Le Gers: Marciac in Fourcès

While still In Paris wondering what Le Gers would be like, H sent me a couple of e-mails describing music festivals taking place while I was there.  He let me know how far away they were from Pouy and whether he had enjoyed them in the past.  So I thought “OK, if there’s nothing better to do, I’d love to go hear music.”

Upon my arrival and with very little investigation, I learned that there were at least three or four festivals a weekend, most including music: Organ concerts almost every night of the week that rotated around village churches and cathedrals; spectacles; theatre; night markets with bands to both listen to and dance to.  Saying there are a few music festivals during the summer in Le Gers is a bit like saying there are a few raindrops when it rains.

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The most famous of the Festivals is a ten day Jazz Festival in Marciac (southwest of Auch).  Special guests this year were Joan Baez (sold out immediately) and Santana.  It would have been a very long day to go to Marciac and come back on small roads that I didn’t know well late at night (remember how the Gascons drive!).  After Barbara arrived, we went to visit Fourcès (my second time) and we saw a sign advertising Marciac in Fourcès, August 10.  Easy to get to as it was 20 minutes from Pouy. Off we went, driving my favourite back route through Mèzin passing fields of exhausted sunflowers, heads bowed down awaiting their fate.

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We arrived around 9pm and the music had started.  The town square which is a circle, making it one of Les plus beaux villages de France, was filled with chairs, every one of which had a person sitting n it.  Many people had brought their own chairs or stools and at least 200 hundred people were eating at tables they had brought, full of wonderful food,circling the centre.  We ran into a woman we’d met earlier in the week.  Something like that always helps me feel like I belong.  After a walk around the shops which were open for the evening, we made our way to the front to listen.  A friendly Gascon gave Barbara his seat on a long bench.  The woman seated next to her turned out to be the drummer’s mother.  The group was called The Louisiana Hot Trio and they had brought along a famous horn player, JF Bonnel.  He had three other wind instruments at his feet in front of him.

 

The music was toe-tapping good, it was difficult to keep still.  I saw couples doing a jitterbug under the arches that encircle the “square”.  The sky was clear and full of stars.  Everyone was smiling, many bouncing their heads in tune with the music.  One fellow seemed a bit tipsy and made his way to the top of one of the two haystacks on either side of the stage.  After making sure that everyone saw him, he lay down on his back, arms behind his head, feet in the air and settled in to listen to the music under the stars.

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Before we left home at 8:30pm, we thought we were tired.  We said we would only stay an hour. HA! We stayed to the bitter end–not late for the French, maybe 11pm.  Some, like us, wandered off to their cars.  Many migrated to the restaurants.

IMG_1561.JPGI hear Marciac can be expensive.  Marciac in Fourcs was free.  I wondered if it was due to the fact that the drummer was a local.  H. later told me that the real local was someone connected to the Jazz Festival and had the clout to bring one group to his village.  It was a night to remember.  Not just for the music but for the welcoming attitude of the Gascons, the ability to join in to a local fête and the sense of being right where we were supposed to be.

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A bientôt,

Sara

Le Gers: Heatwave, driving and the nicest people one could ever meet

I’ve been told that the heatwave that has hit all of Europe has broken all records. I have certainly felt it down here in Le Gers. There is something so different about being this hot when you live in a stone house and have a pool!  I get errands done in the morning or plan a hike and make sure I’m back in the house by 2pm at the very latest.  Then it’s nap time, reading time, swimming time.  If I need to go out again, I make sure I’ll be in the shade as the heat doesn’t even begin to subside until 10pm at night.  Who knew when I planned this month down here in March that I would be escaping hot and miserable Paris.  I feel very fortunate.

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Is it because of the heat that all the sunflowers are bowing their heads?  Probably not, That’s what happens.  They bow their huge heads into their long necks and nothing but a pale yellow and green shows in the fields.  It’s very pretty but it’s not like seeing proud sunflowers looking at the sun and loyally following it’s path during the day.  Soon they will be harvested and turned into sunflower oil.  That patch of ground will then be home to wheat.  It’s so fun to see sunflowers popping up willy nilly in and around the wheat.  The stubborn ones kept their seeds nearby.

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The Gascons drive terribly.  Very fast on roads that are barely wide enough for one car.  The Gascons live here and probably know these roads like the back of their hands.  It must be frustrating to have summer people driving slower, looking at the gorgeous countryside, filling up on the beauty that is Le Gers.  I’m pretty sure of this because they come right up on my tail and wait for the first possibility of passing.  I pull as close to the right as I can to make it easier but when I see a van coming in the opposite direction and the road isn’t wide enough for both of them, I find myself holding my breath, my eyes grow very wide and I say a little prayer to the driving gods that all will be ok.  So far, I haven’t seen an accident.  The people that live here tell me accidents happen a lot.

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The people that live here….  I’ve met Gascons, I’ve met Brits, I’ve met a few Americans.  Everyone of them is genuinely happy to help if I have a question or just chat if I don’t.  Saturday, I was in Agen with my friend Barbara.  We went to a pharmacy to get some bug spray and anything to help with the itching.  Barbara got a prescription filled and we just chatted away with the pharmacist.  As we were getting ready to leave, she disappeared for one second and returned with two french soaps.  One for each of us.  Just because.

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Not the Brits but I didn’t have a photo of them so you get the swans!

There are two Brits who live in Pouy and have done so for 12 years.  The wife arrived on our doorstep last week with a big box of tomatoes, corgettes and green beans that she had just picked from her potager.  The smell of freshly picked tomatoes is unlike anything I’ve ever smelled.  It makes me wonder how I ever ate those tomatoes my mother used to buy that were wrapped in cellophane and sold in the A&P.  Today, we went over to see their home.  They had bought a house that had been empty for years and they gutted it except the bones.  They now have a lovely, tasteful stone home (the walls were maybe the ramparts of the Chateau next to them) with something precious to look at at every turn.  After drinks of cool, cool water, it was time to leave and she handed us another bag of fresh green beans and tomatoes.  The thing is they would treat anyone this way.

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Sara, Sallie Erichson and Fatiha

Then there is Sallie Erichson, the American Photographer, who I met two weeks ago at a Fete.  When she realised that I was just visiting for the summer, she got my contact info and invited me for dinner with her and her husband.  When my friends from Paris arrived, we went over to her home and she entertained us for a couple of hours.  Plus, each time we were going out for dinner, I would ask her for a suggestion.  So far, she is batting 1000.

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And lastly, there is Simone, the mother of a friend of Barbara’s.  She is 93 years old and when Barbara realised we were staying only 2 km distance from the mother’s home, she suggested to her friend that she might check up on mom in all this heat.  Both of us were picturing a frail old woman suffering from loneliness while everyone was staying inside.  We rang her doorbell and a sturdy woman answered and shook her finger at us and said she wasn’t interested.  She thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Her son had told her that Barbara would visit so when she realised who we were, we all doubled up laughing.  She took us through her house, completely shuttered up to prevent the heat from entering, to a small terrace in the back.  We must have stayed 45 minutes while she entertained us.  We walked through her lovely gardens and both Barbara and I hoped that we looked and functioned like her at 93 years old.  Each time Barbara asked if we could buy her something or help her with something, she didn’t need us.  She has plenty of friends who stop by.  She is well cared for.

And thus continues my wonderful month in Le Gers.

A bientôt,

Sara

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Le Gers: Pouy-Roquelaure

I am in the south-west of France.  Once upon a time, this area was known as Gascony–famous for it’s wonderful food and fois gras.  Then the area was divided into two parts: Le Gers, more inland, and Landes, the beaches, as far south as Bayonne, and the forests that border Gers.  The people here are still known as Gascons, the restaurants are still famous for Gascon cooking and Le Canard Gascon is still pictured on many publications looking cute and silly.  Which I’m quite positive he is not feeling as he is foie gras in the making.

After living in Paris 4.5 years, I have some confidence that my home in California will stay rented and that I can pay my rent in Paris.  So for the first time, I have done two home exchanges.  The first one was last winter in London and this is my second.  I am staying in the lovely home of two Americans who live here permanently and they are staying in Oakland.  I am now a true Parisienne who has left Paris for the summer!

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Pouy-Roquelaure can be found on the map halfway between Agen and Condom.  It is a very small village with a church and a Mairie (Mayor’s office) but no retail of any kind.  It doesn’t even have a morning march.  I am staying just outside of Pouy with a view of sunflowers everywhere and far into the distance the patchwork quilt of green, brown and yellow.  It is extraordinarily beautiful.  In the morning, if I eat my breakfast outside I can hear the songs of birds and am just a bit sorry that I don’t recognise their breed.  As the day gets hotter, the birds are quiet, everything is quiet and only on a windy day can one hear that familiar country refrain of leaves rustling.

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The first morning I was here, I walked out the front door, went down to the mailbox and turned left.  From there, I followed trails/paths that took me alongside sunflower fields, a small stream then into the village of Pouy and back to Tourée–a full circle of about 8 kilometres.

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I am also charged with caring for a ‘swimming’ pool.  I have never had my own swimming pool.  Lovely as it is to jump in when I’m hot, I don’t think I’d want one.  For one thing, it’s a lot of work.  But more important to someone who loves to swim as much as I do, it is agonizing.  I do about five strokes of the crawl and hit the end.  I almost had a smash up involving a number of fingers on my hand the first time I had the great idea of swimming laps!  So I’m not thinking of it as a “swimming” pool but only a pool.  It is unheated and the loveliest time of day to get in is late afternoon, early and late evening when the sun has heated the water up.  I must admit that getting into my bathing suit at 10pm and swimming a couple of laps is a truly delicious experience.

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The French love to walk for which I’m very grateful.  They produce an endless amount of books on walks in every region of France.  My hosts equipped me with two books of Les Randonnées (as walking in France is called).  One covers the Gers region below the city of Agen and one covers the Lot-et-Garonne region above Agen.  To my delighted surprise, a large part of the GR65 known as the Chemin de St. Jacques goes through Pouy to Condom to the walled city of Larressingle on it’s way down into Spain.  Walking the Compostale is on my bucket list and I can now say I’ve walked at least 45 minutes on it!!!  The symbol of GR means Grands Randonnées which are the larger trails that go through a number of regions and PR is Petites Randonnées which are the smaller trails that stay within a region.

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The red and white symbol is for the GR65 and the yellow one is for PR4.  There was a about 30 minutes of this walk where the two were the same trail.
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A preview of one my randonnées 

Next: the village of Condom and some surrounding towns.

A Bientôt,

Sara