Our neighbour here in St Remy, Sami, had gone to the information centre especially to get us a copy of the book with all the festivals in St Remy through the year. I think he was finding our basic French and his non existent English too frustrating when he wanted to tell us about things that are on. So now he opens up the book and points to the next event, and then makes sure we get there in good time!
He and his wife Gaby are so kind. He spotted Peter out in the lane looking for some communal herbs to enliven our not quite Masterchef spaghetti and jar of bolognaise, and between them had a bizarre conversation. Something was lost in translation because Peter did not know the word for basil or parsley, but made the mistake of trying to describe the pasta. In the end, Sami had Gaby coming out with stock cubes and a whole punnet of strawberries, and, yes, a handful of parsley! By this time our meal was congealing on the table, but community spirit was high and I have added the vocabulary for herbs in case Peter decides to go foraging again!
So Sami was peering in both our glass doors this morning, discerning that we were slowish getting going (we thought today's festival was at 11am) and tapped his watch to indicate it would be 10.30. So we finished our coffee and sourdough as fast as we could and headed out to the Defile de la Charrette, or Parade of the Cart. Today is the festival of St Eloi, the patron saint of the farmers, and they started with a 7am mass and breakfast before the parade around the ring road. We had already been entertained by the thousands of sheep last week as they migrated from winter to summer pastures, what would we see this week?
It turned out to be a truly spectacular event, and although the crowds were out lining the streets there was plenty of viewing space under the shady trees. Led by an impressive band, we saw magnificent animals, draught horses and ponies, ridden by people in traditional costumes. There were drummers who played whistles at the same time as they drummed, family pageants including gorgeous children and babies, bands of whip crackers and wild looking riders standing on their steeds. There is a strong
gypsy or traveller background to all of this - we are close to the Camargue area where many live. Some of the horse riders had the look with strong faces and very at home on their horses..
The costumes were great - women in long skirts and elaborate hairdos who walked several kilometres in heeled shoes and carried sprigs of local flora and baskets of produce (including eggs!), young beauties sitting up in the carts being applauded all the way, and children holding hands and waving. As they came around the road for the second time, the walkers in the parade were deftly dodging the horse dung left on the road from the first circuit and the aroma became more pungent!
The spectators were just as interesting and Peter snapped away quietly, getting some great close-up shots of people's faces and profiles for his paintings. Lots of dogs everywhere, including several being pushed in prams!
So much tradition here, yet today's people live with their technology and all modern conveniences. There was a nod to religious traditions with the mass and blessing at the church, but like in so many places in Europe, saints' days are just
local festivals and a chance to eat and drink together.
We joined in by exploring another sector of the town, finding a couple of the ancient city gates, admiring a renovated square that incorporated the centuries old wall into nicely appointed apartments with a modern water feature and dreaming about what it would be like to be rich enough to come here whenever we wanted! A leisurely lunch in the square just before the some spits of rain and it was time to rest up from such excitement and festivity.
What will Sami's next plan be for us? Peter is planning to do a painting of Sami's scrappy little terrier as a thank you present!
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