Monday, 5 October 2009

Like a square peg in a round hole - a modern bedtime story

So sang Be bop Deluxe in the mid 1970’s. On Saturday evening I attended my first outing or “sortie” with an online social club that I joined some months ago, .
I knew that it was going to be tough, as I would not know anyone who was going, but it was another step to try and increase my circle of French friends, and this event was only 8 minutes walk from Chez Rigsby.
Contrary to instructions, the organiser was not at the door of the pub, greeting people, and the pub was still open to the public, so I had no idea who was in the group and who were innocent bystanders. 31 people plus some of their friends were expected.
There was no one that looked like a dwarf, which was how some naughty people had described her. She's the one with her eyes shut, red hair, clutching eh micro.
I propped up the bar and ordered a beer. The bar was tiny. Just room for the bar counter some bar stools and a floor area of about 20 square metres. There was a dj booth in one corner and 2 microphones on stands.
By the time I finished my beer (very slowly) there were about 15 people out on the pavement. Nothing much seemed to be happening and most people seemed to know eachother.
I ordered a Ricard and shuffled my feet a bit to get the circulation going. Eventually (about an hour and a quarter after I arrived) a woman set herself up at the bar with an envelope and what looked like a list of names. People started drifting towards her and handing over money, so I went over, gave my club pseudonym and paid my 15 euros (there was to be a buffet too). Then I headed back to the bar and the dregs of my drink.
Some women started pestering the dj and they cranked up their computer etc and the music started accompanied by videos with the song lyrics appearing on the television above the bar.
Eventually the organiser told us that the food was upstairs and that those who had paid could make their way up to it.
I was starving but I didn’t make a wild dash for it. This was mistake number one, or number 2 if you count me turning up in the first place.
The stairs were hidden round a corner at the back of the room, they were rickety and steep, and of course the stair light did not work.
We stumbled up and found an even smaller room, with food on 2 tables, cutlery, glasses and some wine bottles on another table and 2 empty tables.
All the tables had chairs around them.
By the time I had joined the French queuing system and had realised that most people were just pushing into the tables and getting their food, the easy seating at the empty tables was gone.
Clutching my thin wobbly plastic plate with its pate, crisps, quarter tomato, meat terrain, piece of pork, piece of tender beef, bit of Toulouse sausage and some coleslaw and the end that I pulled off a baguette, I was “lucky“ enough to get a table in the corner of the room, ie completely blocked in, at the cutlery table.
The noise of chatter, combined with the singing from below made communication unlikely even with the other 3 people at the table. Listening to them speak, was like listening to an LP played at 45rpm, and of course they were speaking French. Not even real French, but abbreviated words, slang.
I’ll just finish my food and then go, I thought glumly.
Still there was a bottle of red wine on the table, even if one third of its contents had suddenly evaporated.
I did my best and tried to engage in conversation, but it was almost impossible to hear what they were saying.
The lady directly opposite me managed to get a lemon meringue pie and an apple tart, so I had a big piece of both.
Then it was time to go downstairs to join in the fun.
Another beer, back in my place at the bar, the French ladies showed no fear in belting out songs into the micro. (Pronounced meekroe).

I looked through the 60 or so pages of the song catalogue which was on the bar next to me. I could only find two songs in English. Tom Jones “Sex bomb” and I had no intention of getting drunk enough to attempt that one, and a happy, clappy religious/ spiritual one which I might have heard many, many years ago.
I would not be singing. The age of some of the songs was pretty impressive. Of course Edith Piaf was strongly represented. I remember a Maurice Chevalier song appearing with the date 1957 beside it.
Some songs had familiar tunes (3), but of course the words and title were not the same.
Most people would not argue (the French excepted) that pop music is not their strong suit. In fact it is dire, really dire. There are of course exceptions, but I cannot think of any at the moment. They may have many talented musicians, but putting together a decent, catchy song is all but impossible for the vast majority of them.
Did I mention that the music was loud? Once again there were at least half of the group stationed outside on the pavement, puffing away on their ciggies.
I took a few photos, just for the blog. There were a few songs where the men got a look in (why, oh why?) and a couple when about 30 people took the floor at once. I was not in a position to record such a shot. Although someone did go behind the bar to give it a try.
I stuck it out until about 11.30pm and then slunk off into the night. Conversation was still impossible, unless I went outside with the smokers, but they all seemed quite happy in their little groups.
You may think that you are making progress in your adopted country, but then you encounter a situation that suggests that your grasp of the language is negligible, you don’t understand the culture, and you will never, ever fit in. Still faint heart wasn’t built in a day.
My ears were still ringing at 4am.
Perhaps an outing with less people at it and no singing, now where’s the list of events……
Gentle reader there are always two sides to every story. In the spirit of balanced reporting, here, in French is the feedback on the event received by the event organiser.. Personally I think that they were rather holding back on their enthusiasm. Read it and weep. With laughter of course. Perhaps they get out much.

Commentaires sur la sortie...

je suis encore etonné que le soleil est osé se montrer ce matin quelles voix ,faut vite faire des stages , sauf nath qui a assurée sur piaf

Merci Nath pour avoir organisé cette soirée très sympa. Heureuse d'avoir pu brailler, miaulé, hurler avec vous... toujours aussi givrés Bises à tous et surtout à la Gentille Organisatrice

Merci didelina ta sortie etait genial a recommencer

Merci Nathalie : belle soirée pleine de convivialité et de joyeuse bonne humeur ! MBénédicte

ce matin ,j'ai travaillé en silence et ça leur a fait des vacances!!à quand le prochain karaoké m'ont ils dit merci à nat pour cettte super idéemerci à jean eric et sa femme pour leur acceuilsuper soirée ,super ambiance ,super voix surtout les filles......prochaine fois ,provision de cacahouettes pour les mecs mais enfin ce qui rassurent c 'est qu'ils n'ont pas l'air castré!!!!! ouf!!!!!

Merci Nathalie pour cette super idée : le karaoké ! Une très bonne ambiance. Je me suis beaucoup amusée et je n'étais pas la seule. Félicitations pour ta voix !!

merci à tous pour l'ambiance, la bonne humeur, les voix géniales!!!!!!!!!!!!!! heu je plaisante pour certain d'entre nous je ne dénonce personne!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!hihihihi les mecs !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! merci pour l'accueil du flamand un grand merci à coco et à jean éric bisous à tous et j'espère qu'on recommencera bientôt!!!!!!!!!!!!

J'ai encore passé une bonne soirée , ambiance de feu ,j'ai eu grand plaisir a retrouver toute l'équipe .....merci Nat , on va s'entrainer pour la prochaine !!!!!!bise a tous

Ah que ça fait du bien ce genre de soirée !!! Tu as encore tapé dans le mille nath, bravo !!! Et tu nous refais Piaf quand tu veux, c'était la grande classe ! Merci donc à toi et à tout le monde pour cette bonne humeur qui met du baûme au coeur !

delire, delire ta soiree nath, merci, mais bon il ya en a quand meme deux a baillonner absolument!!!

Bravo Nath pour cette soirée consacrée au chant sous toutes ses formes , pleine de délires et de bonne humeur. Une nouvelle fois, l'ambiance était au rendez vous. Je croyais que le chant calmait les fous, là c'était bien l'inverse et c'était parfait !Et chapeau bas pour ta prestation, tu nous as tous scotchés.. Magnifique !!Merci au Flamand de son accueil pour cette soirée délire

merci à Didelina pour cette super soirée.

sortie trés sympa ! j'ai chanté et dansé parmi vous tous avec un grand plaisir ,nous n'étions pas qu'entre nous ..les ''amiez''...mais cela a permis d'entendre d'autre jolis voix .Merci à l'organisatrice qui n'a pas choisi ce thême au hasard ,non ?

on a mis le feu au café ! c était du tonnerre ! a refaire sans modération ! merci nathalie pour cette soirée ! bises a tous

et encore une sortie de réussie en votre compagnie qui n'est décidemment pas triste!!!! félicitations à tous les chanteurs en herbe et bravo à nath. tu m'a littéralement scottché en chantant du PIAF. merci au restaurant le Flamand de nous avoir si bien accueilli.heu.....c'est quand la prochaine!!! bisous à toutes et à tous.

woodstok n est qu un radio crochet compare a nos talentsceci dit j ai passe une super soiree (comme d hab )avec les amis merci nath pour cette excelente idee

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Festival of Figs – Mas D’Azil

I was invited by the French family to pay a visit to the above named event. So on Saturday afternoon we set off to the medieval town, winding our way through countryside that is beginning to show the first signs of autumn, following the river which I told you in an earlier post this year takes you through the huge Megalithic portal where ancient peoples lived out their lives, before you pop out again into the sunshine and the beginning of the village.
We parked half on the pavement as many French are wont to do.
Walking into town we passed the warehouse where an eccentric man has his fabuloscope. A collection of his hand made moving sculptures, which I have yet to visit.
There was a new building which is probably related to childcare as it has this rather swish play area and mini-amphitheatre outside. The sides of the building are made from wood panels and I dare say that it is an ecological wonder.

The village square and some other areas had brightly decorated stalls selling a variety of goods. Hand-made hats, wooden furniture, wooden toys, items made from varnished gourds, jewellery, leather goods, mirrors etc etc You could even buy yourself a bow or crossbow and arrows.

Being a festival of figs, there were also stalls selling wines, cheeses, breads, cacaoettes, a flat cake made with maize which looked unappetizing but which is a local speciality. No I didn’t note the name of it I’m afraid, but it is probably called something like mais, I wouldn’t be surprised.
It was warm and sunny, and not too crowded. There was a stall related to the truffle association and a stall where cauldrons (the witches amongst you take note) of fig jam, complete with whole figs, bubbled away.

Later on in the afternoon when we passed by again, the jam was being ladled into glass jars via a siphon ready for immediate purchase. I didn’t see any prices, but at these fairs, “real” food is expensive.
I bought a bottle of sweet white aperitif wine 10.50 euros from the owners of the Domaine Montaut near Pau. It has a very distinctive taste. They don’t pick their grapes until November every year!!! And the grapes are picked by hand, although I suspect that there is more than one hand involved

There was a wandering band, playing their cornemuses (little bagpipes)

Another group in Catalan? Costume were putting on a dance display and had their own fearsome band.

The festival had a Spanish flavour and there was also a display of flamenco dancing on a makeshift stage outside the church door. This was not a great success however due to microphone trouble. The singing and music would cut out for longish periods due to faulty electrics. A shame for them as they struggled gamefully on.

There was entertainment for the children although we only saw one thing. A circus. This was really some kind of puppet show. Two people played instruments whilst dangling in front of them, their puppet also appeared to play too. It must have been magic.

Here is a behind the scenes view. You see? Smoke and mirrors. Thank God Derren Brown has not yet discovered this kind of technology.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Town festival

The castle with a new turret decoration and the moon. What more could you ask for. Who said "a job"?

The answer is of course, impossibly slim women in tight fitting, skimpy outfits, but of course you can't expect everything.

Welcome to a week's worth of blog entertainment. More of a magazine really.

After the beach holiday it was the town’s festival weekend or more exactly 4 days of fun.
Once again all the town centre carparks were off limits as the travelling fair with its rides, amusements and snack shacks took over. The top car park became a bar and stage area. The Halle au grains also gained a performance stage.
The first evening was the fireworks display, which centred round the castle. We met up with the French family, or rather the mother and the two younger girls. The oldest girl was ill in bed with a bad case of angine. She then went on to get a ruptured apendicitus and was in hospital for a few weeks. She is back home now, but is stick thin. Still these 12 year olds soon bounce back.
Forsaking their usual distant vantage point they joined us up close to the castle. The fireworks lasted about 20 minutes and featured star shapes and heart shapes exploding from the rockets. We then walked into the centre of town for a look at the fair. The place was too packed to move, so we stood and watched two people at a time being catapulted into the air in a small round pod, attached to a frame with bungee ropes.
Next we headed off to the stage to see what the evenings “orchestra” was like. These orchestras must tour France during the summer visiting town fairs. They consist of around 18 people. The band, dancers, singer, singers who also dance, musicians who play and sing etc. The costume changes are numerous and no short, dumpy women, or men appear on the stage. Locals then, they ain’t.
I like to get close the stage. Unfortunately this is also where you tend to get what in unenlightened times would have been called the village idiots. They are a bit of a nuisance but they know how to have a good time, and wrapped in their own private concert they can cover reasonable distances in any random direction.
Tonight was quiet though and the few dispossessed were wobbling about on the spot.
There was a stocky, smallish male singer on stage,

more Freddy Starr than Johnny Halliday, posing and preening on stage. Just smell that "old spice". The family held back as S and I moved forward to worship at his feet. (yeah right). I turned back and motioned them forward. “Are you not scared?” asked the mother, clutching her children to her. I said that I wasn’t and that it was all okay. So we ended up 20 feet or so from the stage. The girls refused to take their hands out of their pockets to clap along and stood very still. Their mother did some intermittent clapping. After 20 minutes the mother had had enough and she left, taking at least one reluctant child with her.
I later found out that she doesn’t like concerts, not that she has ever been to a proper music concert. Shame for the kids though.
We stayed for 40 or so minutes after they had gone. Standing up after midnight can be a strain for us oldies.
We went to see several of the concerts on the following evenings. There was a band singing English/ American songs badly so we did not stop. The following evening there was another mega cast orchestra and they were very slick. But the disposessed were more active. Of course when there are 18 in the group, introductions take longer and when their details include whether or not they are single and that they are music teachers at music schools and have come up through the conservatoire de musique system. (no that does not mean they have speakers in their conservatories at home).

There was also a flaming torch procession one evening. If you were expecting flaming torches however, you would have been disappointed. It was a carnival type procession. Majorettes with glowing batons, marching bands, etc. It went on and on as they did at least 2 big circuits of the centre of town, very slowly. I doubt if many were locals. Towns seem to bus in the entertainment from elsewhere for such things.
Some of the bands had devised clever transport for their drum kits.

There was a small group of about 9 peasants clutching lighted torches, but they looked bored and miserable, so not quite the expected highlight of the evening. I'll call them Les and his miserables.

Still at least the town does try to entertain us and the tourists during the summer, even if they remove car parking for the duration…..

Well that's almost it from this bumper edition. What do you mean "Thank f**k he didn't go and see the world famous trumpet player, or we wouldn't get to bed tonight "??!!!