The 760th event of La Grande Foire de Tarascon-sur-Ariège was a complete celebration of sensations.
We’d been disappointed by the Pelote Basque demonstration we’d driven to Pamiers to see a few days earlier, so finding the often congested N20 through Tarascon flowing freely and no sign of parking problems as we approached the town, made us nervous. Was this going to be another damp squib?
The ancient clock-tower high up, on the ramparts of Tarascon old town, appears to guard to the confluence of the Vicdessos and the Ariège rivers. It seemed to be passing judgement on the few stalls which had escaped the cordon of the “Route Barrée”. They spilled over onto the narrow bridge, and forced pedestrians and traffic to co-operate on the tight corner.
A kaleidoscope of colour, stretched up the winding narrow streets. The heady array of aromas tantalised. We hadn’t ventured far when Shamay tapped us on the shoulder. She and husband Hugo had spotted us from her handmade jewellery stall. We exchanged kisses and a few words before flowing higher up the narrow streets in the surge of people.
The cacophony of sound was a strange symphony. Chatter, of course, loud-speaker commentary, music, laughter and singing in the beer tent, were accompanied by the eerie echo of cow-bells and the occasional hum of a chainsaw. This was not just a normal French street market but a shop-window for agriculture, livestock breeds, local enterprises and Ariègoise artisans.
A feast of flavours to taste and tempt you into spending, were offered at almost every other stall. I left John to sample a local beer and enjoy watching the “Melange bizarre” of people, while I ventured into the animal marquees to photograph the various curly-horned sheep. An hour later we indulged ourselves with double scoops of artisanal ice-cream while soaking up the sun on the best day of the year, so far.