La Foire Agricole

Since we got here, we’ve been seeing signs proclaiming “Foire Agricole à Reillanne, 14 Oct” (Agricultural Fair in Reillanne).  Something like a harvest festival, we surmised.  Keen to experience local culture in all its forms, we resolved to drop into the Foire for a few hours on Sunday morning, before setting off to collect the horses.

A Harvest Festival in Ireland is typically a Protestant tradition, although in some towns, the local Catholic church will get involved, too, giving it an ecumenical, although still religious, flavour.  There’ll be a few prayers said at the official opening, giving thanks for the Harvest, then it’s time to hit the stalls – cakes and preserves made by the ladies of the Parish, various games of chance, lucky dips and bric-a-brac – then you finish up having a nice cup of tea (but usually not Barrys!!) and a sandwich at the tea-stall.  Funds are typically being raised for the Parish coffers, the school, maybe, or the church roof, or sometimes for a worthy local charity.  All in all, it’s not terribly different to what you might see on The Vicar of Dibley.

I can categorically say that the Foire Agricole in Reillanne was nothing like that.  The first thing that caught our eye was a vast array of benches and trestle tables, all covered with snow-white tablecloths.  Lunch was clearly on the agenda.

There were plenty of Provençal costumes around too.  Some of them were “staff” who were helping to set up the food tables, but there were plenty more who just dressed up for the fun of it.

No Fair or Foire is complete without Face-painting for the kiddies and this one was no exception.

I’m not sure that little person really wanted her face painted!

There were all the usual Provencal style food stands – goats cheese, artisanal bread, cakes and some more exotic fare, too.

Squashes – not really exotic, but SO colourful!
Escargots – snails!

Sad to say, I think the cage of rabbits belongs in the food section.  While doing Le Big Trek, Anne and I passed a farm with cages and cages of rabbits at one side, just like these.  Yum.

As well as food, though, there were lots of stalls which gave a little taste of Provençal traditions.

A stand selling painted and unpainted Santons.  These terracotta figurines were traditionally made to be part of a Nativity scene, giving their Christmas nativity displays a very Provençal flavour.  Now, they are mostly made to sell to tourists, but they’re still pretty cute!

L’atelier de mon Père.  This was a steam-driven model workshop, complete with accordian music (on an incongruous CD player), steam whistle and French flag.

There were potters, lavender producers and basket weavers
and a large tent, full of blacksmiths (both male and female) working on red-hot metal.

These guys weren’t farriers, they were making all sorts of funky metal things, curtain poles, stools, tables etc.  There was a guy further on doing a horse-shoeing display as well.
There were pens of animals, complete with labels identifying whose farm they came from.

I was fascinated with a large pen of mixed poultry.  Our good neighbours, Frank and Margo, who looked after Aero & Flurry for the last two weeks, would have loved this – they’ve got some fairly interesting poultry themselves.

Handsome geese :

A less handsome turkey :

A very cuddly bantam :

A pair of ducks who seem to be wearing Doris Day wigs :

I think this very large (meaty? sorry Thumper!) rabbit was teasing the drake about his hair-do :

In the middle of the Foire, there was a large fenced off area, which was used for displays.  When we arrived, a rather unfortunate man was trying to demonstrate the abilities of his truffle-hunting dog, a gorgeous hairy creature, who looked just like Benjy.  “Benjy” was having none of it, however, and was much more interested in eating the horse poop which was scattered around the place, so they left the arena without locating any of the hidden truffles.
After Benjy, there was a demonstration with a grey mare, a Mareyeur Boulonnais, a breed of heavy horse reknown for its rôle in transporting fish from the ports of Normandy to Paris.  This mare, though, was trained for forestry, and the commentator made sure we all knew that she and her handler were available for work, should we need any trees felled and hauled.
The Forestier drove the mare around the arena, stopping, starting, circling and turning.
Then he left the arena.  Ho-hum, I thought, that was a bit tame.  However, he quickly attached the mare to a large log and returned, and went through the same movements.  I’ve never seen a horse hauling a dead weight like this before, and I was interested to see that it was all very fast – in my head, I had imagined a slow steady pull, but this pair worked in jerky, rapid movements.  Perhaps that’s necessary to break the inertia of the log and get it moving?

There were loads of horses around the place, in fact the Foire had a very equine flavour altogether.  Loads of local horsey people just turned up for a day out with their horses, riding casually through the crowds and the stands to the pens and picket lines at the back, where they left their horses while they wandered off to see the sights.  There were few helmets in evidence and fewer still Safety Officers, in fact, make that “a few” helmets and “no” Safety Officers!  Still, most of the horses took it all in their stride, as if they do this sort of thing every week, and maybe they do.
After the Forestier, a few young horses were introduced.  Their owners were hoping to find a buyer in Reillanne – an unlikely outcome, to be honest.  This colourful chap was trying to sell a couple of mules :

This grey yearling almost demolished the fence and then made a good attempt at getting away from his owner – just after the owner had finished telling the world how docile he is!  Animals will always let you down at the wrong moment – just as the “Benjy” dog had done earlier!

After the sales pitch, a familiar face entered the arena – Alexandrine d’Arnaud did a demonstration with a “cheval récalcitrant” – no translation necessary, I think!  
Alexandrine follows the “natural” horse training method.  This was my first time seeing her working with a horse and I was happy to see her patient, gentle but insistent approach.  Her ultimate goal was to load the grey mare into a trailer, and she built up to it by asking the horse to walk through or over an assortment of objects first.
This was all very easy, but unfortunately when she asked the mare to walk into the trailer, the mare said “What? NO!” several times.  We had to leave before the end of the demo, but she told me the next day that the mare did go in…. eventually.
There were more and more colourful Provençal costumes in evidence as we left and still more on the approach road to the Foire.  
Some people were carrying instruments – I guess there was music planned for later in the day.

We would have loved to have stayed on and had lunch sitting at the trestle tables in the sun, while a local band played traditional music, but unfortunately we had to go. 
Maybe next year.
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