Monday, 23 January 2012

Songs of the Auvergne

Up until last weekend, all that I knew about the Auvergne is that it's in France somewhere, and Canteloube notated and orchestrated some traditional songs from that area.  They are in the language of occitan, and quite exquisite; here's a couple.

The Auvergne is a Région of France, within the bounds of the massif central.  This is a volcanic area that has been active for over 65 milion years, with short, sometimes cataclysmic eruptions, lasting from a few weeks to a couple of years.  This leads to the curious fact that although the volcanoes have been, and remain, active over this period, they are usually, as today, dormant.  We went there last weekend, with the Harmonie of Ste Suzanne, on a long weekend break, to laze about, explore and ski.

We stayed at Super Besse, a purpose-built, modern ski resort arranged around a volcanic caldera and lake.  The weather wasn't ideal for skiing, being windy with a cloud base that could close in from time to time, and not much snow.  But there was plenty of skiing to be done, and there were more skiable pistes than we had time to explore while we were there. I came the traditional cropper, launched into the air on a corner by an unnoticed hummock: a small explosion of snow and skiing kit, then a slow face-first deceleration down the mountainside. Followed by the usual concerned enquiries and retrieval of equipment by passers-by.

We ate traditional local food that seems to be common to many places with long hard Winters and short Summers:  1,001 things to do with potatoes, cheese, preserved meats and sausages.  Still, the company and atmosphere were the main drivers: we ate mostly together and we had a good time.  There were shops selling all the traditional foodstuffs, and judging by rather doubtful-looking animal parts in jars, I don't think I want to know what's in the sausages.

Saturday was the pig festival in Besse, the main town a bit farther down the valley. We went as a group to see what was happening. Well, they celebrate the things you can do with a freshly-killed pig, with accompaniment from the local wind bands. They used to slit the throat of The Chosen One in the main square, but today the warm dead pig is wheeled in in a barrow, and turned into... well, anything you can make with pig. This is then consumed into the night.

Our impression of the area is that it is well worth a second visit in the Summer. The scenery is stunning; mountainous and volcanic, with plenty to see and do. There are lots of mountain walks, interesting towns and spectacular views. And assuming that you can find non-traditional restaurants, a week at a time should be do-able. We drove down, giving a lift to other Harmonie members. I'm sure that the smell of their souvenir cheese (St Nectaire) will soon be gone from the car.


the fly in the web said...

It's much the best in spring....wild flowers and good walking.
But that's from a few years ago...though I don't suppose much has changed.

Mark In Mayenne said...

Thanks, I will try to get there at that time

Jonathan said...

The Songs are highly charged, emotionally, from an aural perspective. Perhaps if I read a translation of the lyrics I might feel differently. Or perhaps not.

I'd love to visit but thanks for the food warning. I'll bring a picnic.

Mark In Mayenne said...

They are charged, as you say. Conteloube is accused of over-egging the pudding with these arrangements, but I tend to disagree.

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