This weekend in the town of St. Aulaye just over the border between the Poitou-Charentes and the Dordogne, there was a huge festival known as La Félibrée du Pays. It is a yearly celebration, held in different towns each year, of the language, music, dances and songs of the Occitan, drawing thousands of people.
This year was no exception. We didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the crowds that were there. I’m not so sure the organizers were either, because by Sunday afternoon, no beverage stands had any bottles of water left, every toilet has a line to kingdom come, and some places has already run out of food! I hadn’t seen this many people in one place (or collectively in many places) in the whole time I’ve lived in rural France.
Comfort challenges aside, it was quite a delightful spectacle. The entire village was decorated in bright and colorful, plastic flower bunting. There were hundreds of people dressed in traditional attire from various French regions. There were horses, musicians, dancers, lace-makers, wood-carvers, and people! (Did I mention the endless rivers of people?)
We walked through the throngs looking for some food, and not finding anything palatable, ended up standing in line a good 20 minutes for ice-cream. Nothing ever tasted so good. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in the middle of the parade (not on the sides watching like well-behaved spectators. Woops!). We cut out on a side street and finally discovered some food, so we ate in reverse dining order.
St. Aulaye is a charming village…like most French villages. Around every corner is a picturesque house with a beautiful garden. It was an overcast day, but the sun had broken through several times making it quite hot. We walked around and foolishly became quite dehydrated. Eventually, I had a whopping headache and felt near to passing out. We went to three different stands in search of water and felt like the Holy Couple, finding no room at the inn. Passing the First Aide station, we considered dropping right in front of them, thinking this would surely get us some water, but thought better of it since neither of us wanted to be taken to the hospital. The fourth beverage stand which was near the entrance (now our exit) was the true life-saver with a gleaming bottle of Perrier still in their refrigerator.