Sunday, 21 November 2010

Snow White and the 8 contes – Castagnade

I missed the apple festival because of the choir weekend but now it is the turn of the châtaigne, or chestnut. At one time this small brown nut was a very important staple. Preserved, added to cakes, fed to cattle. Below is a part of a French Wikipedia article. "The term castagnade itself evokes the action of "chestnut" that is to say "pick up chestnuts, "in Occitan acampar las Chastanha. The practice of eating with family or neighbours of roasted chestnuts was called Roustide in Occitan rostida and French "toast." Thirty years ago the term "castagnade" appeared, gradually replacing that of Roustide. Synonym tasting Chestnut, the castagnade is a celebration related to chestnuts
The cultural history of the "bread tree" is centred on the chestnut and its shaft. Indeed, this fruit was the staple diet of men and beasts. Preserved in various forms (dried, flour ...), it allowed for a supply of food for the year.The fallen tree provided lumber, carpentry and cooperage. Its essence is rich in tannin, is deemed to be unalterable and defy time. Its hollow trunk closed with a door is still used to accommodate swarms of bees, this piece is called "Berle. "The chestnut is also an economic resource. During the Industrial Revolution (1882) Clement Faugier revolutionized the transformation of the chestnut by designing products like cream and chestnut puree."

When I arrived at the village mairie, two metal cylinders full of chestnuts were being rotated by hand over a blazing fire. I went inside and paid my 2 euro entrance fee.
The room was set out with chairs facing a small stage area in one corner of the room. The storytellers (conteurs) were already in situ. One was whittling a stick, one was hacking away at a branch, one was crocheting and one was peeling chestnuts.
The leaflet indicated that the event would start at 9pm, so at roughly 9:30pm after people had completed the greeting ritual, the show began.
There were roughly 60 people present, including a baby, a toddler and about 9 of the children from the school.
Each of the 4 storytellers took a turn at telling a tale, while the one working stage light, flickered rapidly on and off throughout.
The storytellers stopped. That was the first half of 25 minutes over. It was time for the castagnade.
Three long rows of tables and chairs had been set out in the adjoining room. Fortunately I was joined by the headmistress and her husband and the maire, so I had people that knew me, to talk to.
Big whicker trays of roasted chestnuts were brought to the table and decanted onto dishes for us to eat.
2 large jam making sized vessels containing the vin chaud, (hot wine / mulled wine) were brought in and ladled into our plastic cups. It was much to hot to drink, so I continued to peel my nuts and eat them, my fingers rapidly getting blackened from the soot.
The headmistress asked if there was anything else to drink, as she didn’t fancy the vin chaud and so it was that her, her husband and the mayor got given white wine. The mayor then had a beer for his next drink.
While the adults sat eating and drinking, the children ran riot amongst the tables and chairs in both rooms.
An hour later we had to go back to our seats for the part 2 of the contes. This time the children were sitting or lying on the bits of carpet which were laid on the floor between the first row of seats and the stage.
The tales in the first half had all been about nature, chestnuts, leaves etc and I had understood most of them.
For the second half they each told one story each, but I found it difficult to concentrate. The baby and the toddlers were making lots of noises and / or wandering round the room. Only one of the sets of parents tried to keep their toddler under control but they were fighting a losing battle.
Somewhere in the second last tale Blanche Neige (Snow White) and her dwarves came into the plot. I have no idea why. By the 8th and final conte, kids were wandering about on the stage, falling over, talking to themselves.... I have no idea how the man kept his concentration going. Perhaps it is often like this and therefore “normale.”
one of the activists just before he / she fell over onstage
Many of the French children are kept up very late at night by their parents and I have often heard the teachers discussing how completely knackered the children are them finding out how late they went to bed.
(It seems certain that the school hours / days will be changed once again, and Wednesday or Saturday morning schooling re-introduced, as child fatigue and the beefing up of the curriculum has left pupils and teachers struggling. If only the parents would put their kids to bed at 7:30pm like the English parents of a child at the school do .......)
Anyway, I digress. So that was my first celebration of the chestnut so I suppose you could say that I have lost my chestnut.
I wonder if they do a cherry festival anywhere nearby?


  1. "I wonder if they do a cherry festival anywhere nearby?"

    as if ... !!!


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