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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!

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