Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cherries in Céret

         And another mono-ingredient festival to add to your list. For years, we've been meaning to go to the annual fête des cerises in Céret, a small town just west of Perpignan. Problem is, it's the same weekend as the gypsy festival in the Camargue so a hard call but, because it was closer, the cherries won out this year.
      We took the scenic route there, a series of dramatic switchbacks across vineyards that eventually spun us into the edge of the town. Parking was going to be a challenge, we knew that,  so we grabbed the first space we saw, on a residential street, and set off for the Hotel Vidal, suitcase in tow.
Here's the hotel entrance. What you can't see is the colossal jasmine bush that climbs up beside you. The scent's enough to make you swoon.

     Cheerful noise from the street woke me the next morning as vendors set up their stalls and began to arrange their wares. We went out, had pains aux raisins and crèmes and, by the time we headed  back to the hotel to pack, the street was humming with action. Before we get into that, some background:
       Over the decades, many big name artists have lived in, or stayed in, Céret. Picasso, Dufy and Soutine were just some of the painters seduced by the Mediterranean light. Here are a couple of photos to give you an idea.

    The light is just plain lovely here. All southern French towns have plane trees casting shade in the summer. Most communities severely prune the trees but Céret lets them grow tall so, as well as welcome patches of shadow, you get dappled light on the creamy-yellow and pink façades of the houses. No wonder painters continue to flock here.
     See those musicians? This wasn't only a fête des cerises, it was a fête des bandas as well. Brass bands!

...and dance too with the famous Catalan sardana. 
     The hotel was already completely booked for Saturday night, so I'd found us a room at Poppy's B and B, which was literally just over the road. Their rooms were all full too when I rang but the owners suggested we stay in their adjacent apartment--two bedrooms with its own lounge, and we had the run of the entire place. An enormous breakfast, loaded bookshelves, delightful terrace, and warm people. Definitely recommended if you ever stay in Céret.

    And finally--ta-da!--the Cherry Festival:

     Fête des Cerises translates as "everything cherry"... Anything you could do with cherries, the cherry vendors did. This is a bottle of cherry beer, not the least bit sweet, and don't you love the label?
     Everywhere you looked, people were selling cherries.

All hail the cherry! Cherry banners hung between the treetops, and even decorated windows and doors. Although the reason for this is a little less celebratory.

    Flies are a real curse in the summer. We've tried every method of attack from the good, old-fashioned swatter, to  those nasty sticky rolls of paper that hang from the ceiling and attach themselves to the hair of tall people and, my personal favourite, "sunflowers of death"--little stickies impregnated with fly-killer that you stick on the window. Houses and small stores often have curtains at the entrance. Plain ones, patterned ones, and in Céret, ones with a bunch of cherries on them. We actually came across the store where you can order these. They're made of chain-link in different colours and you can order any design you like, including family photos. Have a look at the web site and you realize this company does far more than help keep the flies out.

No comments: