Midsummer’s Festival of Fire!

Diny and Ben were a valuable source of information when it came to giving us the low-down on what was happening around the area fete-wise. There seemed to be celebrations of some kind or other popping up all the time – things only locals would know about and tourists wouldn’t normally stumble across.

This latest impending ‘do’ we were told was the Fete du Feu – the midsummer Festival of Fire – to be held at a small hilltop village called Belaye, only half an hour away and overlooking the gorgeous Lot River. There was to be a BBQ-spit roast, an acrobat-clown and a gypsy folk band plus assorted other kinds of acts celebrating…well…celebrating fire.

After informing us of this fun-fest our smiles quickly turned upside down when Diny said that the dinner was all booked out. …But we still could go and watch the performances and entertainment.

We’d already had a long day at Sarlat and its markets, then at the gardens of Manoir de D’Eyrignac, but Sharon and I stunned ourselves by having enough energy to head off to Balaye in search of clowns and gypsy bands while Heather fell in an exhausted heap. (Being midsummer, the bonfire and entertainment didn’t actually start until 10:30 or 11:00 pm!)

Sharon and I arrived as a beautiful sunset gave way to a stunning twilight. The crowd (mostly quite young) had obviously eaten their sumptuous BBQ. All that was left were the shimmering embers of the BBQ and many dirty paper plates. The crowd were also showing obvious signs of having indulged themselves in the local wines as well.

At sunset the Fete du Feu bonfire was to be lit. But the weather had been extremely hot, and everything was very dry, so there was a fire ban all through the region. The Feu stayed unlit. (We’d seen quite a number of bonfires set on our travels for this widely celebrated tradition, but all would stay unlit. Surprising to us, it didn’t seem to be a problem lighting the BBQ.)

As the twilight melted into night, on came the acrobat-clown. He juggled things, balanced on a ball, and fascinated the children. But for me, the highlight was the all-girl gypsy band made up of 3 generations. The grandmother and her daughter must’ve given birth at a very young ages because to me they just looked like a mother and daughters. They were great – playing their fiddles, accordion, tamborine and singing.

But in all drunken crowds there always seems to be one idiot who has to be just that – a drunken loud-mouthed idiot. He yelled and tried to outdo the girls like a braying donkey. Luckily some of his friends took him aside and managed to subdue him. But I felt sorry for the girls in the band as it detracted from a fabulous performance which many decent bystanders were trying to enjoy and support.

I don’t know what time it was when they finished but as the fire ban was preventing any more of the planned fire spectacles, we decided to beat the hoards to the carpark. It was going to be an absolute bun-fight getting out through the narrow streets and down the hill. Evidence soon confirmed this as we passed a car with its wing mirror dangling by one wire after someone had obviously made a hasty exit ahead of us!

Tina and Sharon

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