I first visited Chinon at the beginning of August when the Medieval Marché was taking place. For this event, barricades are erected across the streets leading into the old town and vehicles of any sort are banned after 10 a.m. Entry is normally a couple of euros for pedestrians but it is free for anyone dressed in medieval costume. Long banners are hung in the narrow streets and stalls are erected along the sides selling a wide variety of products – wines, cheeses. fruits, pâtés and other foods prominent among them. Local craftsmen (stone and wood-carvers, blacksmiths, weavers, potters and artists) set up mobile workshops and produce goods to order while the customer watches.
In the squares, stages have been erected where plays are performed, poetry read, classical and jazz music are played, choral and folk singing take place, and semi-sporting events of doubtful origin occur. Groups of people seem to have been invited from all over France to perform – from Brittany, the Pyrenees, Alsace and Provence. Notices are posted in the squares to tell you the timetable. However, being rural France, they are not always reliable.
At noon the Marché proper begins with a parade through the streets. But this is not a carnival of floats as we know them in England. This is France. So the parade consists entirely of groups of people (from three to as many as ten or twelve) wearing fancy dress and carrying great platters of prepared food – cooked poultry and game, pâtés and terrines, cheeses, truffles vegetables – all beautifully presented and decorated. They have been judged for appearance, selection of constituents and, of course, taste. The winners now proudly display their rosettes and awards. With every platter of food some of each group carry bottles of wine, selected by them to perfectly complement the food.
As they pass in procession they hand out samples and top up the glasses of anyone who can catch their eye. If you attend, make sure you are carrying your own glass. Looking round the crowd, we were struck by the many original ways people have discovered of carrying a half-full glass of wine and a plate of food yet at the same time manage to greet friends, shake hands, talk, gesticulate and pinch the plump bottom of a passing medieval wench.
The other thing to remember is to position yourself near the start of the parade because the food and wine levels decline very quickly as the participants progress through the town.
Next week I will tell you about what happens after the parade has ended.