Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harvest Festival

When I was a child, around this time of year, we always had a harvest festival at school. This involved bringing in cans of beans, loaves of bread and of course one child always brought in a huge, useless pumpkin. We would distribute these tasteless offerings to the elderly in Doncaster who probably had better taste than we gave them credit for, but still, our hearts and the hearts of our tireless teachers who organised all this, were in the right place.

A second tradition was the singing of All Things Bright and Beautiful to a tinny piano, both at school and at church, where, on the following Sunday, the offering of produce and the distribution to the aged started up again in abundance. Again, all in a spirit of kindness and generosity.

It was not with these two thoughts that I left the Fête des Vendanges (Harvest Festival) in Montmartre on Sunday. Behind the brightly coloured stands stood farmers, vintners and cheese makers of all kinds, their cheeks ripe with smiling and discussing their produce. With my three friends we wound our way through the crowds to sample champagne, crêpes and oysters all fresh from whatever region had produced them. I was more drawn towards thoughts of oenological varieties, oyster sizes and what filling to have in my crêpe. Granted, not as kind-hearted as our scholastic offerings, but just as pleasurable.

There was no sign of a baked bean or a stale loaf of bread braided into a plait. There were no free hampers and no-one singing about "all creatures great and small." With a pang of homesickness I realised I haven't seen a harvest festival since 1994 when I was in my A Level year. University didn't really provide much hamper-making activity, and in France the harvest festival is either non-existant or something completely different from the English version like the Fête des Vendanges in Montmartre.

Every year, the tiny parsel of land situated between rue des Saules and rue Lepic yields its crop of grapes and the people in charge press the grapes and set about making wine. The bottles are sold for around 30€ each and in quantities of 50cl, not 75 as for regular wines. I'm not sure how good or deep the soil is in Paris, nor how much sunshine the area gets, but the wine is popular and the festival brings montmartrois together with other Parisians and tourists for what, on Sunday, was a beautifully sunny day and gastronomically pleasurable experience.

Having said that, on my way home I found myself humming about each little flower that opens...

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