Rochechouart – so much more than a ville fleurie

I think I could count the number of days I’ve not worn shorts, since April, on the fingers of one hand. Most summers in Scotland I could count on one hand the number of days I did wear shorts. Not only is the weather a total and glorious improvement on last year’s washout, but centre ville in Rochechouart also feels completely different. Visitors and tourists are here in good numbers, enjoying the bars, cafes, creperies, restaurants and various festivities our hometown is offering this summer. We’ve been here for 20 months now and French life, as we’d hoped and expected, has been in full flow along with the blue sky and sunshine. A sunny spring and even sunnier summer, which has only just begun, brings people out with smiles we can actually see, not hidden behind masks, to outdoor gatherings and events that were obliterated last year.

Now, we’ve come here from Edinburgh, so outdoor the events have quietened down a little by comparison. Last summer Rochechouart was filled with beautiful floral displays but with no gatherings allowed almost everything was cancelled. Later in the year the Christmas market felt weird, almost naughty as we mingled with dozens under an open-ended marquee. This year we’re being inundated with event options, happily very much focused on community and children’s participation. A variety of exhibitions, historical walks, nature walks, discovery workshops, local bands, DJs, farmer’s markets, night markets, garage sales, firework displays are taking place on a weekly basis. Two events in particular are fast approaching that will clearly receive the biggest response; this week’s 14 July celebrations and at the end of July the Labyrinthe de la Voix five-day music festival showcasing street music, French song, blues, Celtic pop, rock, electro jazz and soul. The 14 July fireworks extravaganza over Lake Boischenu will be enjoyed with friends and neighbours from our terrace, and to a lesser but still appreciable extent the live music festival can also be enjoyed from our own homes as the music drifts across from the chateau.

La Chatelaine orchestra and our Maire de Rochechouart

The other local fêtes in which take place every weekend throughout the summer are all community affairs and often take over a small village. When complimented with a marché de producteurs (farmer’s market), a brass band and an energetic DJ, not to mention our much-loved vide-greniers, they make otherwise sleepy villages come alive. Much like car boot sales in the UK, vide-greniers have become widespread since the 1970s, more regularly here spread throughout narrow village streets rather than open fields. Flea markets are a different beautiful beast, attracting more serious brocanteurs (antique dealers) rather than households selling more general wares, and have been a huge part of French life since the late 1800s. Suffice to say, we love them all.

Pepper is also enjoying a sunnier summer, though not so much her two recent encounters with a grass and whip snake. She enjoyed a ten-second face-off with the latter before mister snake got a little too agitated. We’re finding new walking routes specifically with Pepper in mind, with river visits a priority to cool her down whilst we search for shade in the constant 30+ degree heat. Thankfully she also loves a vide-grenier and the attention she receives from passers by. As long as there’s plenty of sniffs and friendly faces who just might have a treat to hand, she’s happy. Most importantly for us, the three of us are now beginning to feel integrated into our community. These local events bring everyone out, with names and faces becoming more familiar. Aided by a few recent lessons our improving French is helping too, as brief greetings are slowly extending to something approaching conversation. Walks through the town centre to the post office to deliver our Etsy sales are almost daily affairs, with familiar faces offering a friendly “bonjour” or “ca va?” Our community integration continues to be aided by our amazing friends and neighbours. With neither of us being the most confidently out-going, it’s often invites, offers and suggestions that push us to explore, and we thank them hugely for it.   

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