Monday, August 23, 2010
Every town and village in France has its fête which takes place in the summer months.
Where we live, being near the Camargue, this usually includes bulls running through the streets; Guardiens (Camargue Cowboys) riding round the town on white horses in colourful shirts; a procession of children and adults dressed in Provencal costume and lots of eating and drinking and dancing to live music. Each town has its own theme; some more obscure than others; for instance Fête des Pois chiches, (chick peas) Fête du riz (rice) Fête de l'ail (garlic) and Fête
de la Vannerie (basket making).
In Tarason we have the Fête du Tarasque; the Tarasque being a legendary sea-monster, part beast, part fish, that lived in the Rhône River and terrorised the nearby towns and villages in times gone by. It was finally tamed and vanquished by Sainte Marthe.
Sainte Marthe, or Martha who, along with the three Mary's, Magdelene, Jacobé, and Salomé and various other apostles with their servant Sara, (the Black Madonna now venerated by the Gypsies) arrived at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, having been expelled and set adrift in a boat without sail or rudder, from Palestine. On arrival in Provence, they set about spreading the Word amongst the locals in the towns and villages and that's how Marthe ended up in Tarascon. They were all deified in the Middle Ages when their relics were discovered in numerous locations and churches built in their honour. I tell you, those Girls got around!
In commemoration of the slaying of the Tarasque, we have a fête every year, when a model of the monster with its lion's face and turtle body is hauled around town by eight men dressed in white frilly shirts, feathered hats and pink knickerbockers; last year they were a bit too enthusiastic going round a roundabout and the poor monster ended up on his back having lost a wheel, its headlamp eyes
flashing in distress!
The three day festival culminates with a dinner and a Spectacle (cabaret). Tables and chairs are laid out in rows under the stars in front of a big stage; food is served, usually something local like paella, taureau or aioli, and after that the live music and dancing begins.
This year, the Spectacle, was provided by L'Orchestre Cocktail de Nuit et ses Danceurs and they came on at 10.30 and played until 2 in the morning. There was a full live band, with male and female singers and dancers; at any given time, there were between 12 and 18 performers on stage. They played a repertoire of hits from the Beatles, James Brown, Prince, Motown, Ray Charles, Queen and Lady Gaga, with a few French Chansons thrown in along the way. The songs were tightly choreographed with different themes and costume changes; long fish-netted legs in thigh-high boots or heels kicked their way through an array of sequins, satin and feathers accessorized with hats, wigs, masks and gloves. During the course of the song, pieces of clothing were discarded, leaving the dancers flashing their buttocks and cleavages in ruffled knickers and bustiers.
The male singers also had numerous costume changes with different coloured satin trousers, shiny shirts undone to the waist or buttoned up with ties, jackets, waistcoats tophats and trilbys, bits of which were also discarded to reveal a bare chest or thigh.
So depending on your preferences, there was something for everyone!
We went along thinking we would stand on the sidelines and have a giggle at the campness of it all, but the sheer energy and professionalism of the show meant I was soon singing and dancing at the front with the rest of them. France, of course, has a long tradition of cabaret and they know how to do it!
And thinking about it, it wasn't that different from what Madonna, Kylie, Britney etc. do, except that it was completely free, laid on by the Marie for the whole town to enjoy, young, old and middle aged.