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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A maybe gray day in Paris

Cloudy today, but I'm not complaining. Plenty of museums to duck into if it starts to rain.

I'm sitting in my cozy little studio off the rue de Rivoli, a prime location if there ever was one, I'm almost embarrassed to say that the one reason I hesitated about taking this apt is because of the trendy, convenient location, a half block from the Tuileries and a short walk from the Louvre. I wanted to be in a less touristy, more authentic neighborhood. But I'm certainly not sorry to be here,

Who could say no to an apt with a terrace, with views of both Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur, illuminated at night?

Let me try to describe the apt, hopefully leaving time to describe some of yesterday's doings.

The "terrace" is really just the roof of the building,or a part of it. The conical skylight over the stairwell takes up 3/4 of the roof, my little paradise with its metal and glass table and two chairs take up the other quarter. I've eaten all my meals there. To get out there you step over the knee high sill of what is really more of a low window than a door. A little tricky when carrying a meal. The tin roof is covered by pallet like segments of wood, quite like our sauna floor in Maine. The view is rather monochromatic, or at least subtle in hue - the gray of the roofs, antennas, and Eiffel Tower, the off white walls of the buildings, the rust color of the chimneys, and the traces of rust along the slopes of the roofs. Plus today's gray skies. I love it.

The interior of my little haven has a similar palette; white walls, except for one along the kitchen wall, which is painted q peach color. A few framed prints, all of which have orange tones. The rust colored hexagonal floor tiles look as though they have been here more than a century, and I suppose that they have. I can see a line along the floor where there once was a wall. The alcove where the bed and bathroom are was once storage, when JP bought the place 15 years ago. He put in the bathroom, which has a real tub as well as the ubiquitous French hand held shower; but with no wall bracket to hook it into. ( I was amazed when someone recently mentioned to me a shower which had only a permanently wall mounted shower head, nothing hand held, which he found odd and lacking in convenience: Let's hear it for cultural differences!) The door to the bathroom itself is the kind of glass door you would normally see in a shower, a bit unusual but intersesting.

There is a skylight directly over the bed, really nice, and JP assured me that no matter how hard it rained, the bed would stay dry even with the window open. Oh, qnd then there's the bed itself, nestled into its nook so you have to climb in from the bottom. The sheets are purple, and the bedspread is bright orange and purple stripes! Ooh la la!

The couch in the living space is a sofa bed, so the place could actually accomodate 4, but it would be a tight squeeze.

The elevator up to the 6th (read 7th, American style) floor is old and rickety, in the stairwell as many in Paris are. The doors of the lower floors look rather more upscale, or upper scale than mine, anyway. The walls are peeling in a number of places; The names on the buzzers downstairs don't include anything for this apt, or anything above the 5th floor. I have not seen anyone at all, but heard loud noise in English my first night. I think there is some kind of hostel somewhere in the building or an adjacent one. The stairs actually continue up from my apt, but I have not yet ventured up there. I am surprised that places like this still exist in this pretty ritzy neighborhood.

JP didn't ask for any security deposit; only wanted half the rent upfront; with the other half due when I arrived, and is as nice as could be. Bqsed on my experiences so far, I would recommend the place highly. The price is right, too!

Only drawback so far: I awoke in the middle of the first night with several bites and a mosquito buzzing around my head. So closed went the windows and skylight. Three weeks camping in a field and no bites; one night in a Paris apt and bites that are still itching. Go figure!

Onto yesterday: I cruised town with the eventual aim of ending up at the Decorative Arts Museum, which I've been to only once before. Came across a street market, lots of interesting architecture of all vintages, of course, stopped for a sandwich at a take out place with outdoor tables on a small square; my sandwich was shrimp and lettuce on a baguette; Not shrimp salad, just the whole shrimp and the lettuce, There was an additional flavor that I couldn't place at first. Then I noticed small green pieces baked into the bread. They were slices of green olive. Delicious! As I entered the square, an unusual, almost triangular shape, I had a strong sense of deja vu (let's see how many French words and phrases I can fit in) It felt like a dream, but I am sure I'd been there before, in a long ago life. All I can associate with it is it having been shortly before I left Paris after my two year sojourn. (!) There's a small church, and opposite it, a couple of stores with religious items sandwiching a chic design store. And, my sandwich/bakery shop. My sandwich, by the way, cost only 3 1/2 euros, about 4 dollars. (no dollar sign!) who said you can't live cheaply in Paris? and not on MacDonald's either!

I continued onward, eventually arriving at the Musee de Arts Decoratif. But by then, I decided I didn't feel like visiting that day, so I continued onward, thru the Tuileries, virtually past my apt; to the smaller Jeu de Paume,(once the royal tennis courts) at the far end of the gardens. I had seen an incredible photography exhibit there, the work of a man named Martin Parr, last summer (detailed in a blog entry from then, and lso in photos on my fb page) So I was interested to see what they had currently. It was the work of two artists; William Kentridge, and Bruno Serralongue. Both somewhat interesting, but neither with the impact of Parr's work (gee, I feel so erudite and well travelled being able to say that!) For me, the most interesting part of Kentridge's work was the music accompanying his short animated films. He is South African, and the choral music was so reminiscent of the a capella singing of my young South African friends from the festival.

I wandered through the Fair, that occupies a good part of the Tuileries, twice yesterday, during the day and again at night. The juxtaposition of the carnival and the traditional gardens and buildings around it intrigues me. But I'd never before been there at night. The huge ferris wheel is just a block from my building. I think it's become a modern Paris icon in its own right, although it's only there one month of the year.I 'll have to do some research, I know there's been a ferris wheel in Paris for a long time, dating perhaps even to the fair for which the Eiffel Tower was built.

Oh, then there's the 19th century Passages (French and English word) I walked thru yesterday. Same type and vintage architecture as the Eiffel and the ferris wheel, lots of metal. But I'll save writing about those until later: the sun is poking thru and it's time for me to head out. Don't want to spend more time documenting my experiences than having them!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Minding my a's and m's

The astute reader might have noticed the q where there ought to have been an a in the last heading. I decided not to change it because it reqlly, I mean really, reflects my life here: Here in Paris I no longer have access to an English keyboard, which I did have in Gannat. There, it was just a matter of remembering that each time I switched programs the keyboard reverted back to the French. Here I have to remember that the a, w, m, z, and I think a few others are in different places! Most frustrating, though, is that most of the punctuation is in different places. The period is upper case, which bewilders me. The exclamation, though, is lower case! And the @ is alt/Gr plus the 0, which really threw me for a loop for a while. And oh, the numbers are all upper case too.

Let me just update you on my trip here yesterday from Gannat. As I think I mentioned, I woke up very early to take down my tent. No one else was awake, except for a man I didn't recognize who came staggering over, asked me what I was doing. He was quite drunk, and likely had been part of our soiree the night before, although I hadn't seen him before. I don't know until what time the party lasted, but would guess it was quite late. I had said my goodbyes to everyone (or hope I did) before I went to bed at about 11pm, having neither the stamina or the desire to stay up any later.

I got to the station in plenty of time, took the local train, with a lot of commuters, some with bicycles. I had a 40 minute layover in Rhiom. Can ( pronounced almost like John) my co-volunteer from Turkey, a really sweet young man, was on the same train to Paris from Rhiom, but on a later train from Gannat. He had only 5 minutes between trains. I'd told him I'd plead with them to hold the train if necessary! But it wasn't, he made it fine. After about a half hour, I think (I'd dozed off) the train stopped. A conductor came thru shortly after to say that we might be there 2 to 3 hours. I was hoping I'd misunderstood, but I hadn't. And we did indeed sit there for about 3 hours. When it was clear I wasn't going to make my 12:30 rendez-vous with JP, the apt owner, I had to borrow someone's cell phone. Can, who was in the next car, had one, but the battery was dead. So were the phones of the next couple of people I asked.

I went for a couple of walks, first toward the front of the train, later towards the back. I could see an ambulance near the back of the train, but never did find out what had happened. I don't know if most of the passengers did know or not. I asked the guy sitting next to me and he said he had no idea. And he didn't seem like he cared. He was watching a movie on his laptop.
Most of the passengers seemed pretty resigned to the situation. I'm sure some had connections or plans that were going to be missed. There were certainly a lot of phone calls being made.On my walk forward I came across a woman whom I'd seen being dropped off at the station. She was probably in her late 70s, had a cane, and was English speaking. I told her what i knew about the delay, and she was pretty concerned because she had an afternoon reservation on the Eurostar to England, She was Welsh. I never found out if we arrived in Paris in enough time for her to catch her other train, There was an announcement as we arrived at the Gare de Lyon, finally, that if people needed help with their connections they should proceed to a particular counter, but she wouldnt have understood it. Can and I walked through the station together: He was spending 4 days in Paris, but needed to call his mom in Turkey who had made the hostel reservation; which he couldn't do, because his phone was dead. So we parted ways, I headed off to the metro, he in search of someplace to buy a phone card.

My other walk on the train took me thru several cars; most people reading or sleeping or working or playing on their computers, And then, I walked into another car and an entirely different environment. It was filled entirely with kids, and a few counselor type teenagers. Some kids were playing games; Parcheesi, pick up sticks, cards, etc; One group was singing a song with lots of hand movements and laughter, One counseler was stretched out across two seats and trying to sleep.
It was obviously a camp group en route to somewhere.I wonder where they were going and if they made it.

When we finally got going, they made an announcement that there would be free meals handed out in car 3, the one in front of mine. It was all very ordely, they had hundreds of meals in boxes. I saw the counselor who had been trying to take a nap earlier, with an armload of boxes, perhaps 8 of them, and teased him about how much food he was taking. The boy across the aisle from me, travellng with whom I'd guess was his grandmother, shouted out, "free food!!"

The meal consisted of packages of lentil salad, not bad, tabouli, which was kind of mushy and not so good, applesauce, and some vanilla cream cookies. And a card with an apology about the problem with the service, No bread, no cheese, almost unheard of in a French meal. There was, though, a package of crackers which were a dead ringer for matzoh. The package had some name on it, I'm going to have to look it up. The crackers tasted pretty good with the lentils.

Well, I finally did make it to the apt, thank goodness a direct line from the train station, those metro tunnels can be long; and am happily ensconced here for the next few days. I had a wonderful Paris day today, which I had been planning to describe now. But it's 10pm, just beginning to get dark, and I promised myself I would take a nighttime stroll down to the Seine. The Eiffel Tower is alight; I just stood up and took a peek at it through my window. No matter how trite an icon it has become, it never fails to impress me, I don't feel the need to go up to the top anymore, or even to wander under it, which is pretty impressive in itself. But I feel truly lucky to have this view of it, over the also iconic rooftops of the city, for the next few days.

I will try to catch up on today's activities tomorrow!

A la prochain...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bqck to Paris

Here I am finally in the small studio apt that I found online. It's great, just what I imagined. What sold me on it was the balcony with views of both the Eiffel Tower and Montmarte, the fact that it has both a washing machine and a computer, and that it's on the 7th floor but is not a walkup (the elevator goes to the 6th. It's been an ardous day getting here, starting with waking up at 6am and taking my tent down; and catching a 7am train: I'll fill in the details tomorrow!

I did a batch of laundry, hung it up on the windowsills and on the patio table and chairs. think I'll take a picture of it drying with the Eiffel Tower in the background tomorrow: Went on a cruise around the neighborhood and bought some groceries - bread, cheese, wine, some veggies qnd fruits; including the tiny haricots verts - green beans - that are so typically French.

Today is the 29th of july; and the name of the street where I am staying is Rue de 29 de juillet! I asked JP; the owner of the apt; about it, and he sent me info from Wikipedia about the 3 day revolution in the 1800's that began on this day: One of gates into the Tuileries, right where I exited the metro is the 29 de juillet gate, and that is also where this street begins. Yes, I am staying in a rather ritzy neighborhood; just a block from the Tuileries gardens and just a few blocks from the Louvre. Not that you'd know it from this rather run down building with plaster peeling off the hallway walls: But that's ok with me; it's my kind of place.

It's about 9:30; and finally starting to get dark: I'm hoping to stay awake long enough to see the Tower lit up before I fall asleep.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ready to depart

This will certainly be the last posting from Gannat. I didn't expect to even have time to write today. We have finished our work, and now our party for whoever wants to come is about to start. It is a barbeque. Harold is doing most of the work. It seems to be his thing. Hyun-Jae, Pepe, and Ayub are helping. I guess the male barbeque thing is international.

We don't really know how many people are coming. I just found out that Jean Roche, the founder/director of the festival is coming, which surprised me. Nearly all the groups have gone, except for the Khazistanis, who are staying at the hostel that is part of the Maison du Folklore. Without their costumes. they are just a bunch of cute kids, plus several adults that are the singers and musicians. They are going to two other festivals in France, before heading home,as are the South Africans. Now that I think of it, it may well be the same festivals.

The festival tents, stands, booths, etc. are almost entirely taken down. A lot of the work we did was just picking up chairs and tables and loading them into trucks. There didn't seem to be all that much to do. For us, that is. There were at least 40 men doing the heavy duty stuff. All that was left when we left the site this afternoon was the chapiteau, the big tent. I would like to have seen that come down.

For lunch today, we were taken in the back of a truck to the same place where we worked before the festival, and where all the festival equipment, scenery, etc. is stored. There is a small kitchen there too. One or a couple of the burly workers had cooked us all a lunch. We had a carrot salad, potato salad, tomotoes and hard boiled eggs. Delicious. Oh, and rum punch. These guys take their drinking seriously. It's the same men who we worked with in the early mornings, cleaning up with before the festival opened for the day. They do work hard, but I don't know how they do it, with the amount of beer they consume, starting early in the morning. I didn't realize the salads were just the first course, although I should have. Then came some braised ribs and macaroni. No dessert, probably a good thing.

I walked through town today, which I have done a few times on my own. I have to say it feels good to be on my own, away from the group. It was market day, and one stall had wild blueberries, of which I bought a half kilo, planning to share them with the group. I couple of people took a couple of berries, most people didn't want to even try them. I think a lot of them hadn't ever seen them before. So I ate a lot of blueberries today!

Then back to the festival, to stack pieces of wood from the typical Aubergne house we had taken apart the day before. We stacked them on pallets, for a forklift to carry off to one of the trucks.

I can smell the barbeque. The picnic area is right outside the Maison de Folklore, from where I have done all my blogging. I think things are going to end on a nice note tonight. I hope so. I have to confess that since the festival ended, a couple of days ago, I have been eager for the project to end, as well. I just haven't felt the same camraderie I have in all of my other volunteer projects. I think some of it is just that I don't speak French as well as most of the volunteers, and some things just go by me. But some of it is certainly the group organization. I've already written about my travails with Laure. Now Romain, her co-leader, is in charge. I don't think he has much experience supervising anyone or leading a group. I asked him today how I could get to the train station tomorrow. I am the first to leave, and there are three people taking a train an hour later. He started a rant about how he couldn't ask Pepe (who drove here from Barcelona and has been helping with some of the daily transportation and shopping.) Then he said that Pierre-Julien, to whom we are officially responsible, probably couldn't take me, he has a family and responsibilites of his own, etc. etc. I was just trying to get a word in and ask if he could call me a taxi. He said he would, or at least get me the number of a taxi company. Never did, of course, so I wound up asking Pierre-Julien, who promptly made the arrangements. Romain never did follow up with me, which doesn't surprise me. It doesn't seem like he's really concerned about how or if I get there.Just a small example of the lack of organization, or caring, about this group.

Well, enough about that. As I said before, the most striking thing about this whole event has been the experiences behind the festival. As Jean Roche has been quoted, the whole goal is international understanding and tolerance, and especially that children have this experience. And I have certainly seen that, in many ways. Watching the local kids interract with the performers is so touching, and watching the groups interract with the others, as well. An interesting observation about the performances - I have seen similar threads in some of the performances. Both the Auvergne local group (the one Jean Roche founded before he founded the festival) and the Yakuties do a similar piece, a dance about wolves hunting another animal. The Yakuti wolves hunt and kill a reindeer, and the rest of the herd returns to scare off the wolves. In the French version, which is quite different in style, music, costumes, it is a flock of sheep, hunted by a wolf after the shephard falls asleep, leaning on his staff. In this version, several shephards come back to hunt and kill the wolf, which they then carry off, to cheers from the audience.

The other common element that struck me is the part of a dance like the Virginia Reeel, where each couple comes under the arched arms of the first couple and then becomes part of the arch. I have nticed it in several dances here, including the group from Provence and the South African. How does something like that originate and then travel from culture to culture? The small instrument that is a two sided drum that one twirls between ones hands is another example of an element that I have seen from various cultures, including Thailand and Peru. In some cases, it seems likely or at least possible that it evolved separately. Certainly the wolf theme would naturally evolve in various cultures,and probably exists in many others. But how does a bridge under which the dancers move in pairs evolve in separate cultures? It's something I would like to know, just as I would like to know how the bread on a stick greeting came to be at the festival cafeteria!

Well, that's it from the town and festival of Gannat, a truly remarkable event that I would highly recommend!

Now, off to the barbeque, and then, Paris!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Je suis triste

In other words, I'm sad, even though I must confess I am ready for this project to end. The festival has been wonderful, I would even consider coming back to volunteer again, on my own. But this group hasn't had the same esprit that my others have, and I am not exactly sure why. I think part of it is that we are all going off in different directions each day, aside from the pre and post festival days. So there isn't the same group solidarity that there is when people are working more together.

For me, some of it has certainly been my run in with Laure. And in general, this project has been less well organized then others. Most of the volunteers seem to agree, although I am not sure how much they are referring to our group organization and how much to the festival organization. Not having food for breakfast for several days seems not to cool to me, and demoralizing it itself. It's hard to start the day off when there is no tea, bread, cookies, anything really.

With most of my other projects, I have kept in touch with some of the group. I even hope to see one or both of the leaders from last year, in Paris in the next few days. And lots of us keep in touch.

Speaking of cool, it is one of many English words that have been incorporated into French. I doubt that my fellow volunteers even realize that some of them weren't part of the language a few decades ago. I think the older French people may have given up on trying to keep English out of the French language. There are so many words, although I can't think of more than a couple at the moment. Parking, planning. And the phrase tres cool is very common. Does that ring a bell for anyone? Max, Carolina, are you out there?

A few more tidbits about the South Africans, and anything else that comes to my mind while I am writing. I've gotten to know several of the group, and especially Mighty, the leader of the group. And Kea, who I mentioned before, is very cute and sweet, but a real hot ticket on stage! A couple of nights ago, one of the girls, Caroline (pronounced like your name, Carolina, with the ee sound)asked me if I could buy her a drink at the cabaret. I said I couldn't, because I thought she was under age. Then I realized that she was asking because she didn't have any money. She told me she was 22, older than I'd realized. I then began to talk to Emily, who told me she was in her late 20's, and has a 7 year old daughter. She works as a waitress in a hotel,but is also in her last year of medical school. And she said that one of the boys, George, is in his 4th year of med school. Everyone in my group was surprised to hear how old these guys were. We had thought them to be more like 15 or 16. I wonder if it's a dietary related issues.

I am hoping to stay in touch at least with Mighty, the group leader. He and I really hit it off from the start. he is in his late 30's, married, and has 3 daughters. The oldest is 15. Two of the three dance, the other is more interested in politics he said, and sounded almost disappointed.

These guys were the stars of the festival. When they did their final performance last night, everyone was up out of their chairs, pounding on the boards with their feet, shouting bravo and hip hip hoorah and whistling. I told Mighty that I think it's their incredible enthusiasm and energy, and how happy they look dancing, that makes everyone love them so much. Even though they are incrdible dancers, there are many incredible dancers here, and I don't think any other group has gotten so much appreciation.

Mighty said to me, I think they like us. He wasn't being sarcastic, more humble than anything.

Well, Harold, the Belgium guy in our group, just poked his head in the door and said, on mange, ie, time to eat.

So, until the next time -

Monday, July 26, 2010

Almost over

The festival is almost over; the last performance is tonite. Some of the groups have already left, the Hungarians, the Yakuties, maybe the Albanians, whom I haven't seen today, perhaps also the Slovakians. The group at lunch was much smaller than before, although the bread on a fork game still continues. I wonder if any of the groups will take this new tradition back to their countries and perpetuate it. It's such a nice one, and at the least, lots of folks here have internalized the typical French greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Also, it's morphed a bit in that people aren't always giving the bread to someone of the other gender, either because they didn't reallize, or because they just preferred, for whatever reason, to choose someone of the same sex.

Last night was the Nuit d'Esprits, Night of the Spirits. Although I was very tired, I went, with most of our group. The South Afrikans, who are they favorites of lots of us, were supposed to be performing, along with the indigenous Venezuelans. It was at a pretty little park I hadn't been to, away from the festival grounds, and was preceeded by a parade of all the groups. Waiting for them to start, I found out from others in my group that the Venezuelans weren't Venezuelan at all, but two Brazilian men from the Amazon, brought in when the Venezuelans couldn't get visas. I felt pretty stupid never having understood that. But I felt much better today when Lucie, who is French, also said she'd thought they were Venezuelans too, as it said in the program.

In any case, they arrived in full feathered regalia, lit a fire, chanted for a while, then got up a bunch of people, formed a circle, started chanting with the locals, moving around the fire in a circle. It went on for a long time. As much as I wanted to like it, it wasn't very interesting and I kept falling asleep, even having dreams. Or maybe it was a shamanistic experience. It was also very cold, and if I felt cold, I wonder how these two young Amazonians, wearing a lot of feathers but not much of anything else, felt.

My group eventually decided to leave. It turns out the South Africans never did perform last night, because it was too late and too cold! But they are performing tonight, at the last show. I'm glad. They are not just one of my favorites, but one of the favorites of the festival, and a good note on which to end things. The Maoris also seem quite popular. I like them but with some reservations, not so much about their performances as about their attitudes. I will try to save some time to write more about this, after I relate more of yesterday's experiences.

Lunch was my last meal at the school cafeteria, which ends service tonite. I have my working shift at the African restaurant at the festival tonite, so won't be at the schoo; tonite. Which is fine, especially since things are winding down and it feels a little sad there. I'm so glad to have my last working shift at the restaurant, because it's one of the best places to work. I worked there yesterday lunch, too. The restaurant is called Chez Helene, and it is indeed Helene who runs the show. She is part Togo heritage, part Niger. This is her 15th year running the restau, as they say. Helene is quite the character. She is very warm and friendly, and lound, but can also be kind of bossy. One day I asked if I could help cut the pineapple, and someone cautioned me, no, Helene likes to do that.

Yesterday, I sliced and chopped ginger for the first couple of hours. It was made into ginger juice, which is actually the ginger blended with orange juice, and maybe something else. It's pretty good. When we arrived yesterday, most of the kitchen staff were wearing dashikas and other African garments, from Helene's booth next door. So Helena (my Czech co-worker) and I were promtply brought over to the booth where about 4 women spent about the next 15 minutes discussing which outfits and hats we should wear. Helene was one of the women, though you'd think she'd be busy preparing food for the noon rush. Later, after all the ginger was done, the line was getting pretty long ordering food at the stand. I had never done the service, only the prep, so tried to get a quick crash course from Helena, the Czech volunteer. She'd only just started doing it an hour before. There were four things on the menu, Accra, which are fried fish balls, Couscous Royale, a fish dish and a chicken dish, both of whch had names but which I never internatlized. You took the order, then folks paid while you got the food on a tray for them. There was one spot where someone served up the couscous and rice, and another for the actual dishes, which were in huge pots.

So, first order, a little nervous, I went up to the counter and asked what they would like to order. The answer, 5 orders of couscous, 3 of fish, then more but I lost track after that. Luckily, one of the other servers, who is there every day, helped me with the order. After that, the rest were pretty straightforward, usually just a couple of orders at a time, not eight plus whatever else, some accra I guess, and drinks.But the line was long, and we servers were lining up at the couscous/rice and meat stands, waiting to have the plates filled. At one point there were 5 of us backed up. Finally, one of the servers said to Helene, who was discussing something with one of the cooks, and with whom it seems you don't mess with, Helene, you need to serve us. There are people waiting. Helene had seemed oblivious of both us and the customers lined up.

After the lunch rush, three hours into our four hour shift, things calmed down, and we took a break to have lunch ourselves. I'd had the chicken and couscous on my other shift earlier on. So this time I tried the fish, which I think was the best of all.

The only things we've really had to pay for here are ice cream, crepes, waffles, and fries, and of course alcoholic drinks, and even on those we buy tokens at the bar and get a discount.

I think most of the jobs here have been great, even though there have been some scheduling issues and times when we arrived and there was nothing to do for a while. But considering the scope of the festival, I find that really minor, although some people in the group have been more frustrated about that.
Most peoples' complaints seem to be about the lack of organization, and about the bathroom facilities. Personally, I find the toilet and shower facilities here far better than the one I had in Paris last year (one shower for 28 people) and in Peru, where there was one toilet-shower which was the same little outdoor stall, so only one or the other could be used at a time, and it was perhaps three feet from our dining table.

Onto some other impressions of yesterday: the Africans were drumming at the outdoor stage, when who comes along but Pepe, with his own djembe drum, and starts playing with them. This isn't a jamming session, but a performance, on a real stage, and I am impressed with his chutzpah! Pepe has intrigued me all along. He's such an interesting mix of brazen and cuddly puppy dog. I'm so mad that my camera battery chose that moment to die. Yesterday we wrote project evaluations, and since they were all on the table, some of started reading the others and guessing who had written them. For what we liked the least, Pepe said that he hasn't yet gotten a French girl to kiss him! He does,by the way, have a girlfriend back in Barcelona, but told us that while he was away, things could happen.

Oh, I forgot to add, Pepe was supposed to be on points tri (recycling stations) duty at the time.

Lots of people were dancing to the South Africans plus Pepe drumming. They ranged from older couples to children to a woman who did a combination of African anad bellydance moves, very well, although there was something a little over the top about her moves. The young French guys at the table between her and me were snickering. Then there was a boy, about 10 or 12,kind of gawky, with glasses, who got up and began imitating the dancing woman's moves, combined with the fierce face and stuck out tongue of the Maoris. I just burst out laughing.

Another image - at the African booth next to the restaurant yesterday, one of the women wanted to braid my hair. She hadn't had any customers all morining, and we were joking about how I could parade around with a sandwich sign afterwards. But I wasn't particularly interested in having cornrows or extensions. next thing I knew, one of the burly construction heads, half bald, was sitting in her seat while she added braided extensions to his sparse hair. He's well known at the festival, and lots of people were coming by and cracking jokes. I did get some good pix of that!

Back to the Maoris. I have been speaking to some of them, particularly one man, who seems friendlier than the rest. I also found out, at lunch one day, that he was married to one of the women in the group, and they have their four children with them. He told me that there are actually about 30 in the group, of which just 8 are here. He told me the group is really impressive when they all perform, which I am sure is true. They are interesting enough just the 8 of them. What is especially interesting to me is the combination of their fierce grunts and faces and moves, with the very melodic and harmonic songs they sing. I really would like to know more about what's behind both the music and the grunting and chanting, but don't know if I'll have another chance to talk to them.The music is really beatutiful, a little reminiscent to me of both Hawaiian music and gospel.

But what i've noticed most about the Maoris is that they seem somewhat chauvinistic. For instance, they mentioned to me that they have s huge festival of just Maori music, etc. every year in NZ, much bigger than the festival here in Gannat. And the tone was just a little superior, as if implying that this festival wasn't as good.

I can understand that a culture that has been repressed might naturally have a degree of attitude toward the mainstream culture that has reppressed them. But, for one thing, the people here aren't the people who repressed them.

What bothered me the most, though, is that the same man, the one who's been friendly, also said to me that his group can perform quite a variety of shows, long and short pieces, not like some of the groups here, who just do the same thing over and over again. It isn't really true, I've seen each group mulitple times, and they all have as much variety as his does. (except for the Brazilians, who really do do the same thing over and over!) But the Brazilians are some people's favorites. The variety and range is what makes the festival interesting. If was just surprised that this Maori man would express his negative feelings about other groups. That's not what this festival is about.

Well, that's it for today. A tout! (ie, a tout a l'heure, see you soon.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hip Hip Hoorah!

I've been meaning to use that as a heading for an entry here for days. It's what Jean Roche, the creator and director of the festival, who also created the Auvergne folk dance group that performs her, says, at the end of each act of every show. Actually, he says the hip, hip, and the entire audience shouts, Hurrah, me included.

The festival is winding down, and I am starting to feel sad, as I knew I would. Some of the performing groups are already leaving. Two of our group members are leaving tomorrow as well, although the rest of us still have two days here to help with the knockdown. It is truly incredible how many people I have met here, including the group members, the performers, and the volunteers, of which there are hundreds. Because our group circulates through the festival and thru the various responsibilies we have probably gotten to know more people than most volunteers, who have responsibilities in just one area.

Right now I am at the Maison du Folklore, my home away from home. It's where I have access to the computer, at least at times, and also where the kitchen and restaurant are where the repas typique have been prepared and served. It's just a quick walk from our campground, whereas the festival site is a good 20 minute walk. It's comfortable walking it night or day, no safety concerns, except the darkness if I forget to take my flashlight.

A few minutes ago, there was some group singing and playing just outside the door here. I think it must have been the Hungarians, because I had seen them loading up their vehicles a little earlier. It's just typical of the whole event, people spontaneously, or at least informally, singing in the street, promanading in their costumes outside the festival grounds, etc. And, in the streets of the small downtown, music from the festival is played continuously, as it is on the festival grounds itself. I wonder if there are people in the town that aren't interested, that don't participate in the festival at all. From the attendance and the people I've talked to, it sure seems like most people do participate. There was certainly a large crowd at the parade. There is another parade tonite, and then a Night of the Spirits at a local park, at midnight. It had been postponed from earlier in the week because of heavy rain and thunderstorms, which hopefully won't materialize tonight. We have had an incredible amount of rain, and an incredible change in the weather, really from hour to hour many days. So we've all gotten soaked at times, and some people's tents have taken in water, but luckily, not mine. The festival grounds were very muddy last night, and slippery, and I was worried about people falling. Including myself, one fall per festival is enough.

The Night of the Spirits, tonite, involves only two groups, the South Africans and the two Yanomamo Venezuela shaman boys. Should be interesting. I talked to the director of the South Africans, with whom I've become quite friendly. He says they are performing some type of initiation ritual.

Well, have to go now, time for some more delicous French cafeteria food! I hope to get back to the computer tomorrow to relate some of the day's adventures, and some of what's still to come tonite.

Back soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

pommes des terre farcis, etc.

That's what I was making this morning, stuffed potatoes, filled with a hamburger mix. I have decided that working in Didier's kitchen at the Maison de Folklore, where the repas typiques are prepared and served is my favorite responsibiliity. There have been several of them, food from Khazistan, Egypt, today's from Provence, the southern part of France, tomorrow's, the last one, will be a Slovakian menu. Each time they are preceded by entertainment from the corresponding group.

I volunteered, actually, to work there this morning, after my assigned shift cleaning up the cabaret and getting things ready for tonite, the last night of the cabaret. There are a couple more days to the festival. So I woke up, refreshed after returning from the cabaret at about 1:30 am last night. I was one of the early ones, after the one or two who forewent (is that a word - I've become accustomed to making them up in French and seeing if I'm understood) the cabaret altogether. Then there were the 5 who went to some other festival or club or something near Vichy last night in Pepe's car, and didn't return until 8 am, as I was leaving this morning. I got that Romain, the co-leader with Laure, got very sick, because Pepe acted it out rather graphically for us) but I have no idea where they were all night.

So Juana and I (she only returned at 2:30 am) worked with the cabaret cleaning team this am for two hours, sweeping and mopping all the dirt and spilled drinks, then covering all the tables with the tablecloths that we had cut earlier on. I then went over to the kitchen, where I helped two women from the Provence group stuff the potatoes and cut figs into lovely little flowers. There were also stuffed tomatoes and zucchinis except they were round, rather than long, also stuffed with the meat mixture. I had emptied them yesterday, on my actual restaurnat shift. Yesterday I was working with Nicolas, who is a musican, an accordian player with one of the groups ( he was also one of the guys who woke me up at 4am and keep me and most of the others up until 6 am, when I had to get up to work several days back.) I told him I really liked his music, just not at that time of night. He is a culinary student of Didier's, the chef here, who in real life is teacher of culinary arts at the school Nicolas attends. I think it's a high school.

The last typique meal is tomorrow, and if I have the time, I will try and volunteer there as well. I feel like I'm getting a mini course in French cooking (and Khazistani, and Egyptian, as well.)

There have been, and continue to be, so many incredible experiences, that I know I will only be able to convey a small percentage of them. But I will write until I have run out of energy or until someone comes to claim the computer. Meanwhile, it's very amusing when people enter the building and come to ask me questions. The last one was if it was okay to take pictures of the masks in the mini museum here. I said yes, because I've seen other people do so.

I did have a pretty lousy couple of days the last few days, even considered leaving the group at one point. Laure, and one other person, seemed to have taken a dislike to me, and decided that I was not carrying my share of the responsibilities. I can't quite figure it out, and it really startled me. If not for all my previous volunteer experiences, I would have been even more devastated. After our encounter the other day, there was another incident where I didn't know she had made a change in the schedule. and therefore missed one of my shifts. So she, and the person who I was supposed to work with, were both furious with me. To top it off, I took a bad fall in the street, walking thru the town on my own. So I now have a very impressive black and blue mark that covers most of my thigh, and it's swollen as well. And I have a bunch of other aches and pains to go with it. Thursday, two days ago, was our day off. A trip was planned, to a cheese maker's, and also to a lake. I was planning to just stay here, go to a couple of dance workshops, especially the Egytian one (their group does a combination of folkloric and belly dance. Although after my fall, I wasnt' sure I was really up for dancing, thought maybe I'd just watch. It never occurred to me that the trip would be "obligitoire." At 8am or so, Laure rustled my tent, shouting it was time to go, the bus was here. (nice of her to give me time to get ready, huh) When I said I'd prefer to stay here, she was, again, furious. When I got up, said I'd like to talk to her, she said, I'm here, rolling her eyes. This in front of the group. Then I tried to show her my incredible bruise, at which she threw up her hands, and said, it's just a bruise. So I just went back to bed, let them leave, trying to figure out how to handle the situation. Ironic that she, as the group leader, had said at the beginning, if you have a problem, just come to talk to me. And now she had embarrassed and humiliated me in front of most of the group. I basicly spent the whole day having conversations with her in my head, trying to figure out how to rectify the situation. A little later that morning I discovered that neither Pepe or Harold, who had been pretty drunk the night before, had gone. Pepe actually had thought, like me, that he would rather go to some of the workshops, and hadn't planned to go on the trip. And Lina had wanted to go but somehow had been inadvertantly been left behind. So, out of the 12 of us, not counting our two group leaders, 4 of us stayed behind. If Laure was annoyed with Pepe or Harold, I am not aware of it. None of the other folks I asked was aware that the trip had been supposedly obligatory. Maybe Laure had been annoyed with the two guys also, and had just wound up taking it out on me, I don't know. I do think this project is a little more complex to coordinate, because we are in small groups of two at each task, and our leaders are responsible to all the different group leaders at the cabaret, restaurant, recyling, etc, etc. And I am not aware of Romain doing any of the scheduling, or much of anything in terms of leading. We also haven't had much food for breakfast the last few days, it seems Laure and Romain haven't found the time to go shopping for bread or milk or anything.

Well, I didn't intend to spend so much time writing about this whole situation, but at least it's helped me get it off my chest. I frankly think Laure owes it to me to bring it up and even apologize, but I know that's not going to happen. She didn't talk to me all of yesterday. I didn't have the energy or desire to bring it up to her, although I think I should. Last night she at least began to talk tom me again. And this morning, when she realized I had volunteered to work in the kitchen right after my cleaning shift, she started to be downright friendly. So we'll see how things pan out.

Other than the above episode, things continue to be fantastic. Today's Provencal lunch was served by the Provencal dancers, in costume, to the leaders of all the perforning groups, while the musicians from the group played their fife and drum music. They have been playing it everywhere, at the cabaret, on the line at the cafeteria, etc. At one table sat several group leaders, and the two Yanomami men, all decked out in feather headresses and facepaint. They don't seem to be able to speak to anyone, they don't speak Spanish, much less English or French, and their coordinator is Brazilian and so Portuguese speaking! They are from Venezuela. Their names are Jose and Alfonso, and they seem very sweet. They keep getting refered to as shamans, so maybe sweet isn't the appropriate description, but that's the way they seem to me. The extent of our conversation has been exchanging names, but we smile and wave at each other evry time we see each other.

I'm just going to try to capture as many images and experiences as I can, as they come to me. Here goes: I've become friendly with the South Africans, Maori New Zealanders, and one of the Trinidadian leaders of the London steel drum band. I only met him last night, but we had a long conversation. He seemed really pleased that I had been to Trinidad. He hasn't lived there since the late 60's, I think. He founded the drum band, in the 80's, with another man. The group itself is quite mixed, black and while, young and old. There are 13 of them here, but the entire group is about 30. They've played mostly dance type music here, but he told me they play all kinds of stuff, and one of their upcoming London show features Katchaturian's Sabre Dance. I felt very pleased with myself since it's one of the few classical pieces I know. (maybe because it's very folkloric) The group has played all over, including Royal Albert Hall, and this is the 4th time they've been to this festival.

The South Africans may be my favorite people, if not my favorite performers. They are all kids, mostly in their early teens. The smallest boy is 13, although I would have thought him to be much younger. His name is Kea.I met him one of the first days, when he was drumming, really incredibly, outside the cafteria. When I asked him how long he'd been drumming, he said a year. The group leader, who I've become quite friendly with (his name is Mighty) tells me Kea has actually been drumming less than a year. He's also told me that Kea is an orphan, one of two in the group. He lives with his aunt, his parents died of AIDS. Not uncommon in Africa. Kea is primarily a dancer, although he did drum last night onstage under the chapiteau, with Mighty. And all the kids sang last night, in gorgeous harmony. Their costumes are very basic, compared the elaborate costumes of most of the groups, and I like that. They are basically skin colored skirts and halter tops for the girls, and little more than loincloths for the boys and Mighty. In one performance Kea was the last one to head offstage, wiggling his pretty much bare bottom all the way. Very cute. All of them are smiling, all the time, and look like they are really enjoying themselves. Mighty tells me he encourages them to do that, and I told him I think it makes a big difference that they look so happy dancing. It's not just me, I think most of the people in my group think this group is one of their favorites.

The Brazilians, in contrast to the South Africans, are all glitter and glitz, and not, to my mind, much substance. The music is great, although not very varied, and I thought they were wonderful when I first saw them, in the parade through town. Their costumes are spectacular, but they don't seem to do much except parade around in them. I would have expected snazzier dance moves.

The Slovakians are one of my favorites. The men, especially, are incredibly acrobatic, jumping and touching their heels and their heads, dynamic and graceful. Their group includes two older men who sing together,in booming operatic voices, doing what seems like something out of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, of which I can't, of course, understand a word. I've meant to ask either Helena or Dominika what they were singing about, because they are Czech and the languages are mutuallly understandable, but have never gotten around to it. Today at lunch, after my Maori lunch companions left, one of the Slovakian singers and his wife sat down opposite me. They speak no English or French. But one of their young musicians spoke some, although not as much as I would have expected. So I asked him to tell them how much I enjoyed the men's performance, even though I had no idea what they were singing about (it ws about love, and women) They seemed really pleased to hear that I enjoyed their performance. I find that most of the performers really appreciate being told that I liked their performances, so I try to do that as much as I can.

Let's see, other images - one of the local boys coming around the cafeteria with the bread on a fork, and giving it to one of the Chinese (I think) girls. I am a bit embarrassed to say I can't tell the difference between the Khazistani. the Yakouti (Siberian) and the Chinese performers. Or maybe I shouldn't be, I remember once being surprised in Japan when one of my friends told me she couldnt tell Japanese people from Koreans by their looks. The Yakouti are also wonderful. They wear costumes made from furs decorated with embroidery. They are also kids, as are the Chinese. My favorite dance is one where a group of reindeer prance (it's the only word that describes it, even if it sounds like Rudolf) around the stage, so gracefully, until four dancers dressed like wolves, in what I assume are real wolf skins, appear and wait for their opportunity. They finally pounce on, and drag off, the last and smallest reindeer. The reindeer herd then reappears, and as a group, hissing, scare off the wolves. The musical accompaniment is all drums. The dance is extremely beautiful and moving.

I think I'll stop here. The festival is winding down, but I hope and expect there will be some more amazing experiences to come. Tomorrow night, for instance, at midnight, is the Night of the Spirits, in a park in town. It's apparently just the South Africans and the two young Yanamomi shamans, Alfonso and Jose! Check back soon for an update.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to get angry in French

I've heard you truly know a language when you start to dream in it. I'm now wondering if being able to express your anger also qualifies!

This morning I had a 8 am shift helping to cook the traditioanl Egyptian meal being served for lunch today. So I went to sleep good and early. (2 am, much earlier than most of the group, who stay at the cabaret and go to bed around 4am.)

At about 4, I began to hear loud music very close to my head. Our group's large communal tent is about 10 feet from me, if that. It was the traditional French music group, and some others, jamming with their accordians and medieval hurdy gurdys etc, and of course drinking a lot and talking loudly. There were about a dozen of them, and only Pepe from our group. After a while, I went and stood in the doorway of the tent. Pepe immediately came over to me, very drunk but very apologetic, saying he didn't know how he could ask them to stop or be more quiet. And then said, with his heavily Spanish accented French, ( you were young once, right?) It's very hard to be angry with Pepe, and I wasn't. But I never fell asleep until 6, after they stopped, then turned my alarm off when it went off, didn't get up until Laure started yelling at me because I was late for my shift. So I yelled back that it was hard to get up after 1 hour of sleep. She said that everyone had trouble sleeping. Yeah, but not everyone had to get up at 7, or had their tent right next to the party.

So the upshot was that I cut garlic for an hour very grumpily, having also learned from Didier, the chef, that you have to halve them and remove the tiny seed, which is not easy to digest. And then had to work several hours more than the one hour shift I was supposed to do this am, in additional to my 4 hour shift tonite. At the same time Didier and we were preparing today's meal of chicken with rice, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cinnamon, etc. several people from the Canery Island group were preparing food for tomorrow's lunch. They don't speak any French, so I was serving as translator from their Spanish, which was kind of amusing. Things like, do you have any aluminum foil, and, do you have a container I can put these almonds in until tomorrow.

Oh, and I nver had any breakfast either. But Didier was frustrated with Laure as well, because he thought we were supposed to work more hours with him. So I think her anger at me abated a little. I really think it was Laure and Romain's responsibility to quiet the party, and sure hope it's not going to happen again.

So now, I am writing in the office at the Maison de Folklore, while downstairs in the restaurant the meal for which I cut garlic is being served and eaten, and some of the Egyptian performers are playing music and dancing, and I can hear the very contagaious music as I type.

I do enjoy most of the work, even the more tedious tasks, like washing all the tables at the festival after the previous night's festivities. It's really neat being a small part of something so big.This afternoon I work at Chez Helene again, the African food stand at the festival. Helene is a real character, and works hard and long, as do all the people at the stand. They are there the entire day and evening, preparing and serving. My first time there was in the morning, and it was all cutting and chopping. This time should be prime eating time, so I imagine I will be serving. The food is accra, which are delicious fish fritters, couscous, and a chicken dish made with mustard which I hope to try tonite. In general, we've had so much food to eat, all good, two big meals daily at the high school. I haven't even had the appetite yet to try the waffles, crepes, or ice ice cream. Looks like some interesting flavor, including mixed berries with chocolate, which I have my eyes on.
Oh, Helene also runs the adjacent African clothing stand. Yesterday morning, she gave me a beautiful scarf as a gift, and lots of people have already commented on it. I of course have told them all where I got it.

Yesterday was an incredible day. Everyone, all the performers, all the volunteers, everyone except the folks that worked at the stands, went ot a picnic on the grounds of a chateau. The chateau itself seemed abandoned, although someone told me it was privately owned. The grounds were lovely. We were all served a packaged lunch of hard boiled egg, tomato, bread, cheese,chips, and nectarine. And we were all served grilled steak which they cooked right there. The French certainly know how to cook meat right!

The best part of the day was all the performers, many of whom had brought their instruments, singing and dancing together. We had the South African kids dancing and drumming while the elegant young Khazastani women did a combination of African moves blended with their own graceful arm movements. And the Hungarian musicicians playing under a tree while some of the dancers danced, in their bathing suits! And then singing Happy Birthday, in English, apparently to someone in the group.

And then there were the Chinese musicians playing songs like Down by the Riverside, with accordian and guitar, (which are actually part of their band, not instruments I would have associated with Chinese music.)

A French coordinator tried to tell the Chinese teens something about the Chinese ambassador in Paris. She spoke in English, because apparently none of them speak French. Well, they didn't speak English, either. It was like a game of charades. Someone came over with an electronic translator, and they eventually got the word embassy after she tried passport, visa, etc. But I don't think any of her actual content ever got conveyed.

As we arrived, our group began to walk toward the chateau and Jean Roche, the director and originator of the festival, 37 years ago, arrived in his distinctive hat. It was the first time I had had any real interaction with him. He paused a the small ancient looking house of an equally ancient looking woman. She is 89. From what I could gather, he considers her somewhat of a national treasure, and often visits her. She is somewhat of a poet, and recited several poems for us. We noticed one of the festival posters on her outside wall. She and Jean roche gestured toward it simultaniously, Jean saying, good advertising!

I have to say that the official performances, in the big tent each night, have almost become background to the behind the scenes experiences. I have enjoyed them, but at this point have seen each group several times. It's the more informal and spontaneous events, and especially the interractions between the groups, that are the most intersting dynamic of all.

Today is the first time I havaen't gone to eat at the cafeteria, and I won't go tonite, either, because it's during my shift Chez Helene. I have to describe an intesting tradition that has somehow evolved there in the last few days. Someone came over to Dominika, in our group, several days ago at lunch. He handed her a fork which was stabbed into a piece of bread, and kissed her on both cheeks, then said something which the rest of us couldn't understand. He is with the Slovakian group, and she is Czech, so the languages are quite similar. She then went over to someone else and did the same thing. The idea is to go over to someone from another group, hand them the fork, and kiss them, and then it just gets passed along. So now we have at least two people roaming the cafeteria at each meal with bread on a fork, and sometimes someone else with s piece of cheese or fruit. The kitchen staff have gotten into it to. I am really curious as to how it began, but don't know who or how to ask. I don't think it's any kind of tradition from anyone's culture, but don't know that for sure. Just another example of international communication!

There have been, and will be, a number of different music and dance workshops during the ten days. Yesterday I went to one by the group from Provence, which was wonderful. Some of the movements and formations are not that different from contra dancing. The dance we learned, which the group performed for us first, was very long, and it took nearly an hour just to learn all the parts. Unfortunately, I hacd to leave before the end because I didn't want to miss my group's bus to the picnic.
So I didn't get to do the whole dance together. Last night, that same group performed at the cabaret. Again, they taught dances, but the atmosphere was entirely different, many more people, much more freeform and lively. But both were great.

Last night I finally got to see the Egyptian group. Their dancing was great, a mixture of bellydance type moves and more folkloric. It turns out they are from the American University in Cairo, and so all speak excellent English. Then they performed at the meal here a little while ago. In a day or two, they are doing a workshop, which I hope to go to, along with the Slovakian one. They are, somewhat unfortunately, on the day our group has off and is going on a trip. But I think I'm going to forgo the trip for the workshops.

I met a man yesterday at the picnic who didn't seem t be with a group. I asked him where he was from, and he told me Romania. He apparently had been part of a group performing here last year, and now came back as a volunteer photograhper. I told him I'd been in Romania a few years ago on another volunteer project, and turns out he's from the city I spent two weeks in. Strangely enough, it's the second time recently I've met someone from Cluj Napoca. The head of the Westchester Advertising club, where an award is presented in honor of my father each year, is from there as well. It's not as though I meet many Romanians, and to meet two from the same town in Transylvania!

Well, things have quieted down downstairs, and I think I'll go see if there is any of the food I helped prepare early left for me to sample. If not, maybe today's my day to sample some of the festival junk food, and/or to have something Chez Helene.

One last note - Didier, the chef just came by and I explained about this blog. He said I should put something in about how the cook is tres sypatique. (and he is!) So there you go, Didier!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A parade, a spectacle under the chapiteau, a cabaret

It's Sunday morning, the third day of the 10 days of festivities. The first night featured all the European groups, in a 4 hour long performance. I had managed to find a seat in the third row, after moving up close just to take some pictures. The groups include Slovakia, Albania, Khazistan, the Canary Islands, 2 different French groups, and more. Most feature both singing, dancing, and live musicians. The Albanians are just 4 singers, a woman and three men, who sing in a strange, monotonal drone. I wasn't too enthralled at first, and am sure most of at least my group wasn't, but it did begin to grow on me. Very hypnotic.

Some of the groups include children, some are just children, some are all youngish adults, some have quite a mixture of ages. I find them all pretty wonderful.

Yesterday there was a parade through the downtown streets, which was exhilarating. It seemed like the whole town of 6000 turned out. This must be such an amazing event for them. It's a pretty quiet town, then two weeks of intensity and people from all over the world. During the parade each group stopped multiple times and performed, not just a brief hint but a full dance. I was at the beginning of the parade, and then walked forward so saw some of the groups several times.

Last night was another show under the big tent, including all the groups. I stayed until 11pm, then headed over to the cabaret, where different groups perform each night, until 3am. I lasted until about 1;30 am, I think most of our group stayed until the end. It was really phenomenal, watching first the Brazilians, then the Irish band, play, with everyone from people in their own group to dancers from the other groups to local folks of all ages, kids, teens, older adults. There were GAnnatian (?) teenagers moonwalking to Brazilian music, South African kids doing breakdancing to Irish music, little local kids running around in circles, people doing the polka, etc, etc. One of our groups tasks is working at the cabaret, and my shift is tomorrow. I signed up for it, but am having second thoughts. It's not so much the hours, but it's very noisy and I don't know if I'll be able to hear and understand to take orders. But Dominika and Harold looked awfully cute walking around with their trays last night!

My job yesterday was to work at the restaurant. Lina, our 16 year old German volunteer with blond dreadlocks, and I spent about an hour cutting up carrots, and ten another three hours cutting up onions. Quite fortuitously, I had put in my contact lenses that morning for only the first time, and had no trouble with the onions. It really does make a difference. Lina, on the other hand, had tears running down her cheeks the whole time. Our veggies went into couscous and a couple of other African dishes. Helene is the queen of the kitchen, and quite the character. She is half Nigerian, half Togo, but I believe she lives here. She rules the kitchen, but quite benevolently.

I have much more to tell, about our meals with the performers, my trash detail this morning, my new friends the South African kids, etc. but it will have to wait because one of the staff just arrived to claim the computer. A bientot!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The festival starts now!

Finally, I have a chance to write. Things have been going great, only real problem is that it has been almost impossible to find find time to get to a computer. I am at the Maison de Folklore, adjacent to our tenting ground, and whose kitchen we have been using. They have a computer I can use after 6pm, but we usually haven't beeen around at that time. I am now sitting here, which is right at the entry of the offices, so it looks like I am the receptionist. people keep coming by, some in costume, to ask me questions that I can't answer!

The festival is literally about to start, this minute. But we still will go to dinner, and then to the "chapiteau,", the big tent, for the opening ceremonies. So whatever the first thing is, the guinette, or something like that, I guess we will miss.

Everything has been slowly building up over the past 5 days. It has been fascinating to watch, and be part of, all the things, large and small, that need to be done to put on an event like this. We have done tasks from cutting tomatoes to cleaning all kinds of things and places, to cutting plastic rolls into 500 tablecloths to use in the cabaret. We have also spent a lot of time waiting around to be told what to do, which is more tiring than doing it, of course. We spent a couple of days painting clothing racks for costumes, and signs for the different countries, which I am guessing they will use tonite during the procession of all the groups. We saw a woman walk by with the Slovakie sign this afternoon, and got all excited because we had made the stencil and then painted it.

All the stuff that's been stored in the old brewery, now atelier, where we worked the first few days, has come slowly out of storage and been trucked over to the festival grounds. Yesterday we mounted on the metal fences dozens of painted portraits, all different, so the whole festival field is now encirled by them. I was so taken with them that I took dozens of photos of my fellow volunteers in the process of mounting them. And yet today, seeing them all, I must say I was less impressed, or just didn't notice them as much. So I am happy to have had the perspective of watching them individually go up.

All the merchants arrived over the last couple of days and set up their wares. There are clothes from India, Cambodia, Nepal, sseveral African countries, jewelry, musical instruments, etc, Some of the people seem to be from the countries whose wares they are selling, but more are not. It's not any different from Americans selling stuff from any of those countries, of course. I started speaking with a man who had beautiful Indian sari skirts and other things, from whom I will no doubt purchase something before the end of the week. When he asked what my role was here, and I explained, he said, still in French, oh, I'm from Scotland, we can speak in English. He has been doing this festival for five years.

Some of the merchandise is items I haven't seen before, for instance, pottery from Lithuania. When I walk by this afternoon, the pieces reprenting people were blowing smoke! I think it was incense, but am not sure!

There are so many details involved in putting up the tents, setting up the sound systems, etc. I can't think of when I 've ever been involved in such a large project, watching it evolve.

Have I mentioned Lulu? He's an elderly man, who was introduced to us as the mascot of the festival. He's tiny, and toothless, and everywhere, helping with setting things up. I hear he dances at the cabaret every night. The cabaret, by the way goes every night after everything else has closed, from 11 pm until 3 am. It's one of our responsibilites to staff it, although we aren't sure just what we'll be doing. Probably serving drinks. We are also at least partly responsible for the recycling barrels, and for the restaurants and frites stand. We've all signed up for various shifts, making sure we don't have a real early one right after one at the cabaret the night before. One of the volunteers very sweetly asked me if I was sure I wanted to staff the cabaret. I do usually go to sleep, or at least to bed, several hours before the rest of them. But I do want to give the cabaret a try, at least once!
There will be live music there every night, some of the regular groups that are perfroming at the festival, some that are just doing the cabaret.

So let me mention some of the groups. There are groups from China, South Africa, New Zealand, Slovakie, Hungary, Yakoutie, ( which is a group from or near Siberia) and more. Some are groups of children. Everyone is wearing regular western clothes, jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, etc. Of course they will look totally different in their traditional costumes. Some of them have never been out of their country before.

The first few days we cooked our own meals. But now that the performers are here, everyone is eating at the high school cafeterial. I don't know if this is the normal cafeteria food, but it is sure good. The problem is, there's too much of it! Two large meals a day. This afternoon we had what I thought was fried fish and potatoes, but it was actually some kind of meat, maybe turkey, and cheese, inside the fried dough casing. And the "potatoes" were actually cauliflour in a cream sauce. Salads, cheese, fruit, yogurt, and ice cream at most every meal.

But the best part of the meals is getting to meet some of the performers. i've already become friendly with the director of the South African group.. He has studied dance of many kinds, including ballet, now directs the program and only dances at times. The kids seem somewhat shy but sweet. One boy is a fantastic djembe drummer. I asked him how old he is, and how long he has been playing. he's 13, has been playing for a year. Two of the boys have hurt themselves, in France but at another festival before they got here. One broke his leg dancing, the other fell down some stairs. So neither of them can dance. But they can still sing. I feel bad for them, but am not sure how bad they feel. I imagine it's still pretty exciting to be on the trip. The director has big plans. He says he'd like to mount a really big production, along the lines of The Lion Kind, and take it touring. I don't know if he's overreaching or not. But I am certainly looking forward to seeing them perform. One funny moment - they had left their instrucments on a table outside the cafetera last night, including something that I later found out was an antelope horn used in a traditional dance. Some people from another group, perhaps the Slovakians, came along, tried the drums, as many peolple had, and then put the horn instrument on their heads, laughing. I of course was taking pictures.

I talked to a woman at a stand who was selling silk scarves from Cambodia. The profits go to fund an orphanage in Phnom Phen. I asksed if she had a brochure, which she did. I read it and found out that she and her husband had been victims of the Khmer Rouge, and started a program for children in a refugee camp in 1987. She's won two awards for her work, a French one, and one that's descrbed as the Southeast Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. She hadn't told me any of this herself,and only gave me the brochure after I asked if she had one. Well, I can see I'm going to be buying some of her scarves!

I'm getting hungry, despite the large lunch,which is good because we head off for dinner in about 15 minutes. And then to the big chapiteau, where I watched some rehearsals earlier today. Things will go into an entirely different gear tonight, I imagine. I'm excited about the festival beginning of course, but also have to say that the experience of watching and helping with the set up has been incredible in itself. From now on we have definite assignments, and will each work a 4 hour shift each day, plus an additional morning clean up one hour shift some days. Other than that, we'll be free to wander the festival, sleep, party, whatever. Oh, I didn't mention that we, and all the volunteers(who other than us seem to be all locals, some who have obviously doing this for years, and some, like some of the folks serving us our meals, who are kids) all have badges that allow us into every event and to have free food and drinks. The individual events are pretty pricey, between 15 and 20 dollars, although there are also lots of free things happening. There is also an open stage every day. I have a feeling that at least one of the folks in our group, Pepe, from Barcelona, is going to be heading over there. He drove here from Spain, participating at another music festival before this, and brought his own djembe drum. And he's not at all shy about playing it, on any occasion.

One last thing I want to mention - our Bastille Day excursion. We went on a trip to a nice lake less than an hour from here, and then to Clermont Ferrand, the nearest big city. I'd heard CF was an industrial city, not very interesting, so didn't have high expectations. The city center is actually quite nice, lots of neat architecture and a black church built of volcanic stone. There is a chain of volcanoes in the area, which I think we are going to visit on our other day off. The lake was filled with picnickers, and though crowded was very nice. I spent a half hour or more in the water with my favorite toy, which I am so glad I brought - my swimpy3, my underwater mp3 player.

Well, time to go, I hope the bus didn't leave without me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Once again in France

Well, here I am, once again in France, once again doing an international volunteer project, or chantier, as they call them here. For those who might be checking out my blog for the first time, this is the 7th such project I have been part of, over the last 8 summers. (the one summer I skipped I spent three weeks in Paris, living with a host family and going to French classes in the quartier latin.) If you are interested, you can go back and check out my previous adventures in France, Thailand,Peru, Ukraine, and Transylvania! Oh, and our most recent family trip, to Jamaica, as well.

As always, I am the grand-mere of the group. (everything sounds better in French!)
I will briefly list the other participants, and then, later on, try to fill in more details of their personalities. We have three French, including the two group leaders, two Spaniards, two Czech, two Germans, one each from Morocco, Turkey, Korea, and Belgium, and myself. Most of them are pretty young, several under 20, most of the others under 25. This is the first French speaking program I've taken part in, so have spoken virtually no English since arriving four days ago. Most people speak at least as much French as I do, or more. The Morrocan young man, Ayoub, really wants to practice his English, so keeps talking to me in English. He's very sweet, but I would prefer that he didn't. I'm very pleased that I understand most everything people say, and we've been having some interesting discussions, as is always the case.

Our project is to work at the upcoming International Festival of Gannat, a small town near Vichy. This is its 37th year. There are groups coming from a number of places, including China, Brazil, Albanie, etc, about 15 groups in all. As with all of these projects, I choose after reading a brief, one paragraph description, and never know exactly what I am getting into until I arrive.

This time, what I knew was that we would be helping to set up and break down the 10 day festival, working at the festival, and sleeping in tents. When I arrived last Friday, three days ago, most everyone was already here, and had set up all the tents. There are 14 of us, and 10 or eleven tents, so most of us have our own two person tent. What luxury! Then there is a huge canvas tent, which is our living/dining room. We've got a large table, chairs, and a fridge! There's a building right next to where we are camping with toilets and showers. And down the street, at the Maison de Folklore,where I am now, there is a small art gallery, the offices of the ten paid staffers who plan and run the festival, and a huge industrial kitchen. So in some ways, this is a lot cushier than some of the other accomodations I've had during these projects, even though we are camping. Just one problem - my tent is the closest to the living room tent, where most of the volunteers stay up, noisily, until very very late! The first night, I was too tired to notice. The second night, I was wide awake until 5 am, not because of the group, but, i think, because of the time change, so basically outlasted everyone else, and read pretty much an entire book. So far it hasn't been a problem, and if it is, I'll just pick up my tent and move it!

We have been making stencils and painting signs with all of the names of the participating countries. All the performers, by the way, pay their own way here, which is incredible. We were working at an atelier, a building that is a former brewery, and huge. It is the staging area for the festival, and is filled with everything from fridges to furniture to stuff of all kind from previous years of the festival. Today we cleaned fridges and shelves that had been collecting dust and spiderwebs for a year. Then we went to the festival grounds, where a number of white tents, the kinds you see for weddings, etc, are already set up. We were assigned the task of cleaning out the "frites" stand. That is also one of the places we will be working at the festival. There are different teams, and our team is responsible, or partly so, for the frites stand, one of more of the restaurants, and at the nearly all night cabaret! Oh, and also the recycling project, which is fairly new to the festival. This is the second year, so they are still working out the kinks.

When we are not working, we can go the various workshops, and performances, and our id badges will let us in free, and I think give us a discount at the restaurants. Plus, there will be another kitchen with food just for all the volunteers, and maybe the performers,which will be free.

Thursday, or is it Wednesday (it's so easy to lose track of time) is Bastille Day. No work, fireworks here (and everywhere) at night, and we get to go on some kind of excursion. We haven't decided where, yet, perhaps swimming somewhere. The weather has been intense, very hot, like at home, and also some spectacular, and not very far away, thunderstorms. And we are camping in a field with two very large trees hovering over our tents. The most incredible thing, though, was the hailstorm we had this afternoon, the largest hail I have ever seen, about the size of large grapes.

Oh, didn't mention the world Cup last night. At least partly because of the two Spanish volunteers, it seems that everyone in the group was rooting for Spain. Pepe had even found a large Spanish flag among all the stuff in storage, and marched through the streets shouting viva Espana on our way to the neighborhood bar where we watched the game. As many of you know, I am not the biggest of sports fans, and don't think I have ever watched an entire game, of any kind, much less in a bar. We were about half the folks in the bar, the rest were obviouly neighborhood folks, plus the bar owners and family. I had thought I'd be rooting for Spain, given the crowd, but definitely found myself wanting Holland to win!

Needless to say, Pepe got more and more rowdy as the night went on, and was even louder, of course, on the walk back from the bar to chez nous than he had been on the way there.

Pepe is an interesting guy, loves all kinds of music and will start dancing at the drop of a hat (actually, he is usually wearing a hat,) whenever the mood strikes him, which is often. He drove here from Barcelona, so we have his cd player n the car to provide music. His tastes runs from Janis Joplin (that's your music, right?) he said to me, to flamenco, and a lot in betweeen. The group had a very interesting discussion, some would say argument, at supper tonight, when Pepe was still hungry after the food was all gone, and went to the fridge to get a package of cold cuts that Laure had bought for our Bastille Day picnic. This led to a discussion about how we spend our food budget, and who gets to decide, which has come up once or twice in some of my other volunteer projects. I'm too tired to do it justice now, so will wait until another time when I hopefully have more energy! But the group dynamics is always an interesting part of the projects.

Well, that's all for now, folks. Bon nuit!