"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
---(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll)
And so it is time to talk of summer in France as the season for festivals. From tiny villages like Conflans-sur-Anille where the Lone Wolf and I just witnessed a wonderful fireworks display, to Saint-Tropez where I marched in the parade of the Fête de la Bravade (how I loved it!), to Paris where our yearly Paris Plage has just begun. (See my Paris Plage piece from last year here.) It is the time of year for people to take lazier days, relax in the sunshine, breathe some fresh air, and for the arts to be celebrated outdoors with music, theater, dance, regional food and drink, and any other artistic endeavor you can think of.
We all get lessons in joie de vivre that have evolved through the history of France when we partake of the rich culture here. Is it merrier in summer? The answer is simply, yes. Citizens and visitors alike are in holiday moods, and this is part of the summer charm one finds from north to south. For me, it has always been impressive that every village provides cultural opportunities for its citizens as well as tourists who might be passing through, whether to watch a flamenco performance or to peruse the local museum.
What would we find in the U.S.? Not that. The closest thing we have to compare to these yearly fêtes are our County Fairs. I haven't made it to one in years, though the Independence County Fairs in Batesville, Arkansas, are almost mythological in my memory. We celebrated our local life and the men and women who lived it. We rode carnival rides and ate cotton candy. We ogled the prize-winning cakes and admired the livestock.
It's not that I didn't see cows and chickens all the time in our rides through the country around Batesville, but it was the fact that these 4-H kids and their farmer parents worked hard to produce the fine specimens. It was necessary for us to pay our respects to them.
What did these fairs mean to us then, and what are they now?
Two of the biggest summer arts festivals in France are the Festival d'Avignon and the Festival D'Aix-en-Provence. I have been to neither, though I know I would enjoy them if I could avoid dreading how crowded they would be. I keep myself from some events because of the numbers of people with whom I might be smashed in like a can of sardines and the sweat factor involved.
Something I am sure of: It is critical that we Americans understand how essential art and artists are to our civilization--and that we should support them. I would much rather have seen all the money that greedy Wall Street pocketed in this financial crises go to people who were actually in need and to artists who define, uplift, and embellish our culture so that we understand ourselves and the world around us better. So we have more meaning in our lives.
One festival/performance I definitely would have seen if I could've gotten out of Paris: Pygmalion by Trisha Brown and William Christie in Aix. My talented artist/couturier friend Elizabeth Cannon created the beautiful costumes for the exciting production. I couldn't find an Aix clip, but this is from a Pygmalion performance in Holland at a summer festival there.
May we all have our own adventures through the looking glass--and the pleasure of a fine dance this summer! For me, there's nothing better. What about you?
---Beth Arnold in Paris