Fete de la Musique

Every year on the weekend before the longest day of the year the French have a party in every town across the nation. It’s not just any party though, it’s an all out music festival with music of every kind scattered on little stages throughout the downtown.

The café’s and restaurants spill onto the streets because there are no cars to dodge on the cobblestones on this night. We started the evening out by playing a game of cards (Jeu de Carte) under the canopy in the garden. . Every time any of us has free time, Bernard or Jay usually will suggest a quick game of cards in the garden. We often play at Bernard’s in the late evening. Even at 10:00 (22 hour in France) we sit in the garden watching the swallows swooping for bugs and listening to their lovely calls to each other. If it gets late enough the resident bat comes out too.

After the card game we had dinner el fresco (outside) in our garden. The breeze was light and it was a sunny warm day. First we had different pastes on a hard Swedish toast. There was curry, basil, black olive and cheese (for Jay who hates the others). Next was a fabulous green herb salad from the garden with all kinds of lettuce and “weeds” as Jay would say including dandelion in honor of my friend Dale Worstall. It also had aubergine (eggplant) and artichoke. The secret ingredient though was fresh mint. Then we had baked eggs with herbs from the garden. I included basil, chives and sage. Delicious.

For Bernard and Monique I also served baked beans. Monique loves them and didn’t realize she could buy them at the local market. They remind her of the year she spent as a maid in London. Next were two kinds of cheese and more thick bread. The dessert was a framboise (raspberry) tart that was too beautiful to slice, but we did. All of this was topped off with cold sun tea, which is a luxury for us because our refrigerator is so small it won’t hold big containers. I had made the tea early in the day and put it in the basement on the brick floor to keep it cool and then made 10 tiny ice cubes, which weren’t completely frozen, but they did the job.

After this wonderful meal in the cool evening air we set off up the hill to see the festival. We hadn’t gone two blocks when we noticed that two cars blocked the road and the male drivers were standing in the middle of the street. As we got closer we could see that the cars were not damaged but the men were really angry. Just as we got to the cars the younger man threw a punch at the older guy. The older guy swung back and everything went down hill from there. I started screaming, “Stop it!” (which IS English I know but the French say this too). A young man who was walking up the street jumped in between the two guys. Then even weirder things happened. The young guy started laughing, and then so did the other man. Then they both sort of waved goodbye to each other and got back into their cars. The older guy parked his car, and that was when we realized they were fighting over the parking space. We were sure the young man was going to do something to the other car as soon as the driver parked so we just stood there and watched. Pretty soon the young guy pulled away and all seemed forgotten by them.

The Fete de Music was a marvelous mix of every kind of music you can imagine. In front of Notre Dame there was a group of men playing French horns and inside the church there was a concert with the great pipe organ. Later in front of the church a band played Bob Dylan songs on a make shift stage. The lead singer had on a straw hat and when Bernard heard him break into the Dylan song he asked me if he was singing in English. We followed our little map to different music sites to hear grunge music at the parking garage (terrible even if it was good), a choral group over by the most photographed house in town, and a string quartet over by Cat’s school. The whole time we were doing this we didn’t see anyone advertising anything. That was the shocker. Imagine having a music festival in the US and not seeing one ad for a soft drink or beer. I don’t think it is possible.

My favorite group though was the djembe drummers. They were an odd mix of hippie and reserved types but the drumbeat was contagious and the crowed was large.

At the end of the evening, after I had waded through a sea of people to get back to Notre Dame I stood in the square in front of the church just taking in the evening. Here I was standing in front of an ancient Roman building that seemed to climb all the way to the clouds. It’s gothic spirals served as a reminder that some things last and some things don’t.

The last rays of the longest day of the year drew out the swallows from the bell tower as they frantically searched for a last bite of food. And the music of Bob Dylan rang in my ears.


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Writer, farmer, scientist, from Ohio

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