As I write, some parts of France are preparing for the “Fête de la Saint-Jean” – the feast of St John – which will take place on the 24th June you may encounter people gathering wood for the ceremonial bonfire: le feu de la Saint-Jean. Prior to the 5th century AD, when Christianity become the country’s official religion, the Pagan Summer Solstice was marked on the 21st June. The fires were to ward off any evil during the longest day of the year and unmarried young people would leap over the fire to discover their partner for the next 12 months (!). The influence of the Roman Catholic Church saw the marking of the change of the season move to St. John’s Day and absorbing some of the older traditions.
Incidentally, anyone considering bonfire leaping should be aware that the conflagration is now often fenced off and attempts at an ad hoc revival of this ancient practice will probably meet with the disapproval of the local Gendarmes. It is far wiser to leap over a box of firelighters in the grounds of Château Bois Giraud, although we cannot guarantee that unkinking friends/family members/neighbouring farmers will not laugh at you.
Of course, the 21st itself was the day of La Fête de la Musique which is now in its 37th year. To say that you will encounter a quite startlingly diverse range of genres played by street musicians in towns and cities throughout the Loire Valley is an observation on a par with chocolate tastes very nice – i.e. stating the completely obvious. You will hear string quintets, jazz combos, electro-pop, music reflecting the traditions of countless nations, singers re-capturing the spirt of Édith Piaf or Françoise Hardy. You may also experience the sound of French rock and roll; this always pleases me as my taste in popular music peters out after 1965.
And, all these sounds and sensations – the heat, the electric guitars, the grey stone walls covered with roses – all coalesce into one over-riding thought. Summer really has commenced…