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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.

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