First we have the rentrée – throughout France the return to school at the beginning of September is almost as important a “new year” as January 1st. Once the August holidays are over and the children are back in school the autumn work begins.
The vendange, or wine harvest, which starts in August for some grapes, continues into the autumn when the leaves on the vines turn wonderful shades of red and gold before falling to leave a wintery spider’s web of tangled branches. As the vignerons begin to ferment their grapes you may be lucky enough to come across vin bourru in your local market or supermarket. This is a slightly sparkling acidic drink which is not high in alcohol content. It is taken from the wine vat at an early stage in the fermentation process and is traditonally drunk to accompany roast chestnuts. Too much can give you terrible indigestion. When we had first arrived in France I saw a board outside a local café exclaiming “Le Bourru est arrivé!”. In my ignorance I thought the owner was telling us that he had bought a donkey.
Food and seasonal produce continues to play an important part in the calendar and in the Pyrénéan village of Espelette, in the mountains behind Biarritz, the annual harvest of the Espelette pepper takes place. The peppers (chillies in reality) are hung across the fronts of the village houses to dry.
As a rule French food is not spicy and, in my experience, the Espelette pepper is as hot as it gets. Look out for little jars of powdered “Piment d’Espelette” in good food shops.
You can read more about the village here: https://www.espelette.fr/
France celebrates Halloween – but it is more about 101 ways to cook and eat a pumpkin than it is about Trick or Treat, while November 5th is non-existent. However, there are two public holidays. The first is November 1st, when families traditionally remember their dead. Graveyards look sensational as relatives bring flowers to decorate their family graves; some travelling across France to gather together as a mark of respect. Look out for pots of chrysanthemums on sale from early October – and don’t be tempted to buy one as a gift for a friend – they are the French equivalent of a funeral wreath.
On November 11th at 11 am (regardless of the day of the week) the French commemorate ’le jour de Souvenir’ – or Remembrance Day. In our village, which is tiny, the mayor invites us to the ceremony. Young children place a floral tribute against the village memorial, the Mayor reads out an address from the Prime Minister or other government minister, followed by the name of everyone in the village who has died fighting for their country. After each name is read out we all say “mort pour la France” and then we hold a minute’s silence. Afterwards we share a “vin d’amitie” in our salle de fete. The French wear a bleuet (or cornflower) rather than a poppy.