DERNIER MOT - A FETE WORSE THAN DEATH
When we first arrived in Moisson, we were charmed by the prospect of the annual “fête votive” in August. As the parked cars were cleared out of the village square we imagined girls in print dresses waltzing with their swains under strings of coloured lights. There would be sun-burnt musicians playing accordions and violins, fathers dancing with children, mothers throwing off their aprons, girls letting their hair down and boys in clean shirts dutifully asking grannies to dance.
There would be a big feast - all the villagers sitting at a long table covered with a white cloth and laden with cordon bleu dishes. Garlic, aubergines, olive oil, rough red wine, a slight breeze rustling the leaves as the plane trees looked on benignly... laughter would ring on the cobbles, the chairs would be wooden with rush seats, everyone would have golden late-afternoon sunlight filtering through their hair.
As they set up the bar, we included French country types in the picture: men with long moustaches drinking pastis and shrugging their shoulders; black-clad grannies daringly sipping thimblefuls of Muscat; sun-kissed children skipping through the crowds followed by a funny little dog with one ear flying.
We watched as the coloured lights and flags were strung from the trees, and exclaimed with wonder when the bar turned out to be 200 metres long and made of cast iron. We were slightly perplexed by the industrial skip, but pleased to note the installation of a chip-fryer and we merely smiled when the refrigerated pantechnicon arrived: the French certainly know how to hold a church fête, we thought.
Friday dawned and after the boules, the music started up for the apéros. It was so loud you could hear it from right across the valley. Well, acoustics are weird at times we told ourselves, going out to the crowded square.
Making our way to the bar, we wondered where everyone had come from. We’d never seen any of these people before, and it seemed as if more and more of them were pouring into the village.
How nice we thought, that French traditions are so warmly regarded. How reassuring to think that all these young people want to waltz and fox-trot; playing their parts in a ritual stretching back thousands of years. And why shouldn’t they enjoy a drink? On a hot August evening, why not get a little tipsy? And if they were wearing jeans and leather jackets rather than print frocks and clean shirts, so what?
The band started up just before midnight. With an explosion of drumming, feedback and electric guitars, a dozen black-clad rockers appeared on the stage. Two sulky disco dancers emerged into the strobe lights. Smoke swirled round their thighs as they launched into “Come On Eileen!”
Our romantic fantasies shrivelled and died. The cacophony not only rattled the window panes, but also cracked the roof tiles. Dazed, we retreated from the heaving, sweating crowd as they struggled and pressed towards the stage. There were at least three thousand revellers crammed into the square, and no security, no sanitary provision, nothing. Just ear-splitting music and oceans of alcohol. Yep, it was a three-day non-stop rave.
Tempers boiled over, there were fights, people got drunk, they threw up, they heaved the geraniums into the river, scrawled graffiti everywhere, hurled empty beer bottles into the allotments, and generally enjoyed themselves hugely.
It’s the tradition, they explained. We always come to Moisson for the last and biggest fête of the season because it’s free, you can do what you like, there are no gendarmes.
But there’s another tradition, too. Most of the permanent residents barricade their houses and gardens, gather up their pets, get in their cars, and go away for a long weekend.
And that’s the tradition we love.
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