Sunday, August 12, 2012

Munson in Marciac

My BudOf all the Gascon music festivals, Jazz in Marciac has probably the greatest name internationally. For a fortnight in August, this small town of 1200 hosts names great and great-to-be from the jazz world. This year we can name-check Harry Connick Jr, Melody Gardot, Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Elling, Esperanza Spalding, John Zorn and dozens more.  Wynton Marsalis and Brad Mehldau are only a couple of the artists who have released live albums of their sessions in Marciac.

There are a few on the list I’d happily see in concert, but my budget doesn’t extend to these prices and I don’t really want to go by myself. The last time I visited Marciac was for its Xmas market in December when it was even more of a ghost town than usual.

Today was wildly different – the village square was covered in tents for stalls, restaurants and seating for free midday concerts and the side-streets were overflowing with galleries and little jazz clubs. The arcades around the square were bustling with full cafe tables, music vendors and specialist book sellers. It’s like visiting the desert after a rain-storm to find plants blooming and long dormant creatures crawling out to enjoy a short-lived oasis.Village square
After taking in the sights and sounds of the main square we tried each of the streets radiating away from it. If there wasn’t a courtyard tucked away behind a chapel that was heaving with more stalls and solo artists, then it was art exhibitions, brocantes or even a specialist in antique juke-boxes and pinball machines. I guess that a number of these vendors simply rent space in festival towns and truck their collections around the country. It also occurred to me that with the almost mandatory long vacations that the French take in July/August that these might be summer avocations for some.

master of his domain
It was another warm day, but in the high twenties rather than high thirties as it had been during the week. I keep some bottles of water for Munson in the car to carry around on such days. When I opened one for bottle in the shade of a gallery, I realised that I’d brought an unopened bottle of fizzy Badoit that didn’t meet malamute standards of non-fizziness in drinking water. At first onlookers were slightly aghast that I was spoiling a dog with bottled mineral water until I explained my error, and then they started making jazz jokes about ‘Smoke on the water’.

The guitar-playing manager of the brocante above also had a lot of fun when Munson came to visit. Since the shop floor was cool cement I left Munson to lie around and be spoiled by friendly hands while I went browsing. There were quite a lot of dogs around, either escorted by festival-goers, or slumbering under cafe tables or in stalls.
Wynton Marsalis statue, wrapped in newspaper
Only last night I’d been asked what meal I would have if I could wish for anything. I asked for a Persian banquet with slow-cooked meals laced with dried fruits and subtly perfumed with all sorts of spices. Today I found a Toulousain restaurant au festival operating under multiple tents which offered me a couscous seffa dish with lamb, raisins and honey that I simply couldn’t pass up. One of my favourite breakfast hangouts in Sydney used to offer a meat-less variant of this which I may try to work up at home soon while the vegetables are in season.
Venues large and small
The Gers departmentOur next stop for the day was to be Lupiac (30 minutes away) with a pick-me-up swim for Munson en route. I took a different road out of Marciac which took us past the large lake on the edge of town. Like Vic-Fezensac last week with its Tempo Latino festival there were hundreds of tents and caravans pitched around the town. While the centre of town seemed to cater for a slightly older crowd, there was definitely a large contingent of college-age sun-lovers making the most of their August break.

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