Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Saint's day

Whilst we were on holiday in Provence the village next door to the one we stay in had its fête votive (saint's day celebration, of St Barthélemy). It covers a long weekend and involves the whole village in activities, sacred and profane (mostly the latter), traditional and modern.

There was a lot to enjoy. Abundant frites and saucissettes, traditional 'pub' games to play in the square (many of which were new to me), a ceremonial feast focused on soupe au pistou, a band every night, a small funfair, and a number of goats being used to dispense frothing glasses of milk to willing children, to mention only a few.

I particularly enjoyed the local gooseherd manoeuvring his charges through the crowd outside the village's main café and around the stage where that evening's rock concert was to be held (he was on his way to a temporary petting farm). One of his charges strayed into the cables and stacks of the sound system and had to be fished out. It was a grand sight to see him - in floppy, pointed, brown felt hat and brown waterproof cape - reaching down into the electronic spaghetti to disentangle a fluffy white goose. He wasn't annoyed at all, token of which was the loving kiss he gave it once it was safe in his arms.

Here he is sharing a joke with a couple of friends:

On the saint's day itself the boys were terrified by all the gunfire, which accompanied the saint's statue on its annual procession from the church around the village. The neckerchiefed local hunters were firing into the sky like Mexican bandits.

But the weekend culminated in a thrilling race. The braver, more athletic men of the village - some of whom by this stage were looking a little haggard having begun celebrating their saint three days earlier - donned helmets, elbow pads and shin pads. The race was down a steep chicane-like strip of winding road that starts just below the church and ends by the bakery on the way out of the village. It was clear that some aggressive, competitive juices were flowing - as so often a bit of fun would be a chance to blow off some steam and even settle a few scores.

And the mounts? You'll never see a more impressive array of toy tractors.


worm said...

pistou can be truly hardcore. I had some once that made me sweat garlic for about 3 days. But your holiday report has made me jealous! I only managed to get to the isle of wight this weekend :(

Sir Watkin said...

Cf. the old Welsh Gwyliau Mabsant, which survived the Reformation only to succumb to the rise of Methodism.


Brit said...

These crazy (and staggeringly frequent) continental Saint's Day public holidays are so much more colourful than our Bank Holidays, aren't they?

Gaw said...

Worm: You obviously didn't drink enough pastis beforehand. It's a question of Le Ying et La Yang.

Sir Watkin: The Welsh do seem to have suffered disproportionately for their Dissenting. But not as much as the Irish did for hanging on to their Catholicism. I wonder how bloody a Catholic Wales would have been. Or have I missed an interesting bit of history?

Brit: I was talking to my brother about this and he made a good case for the Bibury Cricket Club Fun Day and Village Fete as being just as special. But I do think the French have the advantage. It's not just Catholicism - we simply don't have the peasant stock over here.

Sir Watkin said...

Tho' there were martyrs, especially in the early days, and pockets of recusancy, for the most part people conformed outwardly.

But paradoxically protestantism didn't win their hearts. "Folk Catholicism" survived into the nineteenth century, until the Methodists (and other nonconformists) stamped it out - as they did many other aspects of traditional peasant culture.

One of the preachers' first aims when they came to a place was to convert the village fiddler. He would break his fiddle as a sign of his rejection of the old, "godless" music. And then there would no more singing and dancing for the villagers.

The resulting vacuum made it much easier for to introduce the new, "godly" culture. If there wasn't anything else to do, you might as well go to capel and listen to sermons.

In the eighteenth century the Welsh people had been described as the merriest in Europe, but no longer.

A self-inflicted wound, alas - not one the English can be blamed for.

Sean said...

Rabo de Toro v soupe au pistou its a hard choice being a roasted garlic eater myself, but I will go for the oxtail soup.

Goose, pheasant and belly pork, only 115 days to go.

Gaw said...

Thanks Sir W. Tragic. But my Taid hated the Baptists the most. Still bitter about their joylessness into old age.

That's quite a Christmas lunch you have there. My brother is married to a lady of Jamaican heritage and for Christmas dinner they enjoy roast turkey with all the trimmings and curry got with all its trimmings. It takes a real trencherman to do that justice. And then eat pudding.