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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!

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