DEFINITELY NOT GOURMAND… but the joy of local traditions instead.

It wasn’t that I was excited about a glass of warm cola and a plastic cup of crisps, but I was particularly thirsty after wandering through the village – twice – with a straggly bunch of kids on a sunny Sunday morning in spring.
This is ‘Carnaval’ in France, a tradition of fancy dress, parading through the town, singing and dancing, and the highlight – the burning of the effigy ‘Monseiur Carnaval’. It seems to be a combination of religious revelling before lent, (as in ‘Mardi Gras’, the Tuesday of eating up all the remaining fatty stores of the winter before lent began on Ash Wednesday), feasting pagan celebration of winter,  the coming of spring, the burning away of bad luck…
According to my neighbour who has lived here all his life, they were still celebrating Carnival  in each little village with a ball, dancing feasts (and the effigy burning, of course, although he couldn’t tell me why!) – up until he was a teenager at least. But the organising seems to have been centralised and taken up by the (district) school here for years now.
So, as each of my children discovers the delights of Carnival as they go through primary school, we pitch up in costume of a different theme each year, walk around the town, through the market, and down to the lake where the kids all hold hands and sing and dance around the papier-mâché figure that is merrily burning away. Not a sniff of health and safety regulations in sight. It’s brilliant! Each year I complain about standing around waiting for ages for everyone to arrive and get their act together, so that we can inch our way around the village (thank goodness it is tiny). And each year, it also strikes me how much I enjoy the sheer tradition and the community spirit of it.
Depending on the enthusiasm and contacts of the school staff, sometimes we have musicians; sometimes, like this year, displays of traditional Occitan dancing that has been practised for weeks beforehand. Some years the costumes perfected during art class are amazing (or sometimes, my children absolutely refuse to wear them). And the effigy can vary – I do remember one particularly spectacular ‘Darth Vader’ with a slightly obscene light sabre (the theme that year was space – don’t ask how they got to Darth Vader) .
So, there I was again, standing around waiting to gather up my excited kids, ash fluttering about from the Mr-Carnaval-no-more on the floor, finishing my fizzy-drink feast for another year and appreciating another reason I like being…in France.
IMG_1342Carnival 2014 040

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