Monday, September 21, 2009
The Harvest Festival
Montmirail, the village where we live, is generally very calm and quiet. At night, when the sky is clear, the stars are as visible as in the middle of the countryside. There is no light pollution or noise. Even in the middle of the village square, nothing stirs. Every so often, however, Montmirail comes alive. On a normal Sunday morning the Place de l'Eglise is full of cars. There are two Catholic services every week; one in French at 9:30, and Latin mass at 11. When there is a special event or holiday, the normally busy activity becomes exciting indeed. Last Sunday we celebrated the Fall Harvest Festival and no ceremony was spared. A band dressed in the traditional red hunting coats and playing their French horns appeared in front of the church just as we were serving breakfast to our clients. They played a short concert and then hopped into their carrage and were whisked away to the Hippodrome, where the main Harvest Festival events took place. Quite a lot of preparation went into the festival. It's a time-honored tradition to celebrate the bringing in of the summer's bounty and the end of another growing season. For the farmers in our region it also is a time to show off their animals. The fattest and most attractive animals are awarded prizes. Percheron horses are named for our region of France, le Perche. The breed was developed here in the middle ages. These large and strong animals were breed to carry knights dressed in heavy metal armor. Before farming was mechanized, the Percheron was indispensable for carrying out heavy lifting and pulling tasks. Every farm had their horses. There are still many horse farms in the region and the Percheron is much admired all over the world. Percheron horses generally have docile and sweet natures, so despite their tremendous size and strength, they make great companions. Farmers now, of course, have replaced their horses with horse-power. On display were some bright and shinny tractors. Not many mules were in attendance, but this little guy made his presence known. He was not a small mule, but next to his Percheron neighbor, he seemed diminutive. Little pigges are awful cute, even if they grow up to be much less attractive. John Berger, the British author who won the Booker Prize in 1972 with his novel, G, also wrote a trilogy of French country-life. The first book is entitled Pig Earth and traces the importance of pork in traditional French peasant life. Not one morsel of the animal is wasted when it is time to slaughter it. In our area the cow is undoubtedly the most important animal. There were some large and handsome examples at the festival. The calves are raised by the farmer's children, and they were on display as well. Both the priest and mayor talked to us at some length about the crisis for milk producers in France. It has made international news as French and Belgian farmers are protesting the low EU price of milk. The price of production for French and Belgian dairy farmers, who pay higher taxes than the rest of Europe, is no longer being met by the EU price structure. Dairy farmers are dumping their milk and refusing to bring it to market. Belgian farmers created a milk lake in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels last week and in Paris, farmers handed out thousands of liters of free milk to the public.