I have to say, the French really know how to do ‘community’ and tradition. In fact, one really follows the other – the fact that they do community so well supports the carrying on of traditions down through the generations, which feeds back into community. Need I go on?
The week before last, for example, was all about the Féte de la Musique and the feast of Saint Jean. On 21st June every year the whole of France has a musical breakout. Live, outdoors and a mixture of both amateur and professional it is experienced at it’s best in the smaller towns such as Argelés sur Mer. And so, we had a really good band playing blues and reggae on the square beside the church, followed by a screening (on the side wall of the church) of The Boat that Rocked (on the wall of the church!!!).
Meanwhile, over on the other square, we had a kind of wedding band playing a mix of Catalan and middle-of-the-road music for those who like to dance. And, boy, do the locals like to dance! It was heartwarming to watch so many couples get up and samba, tango, quickstep or just trot around the square. Many will have clocked up decades of dancing around this same square, and you can see the children are picking up the moves on a yearly basis. The fact that all of this communal rí rá would continue whether there were tourists around or not makes me feel that it’s a pity we still don’t have dancing at every crossroads in Ireland. Mind you, the French don’t seem to need 5 gallons of alcohol each to fire up their enthusiasm. Perhaps it is best if we don’t play in the road.
On Tuesday I wondered over to Collioure and was treated to a display of Catalan folk dancing. The Sardanes is a form of circle dancing that has much in common with the shape of céilí dancing except with the speed turned down to slooooooooow. If you are not even slightly fit and if you have a thing for men in white tights and espadrilles or, indeed, for buxom maidens, this is the club to join. Props include oars and more changes of outfit than a YSL show.
They were all out on the Wednesday night. Monsieur le Reader, Madame le Bun, Monsieur & Madame le Vest, in fact the entirety of Argéles gathered at the large parking area (now devoid of cars) in the middle of the town having first feasted at long trestle tables in the main street. The occasion this time was Les Feux de la Saint Jean (or, the fires of Saint Jean). Every year on this date Catalans from both sides of the Pyrenees and representing villages throughout Catalonia, gather at the top of Mount Canigou with bunches of wood to contribute to a huge bonfire. At midnight, a flaming torch is carried from its permanent home at the Castillet in Perpignan to the top of the mountain and the bonfire is duly lit.
The next day, relay runners carry the “flamme du Canigou” down onto the plain to all the villages they pass through on the way to Perpignan and in the evening, these flames light the “Focs de la Sant Joan” or “Feux de la Saint Jean”, fires that have been prepared in towns and villages all over the region. With the arrival of the torch, and the lighting of the fires, the festivities begin.
It was like being at the Olympics, when the torch arrived at Argelés. There was singing, there was dancing and there was craic. The large bonfire in the middle of the square was duly lit and everyone was invited to queue up and receive their complementary drink and biscuit. The Health & Safety police would have had a field day, what with children running all around the bonfire and sparks flying everywhere. And that’s before the fireworks started…