Having spent a bit of time contemplating our leaving arrangements, we decided to extend our stay in Quillan right to the end of the three months, in order to make the most of the opportunity to celebrate Bastille Day in our ‘home town’, complete with front row view of the fireworks from our roof terrace. As it happened, it didn’t quite go to plan.
Friends had warned us that the stage previously set up for music in the square was small fry compared to the one erected for the ‘grandes fetes’. So it was when, one morning in early July, we woke up to discover a quarter of the square covered by stage.
On Sunday 13 July, we arrived back at lunchtime to find a large truck blocking almost the entire length and width of the old bridge. The band was euphemistically called an ‘orchestre’ but that seemed to have nothing to do with their instrumentation.
The crew spent the entire day, with shirts off, in the heat, setting up for the evening’s festivities. Their gear filled the square.
By 7pm it was shaping up to be a long and loud evening for Bastile Day eve. The sound and lighting rig had been fully tested, the windows had vibrated in their frames, Nicholas was having trouble staying asleep…
The first set was awesome. Covers of Sting, Katie Perry and Imagine Dragons for starters. The boys were amped. The windows were closed, but the view and the sound was great. The square started to fill up.
And then, about 45 minutes in, Oliver said: “They’re covering their gear up.” And so they were. I thought, they must know something we don’t. And so, shortly after, though it had been hot, and the air calm moments previously, the thunder clapped, the rain teamed down, and people ran for cover in the cafes and bars.
The rain continued all evening, the crew eventually spent the night packing up the gear they had spent all day constructing, the bar owners brought in the hundreds of chairs and tables they had laid out in the square, the fireworks were postponed. Washout. The residents of Quillan took refuge inside to watch the football final.
The next day, Bastlle Day was celebrated with a rainy parade around the town, and buildings and war memorials festooned with flags.
Festivities in Quillan take place on the eve of 14 July so as not to clash with the Carcassonne Festival and fireworks, which are said to be among the most spectacular in France. Somewhere between 400 and 700,000 people are reported to descend on Carcassonne for that event and the chance to see the display over the Cite.
We didn’t fancy our chances battling the crowds in the town or on the side of the motorway at the main view point, so I hitched a ride with a neighbour, to catch a glimpse from a local high spot, above Alet-les-Bains, at St Salveyre, where the 360 degree view is spectacular. Other locals turned up in the middle of nowhere there too, so we obviously had the right spot. We watched as the sun went down.
The view of the Carcassonne fireworks was slightly less spectacular, given the distance, but great to have glimpsed it nonetheless.