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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.


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