Last weekend was the annual festival in Marchiennes, called Curcurbitades. It's kind of a welcoming for fall. This was very appropriate I thought, as it was the first day that really felt like fall, while its been cold here some, and even some rainy greyness, it was the first day that had crisp air and leaves in the gutters, and that earthy, smell that is inextricable with fall. I love fall, so this all made me very happy! The festival was very cool. I thought originally it was for Halloween, as there are many people who dress up, and it is also called the festival of the sorceress, but this is because the last night they burn the effigy of a witch, as a way to rid the town of evil spirits, I think. For all you Santa Feans that should be no stretch of the imagination, as we have our own burning of a large puppet, named Zozobra every year. You come into the area of town marked off for festival grounds and immediately there are booths lining the streets, selling nick-nacks and seed packets, and such. There are also a lot of waffles, crepes, and frites, as well as candy and caramel apples, which they call love apples, as they are died bright red. There were three or four stages set up around the grounds, where little shows and things were scheduled. Then every so often four or five girls clad in long white dresses and lots of glitter would get up on the stage with a box of chocolate coins. The crowds, mostly those with children, but also some adults in the spirit of things, would gather around and cheer, and cheer, while the girls held up the coins. Then when they felt the cheering was enthusiastic enough, they would chuck the coins over the crowds and everyone tries to catch them, or at least pick them up if they fell close enough. This went on for a good 15 minutes every time, and they threw tons of coins. It was quite fun because the crowd gets so into it with the cheering, and the competitiveness of trying to get a coin, and of course the girls were enjoying themselves immensely. We stopped buy a show put on by a circus type group set in ancient greek, replete with juggling torches. They asked for a male audience member to volunteer and then try to make him out as hercules by putting him through three tests, after each test, which involves some skill, trapeze work or tightrope walking, or juggling, he is rewarded with a bit of costume, by the end he was wearing a set of fake chest muscles, and a loin cloth. The really impressive part was when two members of the cast lit six torches on fire and proceeded to stand on either side of said hercules, and juggle the torches back and forth in front of him. After we'd had enough of that spectacle we stopped to buy waffles at one of the stands. There were two kinds of waffles being sold at the fair. Great big fat ones dipped in chocolate for 2 euros a piece, and then thin round ones which were then cut in half and filled with icing, which were sold in packs. As we were five and could purchase 20 of the little waffles for 6 euros it made more sense money wise to do that and each have 4, 2 of each flavor, vanilla and rum. They were tasty but the entire fair I could smell the other kind frying in the distance mixed heavily with the smell of melting powdered sugar, and I couldn't help think it would have been well worth the extra money to have a chocolate dipped one instead, oh well. The coolest part of the festival was not the waffles, or the circus or even the massive pumpkin display, from local farmers, but the stilt walkers. I mentioned earlier that people dress up for this, and its true there are some festival goers who dress up in solidarity with the real performers, but for the most part the costumes are on a variety stilt-walkers dressed as goblins and fairies, and other evil, or tricky spirits. There was one group of 4 or 5 fairies in all white with large wings who were followed by men with drums, on foot, also in all white, who were quite mysterious. Then a group that was much more colorful with masks that played music, mostly drums as well. However my absolute favorites were three demons who looked like the faun in Pan's Labyrinth, with long grisly hair, and hooves, at the bottom of their cocked knees. They had horns, and crazy noses, and long fingernails. There was a yellow one, a blue one, and a shocking red one. They would stand together towering over the crowd that would draw near to their alluring figures, very still for a minute and then let out a blood curdling screech and lunge into the crowd and chase the little children around for a bit, before moving off through the crowd and starting over again, it was very spooky, but none of the kids seemed terribly upset by it, though the screamed and ran their little behinds off if one pursued them it always ended in giggles, and I couldn't help thinking that in the US the little ones would be crying of fright, as they often do at halloween carnivals, so maybe French kids are tougher, I'm not sure, but it was so cool, and don't worry I took pictures. While I myself didn't end up attending the burning of the sorceress, so I don't know about that part, I'm told its exactly the same every year, and my family seemed a bit disenchanted with the whole thing. Isabelle and Gilles stayed home, while Thomas and Sarah and two of Thomas's friends and I went to see it by ourselves, but I think they enjoyed it none the less, and I certainly did. Though I have to say it was the first time I really felt home sick. I'm not exactly sure why I felt home sick as its a festival that only happens in Marchiennes, nothing like our fiestas, save maybe the Zozobra likeness, but something about it made me a bit sad. I think perhaps because it seemed like the kind of thing you'd want to go to with really good friends and family, and rendez-vous indoors afterwards for something hot and sugary, and while I'm very fond of my host siblings, it's just not quite the same.
The next thing to talk about is Raclette. It is actually a swiss dish I think, but its popular in parts of France and Belgium as well. Its similar to fondu, but apparently its the kind of thing where you have to pick one and be loyal to it. I really couldn't say which I prefer, but I like them both. Raclette is a type of cheese, and the name comes from the French word to scrape, as you melt the cheese and then scrape a bit off onto your plate. Well now they have nifty little contraptions just for raclette, that resemble panini presses, except that instead of opening the top is suspended an inch or two from the bottom and then everyone has a little triangular pan on which they set there slice of cheese, which is then inserted into the slit, and the whole pan is heated so that before long your cheese is melted and bubbling slightly, and delicious. You put your cheese on top of a boiled potato, which you have to peel and cut into chunks first. Then you eat it with charcuterie, or meats such as sausage, salami, prosciutto, ham, or pate, and cornichons, and pickled onions, etc. It's all terribly filling, but wonderfully tasty. We ate this at their friends house, the same friends whom we have been socializing with since the first week, including La Braderie, as they insisted that I try a raclette before leaving France, and there's no better time than a cool fall night.
I have two stories to tell you, one about the lovely lunch we had today in the company of Gilles's mother who was very sweet, but I feel I must tell you about her dog, and the other is of my encounter with a teacher in a bathroom, which was quite frightening. But I simply have no more energy tonight, but now that I have told you about them, it will encourage me to write sooner, rather than later when the edge has worn off. Hopefully tomorrow, while my chocolate chip cookies are in the oven. I still haven't had a chance to bake an all american apple pie yet, but I feel its coming, however until then cookies will be a nice baking adventure.
p.s. also coming tomorrow the rest of my curcurbitades photos.