Christmas looks like being another bizarre one this year as the Big C refuses to bite the dust. Despite this, some traditions have persisted. Local villages have been holding Christmas markets, and I took part in one on Sunday in Parisot as a commerçante, selling my books. In view of the current situation, this was held entirely outside.
Christmas markets are not a longstanding tradition in this part of France. In fact, I don’t recall any when we moved here in 1997. However, they have caught on and offer a chance to buy gifts, food and decorations as well as a showcase for local creators and producers.
I shared a spot with a fellow local author beside the Mairie de Parisot. The morning was chilly, but the promised sunshine broke through, a welcome sight after the dismal wet of the past few weeks.
I sold a few books, which is always gratifying, but the real pleasure came from meeting and chatting with people again whom I hadn’t seen for nearly two years. Since we were outside, people put aside their FOGO (Fear of Going Out) and wandered around the stalls, suitably masked, but clearly enjoying the occasion. They were out in force all day with the obligatory pause over lunchtime.
A load of tripe?
The curious tradition was the advertised petit déjeuner aux tripoux (breakfast of stuffed tripe – yes, really) that kicked off the market at 8 am for the delectation of the stallholders. I have seen this advertised at other markets and at summer fêtes, but not until now have I paused to wonder about its origins.
I will eat most things, but tripe really doesn’t appeal. Tripe is cow’s (or sheep’s) stomach lining and is eaten throughout France. It’s a particular speciality in the upland areas of Aveyron, Cantal and Lozère. Since Parisot was part of Aveyron before our own département, Tarn-et-Garonne, was created in 1808, the Aveyronnais traditions have stuck. It’s reasonable to assume that customs were not restricted by departmental boundaries, anyway.
Tripoux or tripous (there’s a debate about the plural ending) are sections of tripe stuffed with veal, ham, parsley and garlic and cooked for hours in a broth flavoured with onions, leeks, herbs, tomatoes and white wine. The village of Thiézac in Cantal, where we like to stay and walk, even holds an annual fête entitled “One, two, tripoux” celebrating the dish.
The dish is said to have originated during the 19th century in Aveyron when farmers’ wives prepared it and left it to simmer before going to mass on a Sunday morning. From there, it extended to agricultural events such as cattle markets, when farmers and cattle dealers sat down to a hearty (and meaty) breakfast before business began.
The tradition is kept alive in several Aveyron villages. Laissac, East of Rodez, still holds an important cattle market every Tuesday. Three restaurants near the market offer a “petit déjeuner à la fourchette”, with a starter of charcuterie followed by tripoux, tête de veau or steak.
We might find this a bizarre, if not off-putting, tradition. However, it’s worth reflecting that these people will have risen in the small hours, and for them 8 am is the equivalent of lunchtime for us.
If in the interests of research I do steel myself one day to try tripoux, you will be the first to know, dear readers.
In other news
Nothing stays the same forever, and two endings took place recently in our village.
First, Caylus Notre Village, an association that was active in getting the village lavoir restored, among other heritage projects, will close down at the end of this month. The members of the current committee wanted to stand down at the end of their terms of office. Unfortunately, no one came forward to take over. Other local heritage associations have been the beneficiaries of the remaining funds.
This is a pity. Not only did the association act to protect and enhance the local petit patrimoine (historic heritage), but it also ran fun events to help fund and publicise the projects. These included an annual car rally (not a speed rally, I hasten to add) around the area, walks on a theme and auberges espagnoles (bring a dish meals).
The other ending was the departure of Marie-Ange and Benoît, who owned a farm and mill house in the upper reaches of the Bonnette Valley. Among other things, they produced goat’s cheese and milled flour in the traditional way.
Marie-Ange sold the cheeses at the Saturday market, where she lived up to her name, always smiling, chatty and informative about the cheese. The couple branched out over the years to produce flavoured cheeses rolled in herbs and spices, which were always delicious.
There is a happy ending, though. Another couple have taken over and plan to continue the production of cheese at the mill.
Everything I’ve described in this post is part of the warp and weft of village life down here. Nothing momentous or earth-shattering, but life going on as best it can while we try to cope with the continuing uncertainties.
Stay safe and well.
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