Monday, July 2, 2012

Festival of Occitane

Welcome to the first annual Bourdeilles Festival of the Occitane Language!
You ask, “What is the Occitane Language?”
Well France has not always been France. For a long period of time southern France was essentially another country, with it’s own language. It was a language influenced by Latin, Germanic and French influences. It wasn’t until Napoleon commanded that all French citizens speak French, a language created and controlled from distant Paris, that the many dialects of Occitanes began to disappear, only lingering on in the patois of the nooks and crannies of southern France.
This three-day festival was to celebrate the culture and language of Occitane so that it is safeguarded and valued.
But being a first time event there were a few things to be worked out.
To start with, there is a unspoken rivalry between the people that still speak patois with it’s strong links to Occitane and the people who are studying Occitane as an intellectual pursuit. Sitting in a conference during the three-day festival I would hear undulating waves of whispers as locals would react to the way the presenter was pronouncing words.The whispers would raise a little in volume as the audience would disagree on the most correct pronunciation.  The variations in patois were very localized. The old timers can tell if someone is from Bourdeilles, or Nontron (20 km away north) or Vergt (20 km south) by just hearing a few words and the accents used.

There was another undercurrent of “us against them” attached to the festival. For the most part it was the younger generation that conceived and executed this festival. So there were some issues for the older generation, whos job in a small village is to always have issues. There was the most obvious panic against what would be -- regardless of style-- the VERY loud music that would be a big part of the festival. And then there is the  weird conceptual art that pops up like mushrooms every time we have a festival. This weekend found two enormously fat ladies with bosoms the size of basketballs frolicking in the river.  Fortunately they were in cast aluminum. Oh, my! there is the fact that it is the young people who will be decorating the streets (Dresses hanging buildings, colorful rags streaming across the town square, indescribable plaster statues lining the street.) And, of course, goodness knew what kind of wild young people would be coming to this festival. I heard a few rumblings that the art was mocking the hard times that the elder generation had lived through. There were some ruffled feathers when invitations to the opening ceremonies were not delivered in a timely fashion. 

But in the end the ambitious schedule was followed and everyone was able to find at least one activity that immersed them in some way into the sense of a lively village fair. Who could resists falling into the magic night time revelry? There was singing and dancing under with the sliver of a new moon hanging over the chateau tower. The light from the blazing feu de St. Jean illuminated the forms of children and adults, casting velvety shadows against ancient stone walls. The beat of timeless rhythms drifted down the streets of Bourdeilles and the river Dronne.

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