I took the bus last Saturday to Privas, in the Ardèche department bordering Drôme (where Valence is located). I got to hang out with some of the awesome assistants working over there and went to a chestnut festival. The festival, called Castagnades d’Automne, celebrated chestnuts grown in the Ardèche. I don’t think I have ever seen a single item celebrated in such an over the top fashion.
After I had been there a little while and we’d gotten coffee and walked through the Saturday market, we saw that this giant chestnut roaster had been set up outside the Hotel de Ville. It was basically a rotating cage above a fire, full of chestnuts. Later in the day, it was opened up and free chestnuts and wine were distributed to all while a band played. It was amazing! And I ate too many chestnuts. Actually, following the free chestnuts we had a chestnut themed meal at a local restaurant. It consisted of a chestnut kir, a chestnut and cheese tartine, and a chestnut cake. On Sunday I also had a chestnut crepe and sampled chestnut spice bread at the market. If I had wanted to, I could have eaten chestnut pasta, bought chestnut flour, or (if I ditched my vegetarianism) chestnut sausage. It was ridiculous.
Above, you can see that the local bicyclists even wear chestnuts on their jerseys. Behind them, town elders, or something like that, wear robes in the shades of chestnuts. Before, I thought that one of my assistant friends in Privas had overstated the importance of the chestnut. But I was oh so wrong. And I have to admit that the chestnuts were delicious. I had never had one before (the ones in the states are a little different), although I think I will wait a little while before eating more.
There was also music. The above band, complete with chestnut leaves in their outfits (sorry, I had to point it out), played songs that were somewhat familiar, but most stayed obscured enough that I couldn’t pinpoint them. They did play the Israeli national anthem, for some reason. Maybe they find it more festive than the la Marseillaise? Anyway, their music was dirge-like at times, but that man playing the drum on the back row had a fantastic moustache and the woman playing the maracas in this picture had endless energy.
In addition to the gluttonous gorging of chestnuts, there were other events. Like the “garcons” from the cafes that ran a “race” from cafe to cafe where they picked up drinks and tried not to break them. I saw them later in the day and it seemed like a lot of them had drank all their drinks and were breaking them on purpose.
There was also the Rallye de Régularité de l’Ardèche. It had the appearance of a car race, with each of the over 100 tiny classic cars having numbers, but they just drove through town. Anyway, it was on Sunday morning and there was free coffee and tubes of creme de marrons. I loved seeing all the European sports cars, random American imports, and cars that looked like their owners had just put some racing stickers over the pealing paint.
I don’t think I can make this post without showing a couple of the weird owl sculptures that were at the Sunday market. I have no explanation. There were no prices or information, just 20 owl sculptures set up on a table. It would be hard to pick the most bizarre, but they were all incredibly insane in their own way.
I’ll post one more picture, (although you can find more on my flickr). This is of some of the buildings seen from the big bridge over the river in Privas. I had an absolutely fun and enjoyable time in Privas and it reminded me that I don’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to have fun in France. There are always random festivals going on and little towns/big cities (Privas is in between) to explore. A big school break, Toussaint (All Saint’s), is coming up and I’m going to go to Bordeaux on Saturday and getting back to Valence on Wednesday. I think I will spend some more time exploring my region of France.