Friday, June 26, 2009
The trouble with the credit crunch is that suddenly a free evening out seems like a good idea.
Today was My Dear Friend's 40th birthday and
being as we are all a bit financially challenged at the moment we decided to celebrate the event at a free picnic to celebrate the Fete de St Jean at a neighbouring village.
This particular fete has it's origins in pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice but was then snaffled by the Catholic church as a feast day in honour of St John the Baptist. A quick look on the e-How website provided 'everything you need to know about celebrating the Fete de St Jean'.
'What you will need' it read.
Fire retardant clothing
Any evening that requires fire retardant clothing and a bell sounds like a great evening to me! So a quick check in the wardrobe, suitable fire retardant clothes were located - thank god I never threw away that old Fireman's outfit! - and we were ready, except for the bell.
Across France, to celebrate St John the Baptist/The summer solstice depening on your leanings large bonfires are built because........ because they are and historically the young blades of the village would leap the dying embers, which I personally thought was a great way for My Dear Friend to welcome in the new decade of her life. She had other ideas though, not to mention a dodgy foot and had failed to turn up in suitab
le fire retardant attire.
Anyway, enough of the history, we weren't going because we wanted to partake of a French tradition, we were going because it was free and there was music.
We all pitched up to the playground of the villa
ge school, clutching our picnics and wine, to find the place deserted and just a lone microphone and amplifier standing as testament to the fact that someone was there somewhere. No sooner had we rocked up than it started to rain so we decamped under cover amid much looking heavenward and assurances that it would pass, which it eventually did.
We set up our picnic and I have to say, we excelled ourselves. Without doubt ours was the best picnic by far and we were quietly smug as we tucked into quails eggs with celery salt, melon and parma ham, parmesan chicken, goat's cheese quiches, salads, charcuterie and cheese.
Eventually the entertainment started. Now this is when you realise the benefits of doing your research, because it's traditional in France to sing patriotic or traditional songs at the Fete de St Jean and we were just about to be subjected t
o a couple of hours of the songs of Georges Brassens sung by some beardy-weirdy. Brassens has many followers in France (but hey, they like Johnny Halliday too) but to me it is the equivalent of giving a manic depressive a very sharp knife and a large bottle of pills.
I gamely sat through 'La Mauvaise Herbe', 'La
Trompette de la Renommée', 'L'auvergnat' and 'Les copains d'abord' and a whole host of other well known (to everyone else) songs, smiling, trying to sing along and generally look as if we were having the time of our lives.
What we hadn't taken into account was the French reverence for Georges Brassens, who is treated as a favoured son who's every pronoun
cement must be savoured and enjoyed. Chairs were turned round to face the front, picnics packed away (it seems to be disrespectful to continue to eat while Brassens is being sung - or at least that's what we deduced from the dirty loo
ks we kept getting until ours was duly returned to hampers and coolbags) and the Fete took on the appearance of a concert which we neither knew about nor wanted to attend.
The thing about Brassens is that his is really poetry put to music and while the words are often quite upliftings, when put to music they seem to take on the appearance of a funeral dirge that makes Leonard Cohen seem positively upbeat. It's a French thing!
As I stared into the flames of our citronella candle, I mused that being attacked by a swarm of malarial mosquitos would be more fun that yet another Brassens song.
Eventually the fire was lit but at a good a 4 metres high the chances of any young blade, had there been one present under the age of 73 and a half, the chances of leaping it were, I would say, minimal.
Still, we must be grateful for small mercies. At least they have dispensed with the old tradition of cat burning, when a basket full of live cats was suspended above the flames and the locals would dance and sing as the cats were burned alive. Nice!