So, despite the lyrics to the song, “when October goes” in Carcassonne there are no “helpless tears” but lots of art, music, nature, food, and wine!