The feria of Carcassonne is one of the major events of year, a gathering for fans of bullfights but also for all those who like a neighborly festival. We skipped the bullfighting: not quite our cup of tea. But we attended a dance performance and enjoyed the food-and-music evening festivities.
Traditionally, the feria was an agricultural and cattle-focused fair in Spain. Cattle breeders showcased the quality of their animals at the feria. In south and southwest France, Catalan and Spanish cultures are interwoven with French culture, which means that the traditions of feria and bullfighting have long had a home here. These days, the feria in France take place in a number of southern cities at various times of the year, most notably in Bayonne, Béziers, Nimes or Dax, but also in smaller towns such as Parentis-en-Born, Arles, and of course Carcassonne. They may be purely bullfighting, purely festive or, more often, they mix corridas (bullfights), novilladas (young bullfights), cavalcades and other community festivities.
In Carcassonne, during several days at the end of August, festival-goers attend the bullfights, and go around the city to listen to the bands, to enjoy a drink outdoors thanks to the many bodegas, and to attend dance and music concerts.
During one afternoon of this year’s feria, we walked to Place Carnot, the town square, to watch a group of Sevillan dancers and musicians. There were lots of great Spanish music and great dresses and costumes. We were reminded of hula performances because it was apparent that this was an amateur troupe of lovers of Sevillan dance, including some, shall we say, more seasoned women who were obviously the teachers and leaders of the group. While most hula halau prize precision and smiling countenance, these dancers were more casual. We could see a diversity of facial expressions: some were obviously concentrating very hard on the moves, others looked a bit bored, some were passionate and composed, some were a little lost. But it was easy to be swept up in the great music, the movement and color, and the immediacy of these lovers of Sevillan dance.
And we could enjoy the moves of the next generation too.
Later that evening, we walked the few blocks from our house over to the food and music festivities. We had already clearly heard the music from the previous evening; it had sounded like it was coming from the street just outside our house; Carcassonne was filled with the sounds of the feria!
Like fairs everywhere, food stalls surrounded the party areas.
But this is feria in the south of France. There were the occasional burgers, but mostly the stalls offered Toulouse sausages, duck in many forms, beef, pork, fried Mediterranean seafood, and even some foie gras. A sea of communal tables filled the spaces between the stalls. We didn’t at first know quite what to do: Do we go to the stall and order, and then take the food to places at the big tables? We found two seats at a table that was otherwise filled with people. We sat down just to figure out what to do. Seconds later, a friendly woman server appeared, pen and pad in hand, and asked us what we wanted. Ah, this is France: you sit down and get served! Along with some mixed plates of sausage, beef and duck, we ordered a pitcher of sangria; this is also Catalonia after all. The plates came with generous helpings of fries, which must be the common fair food worldwide? Not a vegetable in sight!
As you can see, our table mates were passionate about their time at the feria.
The Latin heritage of the feria apparently extends far and wide. The main music act was a band from Havana. The Cuban music and rhythms filled the fair and the city.
Carcassonne party goers of all ages, from little kids to their grand parents, filled the fair area, seated at the communal tables as well as standing and moving to the music, and dancing. The feeling was completely a small-town celebration.