Posted tagged ‘French music’

La Fête De La Charette

October 16, 2013


A charette is a cart, in the old days usually two-wheeled and pulled by handles. But in this case, because it would be sort of silly to hold an entire festival in honor of of a two-wheeled pull-cart, it’s the cart that brings the grapes in from the vineyards, to be blessed, then crushed, then made into wine. And in the little town of Montfrin, they really know how to hold a fête de la charette.


The morning began with a super parade, and believe me when I tell you that this little girl, with her tiny charette in which she pulled a small chicken, was the hit of the day. I’ve never heard so much oohing and aahing in France before.

More predictably, but still wonderfully, there were:




school children,

IMG_8129mothers with babies,

IMG_8103couples looking as old as the hills, and lots and lots of animals.




IMG_8124Right, these guys are herding geese, and as I heard one lady say


Faire défiler les oies, c’est pas évident.” Getting geese to parade, nicely and in formation, not an easy task. As you can see, a lot of sticks were involved, but no one hit the geese, they just kept them kind of caged in.

IMG_8141 After the parade there was a Mass in Provençale, even though Montfrin isn’t really in Provence. Actually, the costumes were Provençale too, I guess because we’re so close to Provence here and the line is somewhat arbitrary. We didn’t attend the Mass, but we were waiting outside the church

IMG_8159when the wine that had been blessed was carried out. These two look like they’re making off with it, but I think it was served later in the day. There was such a huge crowd around the apéritif table that we decided to sit calmly in a café nearby and pay for our wine, unblessed though it was.


From our café seats we watched people have a large communal lunch, the highlight of which was sausages cooked in moût de raisin, which is the grape must and detritus left after crushing the grapes. The sausages looked intriguing, but since the rest of the meal consisted of a huge boiled potato and a boiled carrot, all plunked on a paper plate, we decided that watching was probably more fun than eating.


And there was plenty to watch, including a long and very pretty dance program.




IMG_8203Finally, there was a brocante, which is a sort of second hand market, where we again looked at but did not buy all sorts of cool things.




And if “look but don’t touch” is seeming like it was the watchword of the day, witness these really cute guys


who, you guessed it, got exactly that same treatment. It was a beautiful day in Montfrin, a tiny town that we’d never before had reason to visit, and will now always remember fondly.

What They Do For Love

April 16, 2009


In France, everyone can sing.  Everyone can write, everyone can be an artist.  Everyone can do what they love to do, because fundamentally the French believe that when it comes to art “we all have it in us.”   You can see it on their faces, Nathalie, Françoise, and Georges have it in them.

Americans tend to think of the arts in terms of  in star power, giftedness, and expertise, but paradoxically, we also believe that “anyone can be President.”  The French definitely don’t believe that, not for a second.  Our two cultures are so deep down different that sometimes it’s breathtaking.


We spent Easter Monday with Eric and Benoîte and eight of their friends, all of whom love to sing or drum.  In this group, we all believed in Eric for President, because he knows all the music, plays all the parts, gathers everyone together, sings his heart out, and has a true genius for musical generosity.  By which I mean that during lunch he serenaded us with Yankee Doodle followed by Ave Maria,


but also that he creates an ambience that’s so relaxed that a teenager like Romain can be content to spend an entire day with eleven adults, including his parents, alternating between drumming and adjusting the endlessly difficult microphones, without once resorting to an iPod or a cell phone.


This group of friends gets together once a week, just to sing.  Just for the pure love of singing, because of them all I think Eric is the only one who ever sings on stage.  The rest of them just want to be together making music.  Sometimes they know the words, and sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes everyone’s on pitch, and sometimes not.  It never matters, because they’ll try again, start over, be endlessly patient.


It’s a group so patient that when I told Annie that I couldn’t sing with them because I didn’t know the song, she resolutely held her book of lyrics in front of me and said “it doesn’t matter, it’s fun to sing together and you’ll learn it right away.”


It’s a group so accepting that when Georges donned a paper napkin pirate hat against the hot sun, no one so much as snickered.  Well, perhaps I snickered once or twice, but very discreetly, since he was totally adorable as a pink paper pirate.


It’s a group that’s so supportive that when Céline and I sang part of an aria from Carmen together, they made us sing it again, as an encore.  I think it was Guillaume that started the calls for an encore, so happy was he to hear Céline finally dare to sing Carmen in public.


The fact that there was a strong rhythm section didn’t hurt at all, and Shel even felt comfortable enough to sing a solo that I wish I could have recorded for the edification and enjoyment of his various throat surgeons past and present.


With David as a dedicated percussion section


and Benoîte’s Mom as an appreciative audience all was rosy,


even when the harmonies were hard to find and Benoîte had a sore throat.


What counted was being together, trying, trying again, encouraging each other, singing hour after hour until the sun went down and we all went home, sunburned and happy as one can only be after a day spent outdoors doing the things we love to do.  How did we ever get so lucky?

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

July 14, 2008

“Mama, take this badge off of me

I can’t use it anymore

It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see

I feel like I’m knockin’ on Heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door,

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door,


Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door,

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.”

And then you sing it again.  And again, and sometimes, Bobbie forgive us, with a reggae beat.  As I said after that particular rendition “si Bob Dylan était déjà mort, il tournerait dans son caveau” which I hope means approximately that it’s a good thing Bob Dylan is still with us or else he’d be turning in his grave to hear the French reggae version of his ballad.

You’ve been to summer camp where everyone sang Kumbaya over and over, for the sheer joy of singing together.  You’ve probably even been to parties where a guitar or two appeared and Kumbaya was the only song everyone knew.  Yesterday it wasn’t Kumbaya but…you guessed it.

We started our day by driving cross country, past the spectacular Pic St. Loup, to a music party at a house where incense burned, there were broccoli and grain salads on the buffet, kids splashed in the pool, and even if you weren’t one of the real musicians you picked up a tambourine.  It was like a flashback to my youth, if my youth had been lived in French, where instead of hippie they say Baba cool.  The sensation of déjà vu was intensified by the fact that although the musicians were almost all French, two thirds of the music was American.  I never imagined that I’d be singing in a pickup backup group for When The Saints Go Marchin’ In, Blue Suede Shoes, or Dust In The Wind, clustered around a microphone with a group of French singers, some of whom understood the words and some of whom were singing by rote.  Or that I’d spend a whole day knocking on heaven’s door.  Or that I’d enjoy it so much.

One of the day’s biggest pleasures was receiving compliments about Shel’s playing.  Being very rhythm-challenged myself, apparently I’ve failed to fully appreciate the fact that I’m married to a rhythm genius.  Person after person came to me to tell me how brilliantly Shel plays, and it was a joy to see him being so thoroughly appreciated.

It wasn’t all music.  We had lots of teenagers and kids doing what they do best all over the world: chilling out.  The difference here is that I got three kisses apiece from a whole procession of kids I’d never seen before, something they take for granted and I find startlingly delightful.  Believe me when I tell you, if an unknown 13 year old boy walks up to you and offers a still-downy cheek, kiss it quick.


By the end of the day we had music,  peace, and love enough to spare, and we all felt very close to heaven’s door.  Just close enough and no closer, and that’s one good thing, mon.

La Fête De La Musique

June 22, 2008

There’s just one day of the year in France when anyone can make music anywhere, on any street corner, without a permit. It coincides with the summer solstice, and it’s called La Fête de la Musique, the celebration of music.  And sometimes it happens that you practice all year for the event, get a great gig on a stage near the water, start playing, break a string, and have to change it in the dark by the light of a key ring flashlight.  And still you’re happy, because you’re making music and the audience is loving it.  But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because of course the first thing you do is show up with several carloads of gear.

And then, even though you’re not getting any younger, you have to crawl around under the stage on a truly hot day, hiding cables where dancers won’t trip over them and generally plugging things in.

There’s a lot of setup needed for a roving band, made just a little more complicated when it’s a band where not everybody speaks the same language.  Lights have to be placed,

microphones have to be checked,

you have to be sure that the drums aren’t going to drown everybody out,

and, most important of all, you have to make sure that everyone’s having fun.

And then, if you’re in the band Art Bracamme, night begins to fall and you’re in the spotlight at last.

Some of your audience is aboard boats,

and some of your fans have to get out of their strollers in order to dance to the music.

I’m not saying that Art Bracamme stopped traffic, but they did attract the attention of stuck motorists,

music-loving families,

and dancers of all ages.  They provided a platform and backup for

a young musician’s first-ever public performance

and were so good that fireworks were set off in their honor.  Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you know what I mean.

And you know what?  They do it for free, for the love of making music, for the pleasure of watching people dance, clap, and even sing along, for the glory of finding themselves well after midnight rewinding all of those cables, restuffing all the gear into cars, and maybe popping the cork on a bottle of Champagne.  But honest, it’s not about the Champagne.