As Medieval lore has it, once the flour millers of Limoux had delivered their dues to the monks, they merrily exited the city gates accompanied by ménétriers (rural musicians), handing out flour and sugared almond dragées to the townsfolk as they went. Over the centuries, this celebration has been kept alive in the Occitan town, which lies in the beautiful Aude département of sunny Languedoc-Roussillon. Following World War 2, this celebration took its current form, the Carnaval de Limoux, the world’s longest carnival, which comes replete with a series of arcane rules.
“Limoux is a privileged place,” says town official Claude Hortala, who fell under the spell of the carnival at a young age. “Winter doesn’t last longer than a month here, at least not in the Place de la République – it’s chased away the very day that the millers come out! In Limoux, even if time stands still – the ultimate sign of happiness – the past is also alive and well.”
Each Saturday and Sunday from January to mid-March, three times per day, a parade in Limoux’s medieval centre brings to life the spirit of the carnival: to caricature the funny and sometimes ridiculous aspects of society. Masked flour millers, dressed head-to-toe in spotless white, are joined by groups of masked fécos (dancers) in colourful Pierrot costumes featuring “beautiful shoes and very fine gloves” and one of 20 bands of musicians.
Each parade is led by ‘meneurs’ (leaders), who engage with the public and ensure that the proceedings stick to the set route and maintain the pace that’s set down in the Carnaval’s ‘commandments’. Meanwhile, on a balcony in the main square, the life-size figure of ‘Sa Majesté Carnaval’ awaits his inescapable fate. On the final night, court proceedings are conducted in ancient Occitan, and the accused will be sentenced to burn at the stake, during which the fécos lay prostrate, chanting the traditional carnavalesque of Adieu Paure Carnaval, and then toss their masks in the flames.
However, don’t feel too sorry for the desolate fécos, as afterwards they feast on delicious ‘pébradou’, an ‘apéritif’ bread flavoured with a hint of pepper; white bean fricassée; and the local Limoux cake, all of which is washed down with the local, sparkling Blanquette de Limoux wine.
Carnaval de Limoux: January 3 to March 13, Place de la république, 11300 Limoux. Three parades per day on Saturdays & Sundays. Free admission. Tel: +33 4 68 31 11 82. Websites: www.carnaval-limoux.com & www.limoux.fr
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From France Today magazine